Where it all began
Archaeological evidence from modern day Armenia, Georgia, and Iran suggests that humans have been producing wine since around 8000 BCE. These wines were probably made from wild grapes until the domestication of grapevines, which is believed to have occurred in Egypt around 3000 BCE. There is also archaeological evidence that wine was made in ancient China and in Macedonia: in January, 2011, researchers announced that they had discovered the world’s oldest winery in a cave in Armenia. The cave, which contained grape presses, wine jugs, glasses and remnants of grape stems, dates back 6,100 years.
Wine production in Europe
Wine production grew during medieval Europe and continued steadily until the 1870s, when Europe was hit with a devastating phylloxera outbreak which destroyed the majority of the region’s grapevines. The disease was caused by a beetle which is believed to have been transported to Europe from the Americas; ironically, American vines were resistant to the beetle and subsequent disease. Some argue that this was actually a blessing in disguise for the European wine industry: only the “fittest” vines survived, and the wine industry in countries such as France and Italy came back with a vengeance by producing top-quality wines from their new vines. Learn more about the history of wine in Europe here, and click here to learn about the history of wine-making in Argentina.
Introducing vitis vinifera vines to the Americas
The Americas had their own native grape vines, but the wines we know and love today are from the vitis vinifera grapes, which are not native to the Americas. These grapes were brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors. Today, most of the grapes have mutated from their original clone (this happens quickly in grapevines) and are not genetically identical to the wines from which they came. Several grapes were crossed with varietals native to the Americas to create new varietals, such as the Torrontes grape, which is a cross between the French Muscadet and the Spanish Criolla. Learn all about the history of wine in the U.S. here.
The United States
In the United States, the wine industry was nearly eradicated thanks to Prohibition. Some wineries subsided by producing grape juice for churches, but the majority of the wineries folded. Most of the wines produced in the United States come from vines which were planted after Prohibition, making them no more than 90 years old.
South Africa, Australia and New Zealand
South Africa has been producing wine as far back as the 1600’s. In 1877, Australia’s “First Fleet” brought cuttings to Australia, beginning the cultivation of grapevines in Australia. Learn more about the history of wine-making in Australia here.