Wine Drunk: A Retrospective

By Claire Cerda


I recently started reading a really cool (read: nerdy) book called 900 Years of Wine: A World History by wine writer and wine historian Rod Phillips. In his book, Phillips describes how the economics, the politics, and the culture of wine developed from ancient times, through the Middle Ages, and into the modern era. I’m only a few chapters into the book but I wanted to share some really interesting stories that I’ve learned about winemaking from 9000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.

Wine was first made in the Fertile Crescent, which is now modern-day southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and northern Egypt. Historians aren’t really sure who the first person was to make wine, but they do agree that wine was “discovered unlike beer and bread which are thought to have been invented” (pg. 15). Phillips writes that pre-Neolithic humans may have discovered wine after eating the fermented wild berry juice leftover in the animal hide or wooden containers used for foraging. It’s also thought that humans may have observed birds and other animals acting a little tipsy after eating fermented fruit and berries (hey, we’ve all been there).

Phillips also tells a wine discovery story about Persian king Jamsheed. I’ll warn you - it’s a little grim. Jamsheed really liked fresh grapes and kept them on hand in jars during off-season months. One day, he tried some grapes from the jar only to find that they weren’t as sweet as he remembered. They had fermented in the jar. He labelled the jar “Poison” and put it back on the shelf. Phillips writes, “As the story goes, a woman from the royal harem, suffering from headaches so severe that she wanted to die, drank some of this ‘poison’ so as to put an end to her suffering. She was promptly overwhelmed by the alcohol and fell into a deep sleep. When the woman woke she was surprised to find that her headache was gone (and we must assume she was also surprised to be alive). She told the king of the magical cure, and he set about making more wine” (pg. 15). In order to make more wine, they needed more fruit. They planted vines and after about two or more years, they were able to make a lot more wine from their more regular supply of fruit. Wine production increased throughout the Fertile Crescent during this time because humans were no longer relying on wild grapes but rather using their own cultivated crop. Phillips is sort of suggesting – if you can believe it - that the discovery of wine was a major catalyst for humans transitioning away from nomadic hunter gathering lifestyle into a more settled society. I believe it. #worthit

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