The History of Wine

We’re switching gears today and instead of bringing you another chocolate-filled post we’re talking about our other great love…wine.

http://www.stayniagaraonthelake.com/2015/08/take-a-winery-tour-while-in-niagara-on-the-lake/

Having grown up in or near the wine region of Niagara both of us developed a deep appreciation for the fermented drink, so naturally we felt the need to find out how it came to be.  After some intensive research, we determined that most historians agree there is no one individual or group who can be credited with the invention of wine.  This is because the general conclusion is that wine was more or less discovered rather than created purposefully, most likely after someone decided to eat some rotten fruit.  (Normally we would say that guy was probably drunk, but obviously in this instance that was not the case)

The Legend of the Persian Woman

There is one legend to explain the discovery of wine.  The story goes that a Persian princess, upon finding herself out of favour with the Persian King, attempted to kill herself by eating rotten grapes.  Instead of it killing her, she found that it made her feel much happier, and thus wine was discovered.  Interesting? Yes.  True?  Probably not.

Birthplace

You may be surprised to find out that wine did not originate in Italy or France, the countries we associate with “old-world” wines.  The oldest known winery in the entire world was actually discovered quite recently by researchers from UCLA in 2007.  It was found in the area that would have been Ancient Armenia and dated back to 4100 B.C.  The winery had a wine press, fermentation vats, jars and cups.

ancient-armenia

But how did wine make it’s way from caves in Ancient Armenia all the way to the wine cellars of North Americans today?  This is a story that spans thousands of years so we’re going to attempt to condense this into a short timeline for you…

Timeline…Wineline?

Our story starts in Ancient Egypt around 3100 B.C.  Egyptians made a wine-like substance from red grapes to use in ceremonies because it looked like blood.  (If anyone is familiar with biblical history, Jesus used wine to symbolize his blood during the last supper…same basic idea.)  The Egyptians came into contact with the Ancient Phoenicians who began cultivated the beverage and spread it throughout the world through trade across the Mediterranean.

The first mention of wine occurs in the book of Genesis in the Bible, when Noah exposes himself to his sons when he is drunk:

Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 21He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.22Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.… (Genesis 9:20-22)

Interestingly enough they never mentioned that part of the story in Sunday school…

This trade across the Mediterranean eventually brought wine to Ancient Greece, around 800 B.C. (give or take a few hundred years).   As we know the Greeks were an ambitious group with a knack for establishing colonies wherever they went. They brought wine and vines with them because these guys (and gals) had their priorities straight and knew no colony worth it’s salt was complete without a vineyard and a full wine cellar.  Seriously though- these people loved wine so much they named a God after it (sort of)- Dionysus, God of Fermentation.

Their earliest colonies were found in Sicily and southern Italy, thus beginning Italy’s prominence as a cultivators of superior wine.

Fast forward to 146 B.C. when the Romans conquered the Greeks and in typical Ancient-Roman fashion took wine as their own and made their own God, Bacchus.  It was the Romans then that went on to plant vines in modern day France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

A little while later in year 380, the Romans adopted the Catholic church.  Since wine was a part of the sacrament, Monks in Italy and France began working as vitners and as Monks seem to do with everything, they began perfecting it.

Over the next few-thousand years, wine continued to spread across Europe and France and Italy continued to establish themselves as wine-making connoisseurs.  It was not until 1562 that French Huegenots, in an effort to escape  religious prosecution by the Roman Cathloic Church, travelled across the ocean to what is now the state of Florida.  Upon arrival they attempted to make wine with local grapes, but they hated it so much they stopped making wine altogether until 1619 when they began cultivating vines in Virginia.

It was Junipero Serra, a Spanish Missionary, who brought grapes with him to California in 1769, and in 1805 Sonoma’s first winery was established by Franciscan Monks.

Oh Canada

Of course, we can’t talk about the history of wine and not talk about Canada, and specifically the Niagara region.

When Jacques Cartier and the Jesuits came to Canada via the St Lawrence River, they brought a bunch of wine with them from France. Eventually that wine ran out and they had to start making their own. Classic Quebecois.

Over the next hundred years or so, many people tried their hand at wine-making in Canada, but there was one problem: it tasted terrible. “Musty” isn’t exactly desirable in, well, anything. .

Thankfully, we Canadians didn’t give up. In 1811, Johann Schiller had moved from Quebec to the Niagara region of Ontario, where he purchased 400 acres and began growing and producing wine. Turns out Niagara is a good spot for cultivating wine, and he is now considered the “father” of Canadian wine.

Jump ahead to 1916, when prohibition came into effect in Ontario, lasting until 1927. This could have meant the death of the Ontario wine scene, but proper Canadian values were put in place, and the wineries were allowed to remain open for export. Because priorities!

Unfortunately, after prohibition was lifted, the Ontario Government put a stop on new winery licences, which caused the 61 wineries to dwindle to a mere 6. After nearly 50 years, someone finally put a stop to the madness and a new winery license was issued to Inniskilin Wines in 1975, and marked the resurgence of the Ontario wine region.

Today, Ontario produces 71% of Canadian wines. With more than 180 wineries in Ontario, and nearly half of those wineries in the Niagara region alone, Ontario has become a major player on the world stage of wine-making and attracts tourists from all over the world.

To celebrate National Wine Day, we headed over to our favourite winery in the Beamsville Bench to learn more about wine, and of course do a little tasting ourselves. Pour yourself a glass of your favourite local wine and learn along with us and Mallory from Malivoire Winery in Beamsville, Ontario.  Be sure to check out the video here:

Cheers!

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