For centuries, wine has been available to ease the bad times and to help celebrate the good ones. It has inspired, comforted, emboldened, as well as helped to celebrate marriages, births and anniversaries. And while many adult beverage industries continue to develop new products such as “dry beer” and many varieties of “spiked lemonade,” wine remains constant.
Wine is nearly a naturally occurring product. Made from the juice of grapes, it requires very little processing to become wine. Grape juice contains natural sugars which are transformed into alcohol due to the action of the yeast. Wine is the most acidic drink consumed by humans. It can contain a variety of acids including tartaric, malic, tannic, or lactic. This acid not only aids in digestion, it also acts as a preservative, making wine a safer beverage than water in many parts of the world.
It is believed that wine making began nearly 7,000 years ago in what is known as the Fertile Crescent or “cradle of civilization.” The theory goes that some grapes fell on the ground, were left too long, and when the fruit split open, the yeast that was present on the skin of the grape caused it to ferment. When the grapes were eaten and intoxication resulted, the grapes were considered somewhat magical. And while grapes grow all over the world, those in the Fertile Crescent were of the species Vitis vinifera, just the right variety for wine.
As civilization spread from the Middle East, so did wine, first through the Mediterranean area and then into continental Europe. Even though wine was produced in other areas at other times, Europe became the center of fine wine until the twentieth century, and even now, all of the newly developed wine regions in the world produce wines that have their origins in Europe. Grapes were transported by Mediterranean seafarers including the Phoenicians and the Greeks. The Greeks believed that the wine grape would only thrive in the same type of area as olives and figs, but the Romans kept moving them steadily northward into what is now Northern France and Germany. Today, these cooler climates, where grapes have to struggle to survive, are considered the best wine producing areas because the grapes take longer to ripen completely, allowing for the development of a full array of flavors.
Later, with the discovery of the New World, European explorers, like the Phoenicians and Greeks before them, brought their wine and grapevines with them. The harsh winters and native vine pests made the eastern part of the United States unsuitable for growing European grapes, but later the Spanish conquistadors brought their “Mission” vines with them to California where the loose, volcanic soils and plentiful sunshine was great for wine producing grapes.
It is not necessary to know the complete history of wine making to enjoy the product, but an understanding of how we got to be where we are with regard to this beverage may enhance our appreciation of it. wine tours Willamette Valley