Vinifera is the Eurasia species of grapevine, from which the most familiar wine varieties come from. For instance some famous intraspecific Vinifera crossings include Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Franc x Sauvignon Blanc), Syrah (Dureza x Mondeuse Blanche), Chardonnay (Pinot Noir x Gouais Blanc) and Pinotage (Pinot Noir x Cinsault). The American grapevines (i.e. Vitis Labrusca, Riparia, Rupestris, Berlandieri) are not used for winemaking due to their unattractive flavours. However, they are important as rootstocks, grafted to Vinifera, due to their resistance to Phylloxera, nematodes and drought conditions.
Winemaking is a natural and quick process so as long as cultivated Vinifera (Vinifera Sativa) existed, we should assume wine was enjoyed by mankind. Through palaeoethnobotany we can track the earliest dates of cultivated Vinifera. For instance the pips of the cultivated grapes are large and pear shaped with an oval scar on the side, compared to the wild pips which are spherical with a round scar. The size of stalk is also longer for the cultivated vines than for the wild ones. Finally chromatography, chemical techniques and genetic analysis can also shed light to the earliest cultivated vines.
The earliest cultivated Vinifera came from the Neolithic sites of the Shulaveri-Gora culture in Georgian Transcaucasia around 6000BC. Note that the region is close to the Mount Ararat, where bible says that Noah planted the first vineyard in mankind (Genesis 9.20-1). The earliest evidence of wine comes from Mesopotamia (c. 3500BC) and specifically at Godin Tepe in Iran, where a wine stain found at the bottom of an Amphora. However, systematic winemaking demands, time, careful thought and technical skill. The first proof of systematic winemaking comes from Greece and from the early Minoan period (c. 3000/ Bronze Age). At Myrtos in Crete, archaeologists have found presses with empty grape skins together with Vinifera pips and stalks. Babylonians and Egyptians were also drinking wine but for them it was a luxury and they normally drank beer.
For Greeks wine was part of their cultural identity. It accompany their feasts, their festivals (i.e. Anthesteria) and their rituals but also used to solemnize agreements and for therapeutic purposes (i.e. nourishing, diuretic, digestion). Also Greeks were the first connoisseur of wine notably praising, through poems and plays, the Aegean wines (Thasos, Lesvos, Chios, Naxos, Scopelos and Kos) and the distinguish wines from Dionysus birthplace, Thrace. In particular the Ismarian, the Bibline and the Maronio wines from Thrace and the much-praised Pramnian wine from Icaria had a prestigious position in the Homeric Poems (i.e. Hecamede, who is like a goddess, mixed for them a divine drink made with Pramian wine…).
Wine in Greek is translated to “Oenos”. However, the Greeks nowadays call their wine “Krasi” which means a mixed wine (i.e. “Kekramenos Oinos” from the verb “kerannimi” which means mixing). Ancient Greeks thought that drinking undiluted wine was a barbarian habit, often in those days associated with the Shythians and the Massagetae. Mythology says that Dionysus taught to the third King of Athens, Amphictyon, to add water to his wine in order to enable the Athenians to remain standing up straight after its consumption. Greeks used to drink their wine diluted with a wine to water ratio 1:3 or 2:3 (i.e. 3% to 6% alc.) depending on the occasion and the wine strength. Also the Greeks were the first who started maturing (see Maturation in Antiquity). The relation of Greeks with wine can be summarised to the three maxims, inscribed in the entrance of Apollo’s Temple at Delphi:
- Ynothei Seafton (“Know thyself”)
- Miden Agan (“Nothing in excess”)
- Eggea, para d’ati (“Surety leads to ruin”)
Through colonization the Greeks carried viticulture to Southern Italy (Oenotria) and around 600BC to France, from the Greeks colonists who founded Marseilles.
As our grandma was always saying with Apollonian (and Dionysian) wisdom: “To grow, you need to nourish your roots”.