The Wonderful World of Wine

…And what a world it is!

Wine has been around for a good many years, and although it can be made from any number of ingredients from weeds, (yes, even that kind!), fruit, or honey, (on the back page, you’ll find an article about one of our surprising new discoveries – agave wine, from right here in Sonoma County), for this little blurb, we’re talking about the good old grape.

Wine traces its origins back many thousands of years. There is archeological evidence of wine production, (possibly the earliest), in the country of Georgia, once part of the Soviet Union, dating back to 7,000 BCE. By 4,500 BCE, the Greeks were squishing grapes on a regular basis. In the early days, there was no realization of how fermentation occurred, so this transformation from grape to wine was thought to be the work of the Gods.

In his new book – “Inventing Wine”, writer Paul Lukacs talks about that early stuff; not exactly what we’re used to today. He lists what was added to the wine to try to make it more stable and palatable. Everything from pine resin, (still used in Retsina), to marble dust, to (if you can believe it), lead, used to sweeten the wine, and yes, kill the drinker over time! Since there was no bottling going on, wine in those days, became little more than vinegar in a short period of time, but since water wasn’t so pleasant either, this was a preferable alternative, (or a combination of the two), and of course, helped with digestion and mood.

The Phoenicians and Romans saw that wine grapes made their way to Western Europe, and during the time of the Roman Empire, winemaking technology advanced, with increased cultivation of numerous grape varieties, advanced crushing techniques, and shipping and storage methods. After the Roman Empire had gone by the wayside, it was the Christian Church in medieval Europe that kept things going; being necessary for use in the Catholic Mass.

Even by this point, wine was anything but stable, but by the Renaissance, there was a growing realization that more care in the vineyard and with wine making, produced better results, and wine started getting better. Add bottling to the equation, and it was on its way to becoming a religion of its own!

Wine was experiencing its Golden Age in the nineteenth century, when, in the late 1800’s Phylloxera devastated much of Europe’s wine industry. This little louse, an unwitting visitor from the U.S., decimated the vineyards; wiping out as much as 75% of France’s vines. Fortunately, just as we had gifted the little critters, we also had the resistant American rootstock to deal with the problem. Here at home, we had our own epidemic in the form of prohibition, but thankfully, wine was in many ways spared; being needed once again for sacramental purposes; and home winemaking as well, was allowed on a smaller scale.

So here we are in 2013, with wine now a central part of many of our lives. It has become for many an integral part of daily life, from social occasions to completing our meals. We are in a second “Golden Age” for wine, and with globalization, we can partake in wines from all the world over. We have the opportunity to pick and choose our varietals, styles, and what we choose to pay. It’s a good time to be alive, and living in such a beautiful county as Sonoma, we feel a special reverence for these luscious liquids!

In the words of Homer: “Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile”.



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