Grapes - history, production, trade
The origins of grapes and vines are so ancient that have become a legend: according to some legends, vines are dated back to Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruits would have been juicy grapes and not the anonymous apple; first evidence of winegrowing is present in Genesis (chap. 9), when Noah, after the Flood, docked on the land, planted vine and got drunk with its heady wine. More recently, most people state that the origins of vines should be searched in India, from where, in the third millennium b.C. spread firstly to Asia and then to the Mediterranean basin.
It is thought that vines developed around 7,500 b.C. in the Transcaucasian region, the present Armenia and Georgia.
Since then, until Classical Antiquity, the culture of vines has spread in almost all the countries of the Mediterranean area, arriving up to the Middle East.
It seems that the vine species Muscat and Syrah are the most ancient vines of the world, as suggested by the etymology of their names. Archeological finds date the first experiments of production of grapes and wine back to Neolithic (8000 b.C.): in Turkey and Jordan enormous deposits of grape seeds were found, suggesting that grapes were pressed. At that time, however, wine was made out of wild grapes, while first evidence of a certain kind of vine growing was found in Georgia 3,000 years later, during the Stone era.
In the West, the cultivation of vines was already known in Armenia (Mesopotamia), where the first revolutions of mankind had place, when some communities gave up to nomadism, giving birth to agriculture: it is in the Fertile Crescent area, between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, mother land of cereal and lab where the fermentation processes were discovered giving birth to bread, cheese and to exhilarating beverages. Some Egyptian hieroglyphics dated back to the 2,500 b. C. describe the different methods of processing of grapes: the production of wine was spread to such an extent in Ancient Egypt, that in the grave goods of pharaoh Tutankhamun (1339 b.C.) were found also two amphorae containing wine, on which the place of production, the vintage and the name of the producer were specified; some of them contained wine aged of many years. Starting from Egypt, the production and processing of grapes spread among Jewish, Arabs and Greeks: the latter even dedicated to the wine a deity, Dionysus, god of conviviality.
It is not certain when the Italian vine growing activity began: first evidences in the North of Italy are dated back to the X century b. C. in the Italian region Emilia. However, it is certain that vines have nowadays spread in more than 40 countries all over the world, even though more than half of the world production takes place in Europe (especially in Spain, Italy and France).
In the heart of the Mediterranean area, around the XII-XIII centuries, the production and the processing of grapes began its journey from Sicily towards Europe, spreading first among the Sabines and later among the Etruscans, who became skilled cultivators and wine producers and spread the cultivation of grapes from the Italian region Campania to the Padan Plain. Among the Romans, the processing of grapes into wine, became very important only after the conquest of Greece: the first detachment turned into love at such an extent that Bacchus entered among the group of Gods and Romans became great promoters of vine growing in all the Empire’s provinces.
The birth of Christianity and the following decay of the Roman Empire, marked the beginning of a dark period for grapes and wine, accused of creating drunkenness and ephemeral pleasure; to this added also the spread of Islam in the Mediterranean area, between 800 and 1400 AD., when vine growing was banished in all the occupied area. On the other hand, the monks together with the Jewish communities, continued, almost secretly, vine growing and the processing of grapes to produce wine used in religious rites. We need to wait until the Renaissance to find again a literature that gives back to wine, its central role in the Western culture and that extols its qualities.
In the Seventeenth century the art of coopers spread, bottles became less expensive and corks began to be used, helping the storage and the transport of wine, and therefore enhancing its trade.
In the Nineteenth century the great role played by grapes and wine in the Western culture became even more central: the peasant tradition is joined by the contribution of notable researchers that do their best to produce more and more good and quality grapes and wine.