A Brief History of Wine

Two years ago, I started our writing these blogs, with a small following of friends. Looking back at the history of this blog, I was lucky to get about 100 people checking out the site. Now people from all over the world are checking in, adding their comments, and e-mailing me with questions. I appreciate all of you who continue to read my blog articles, and who continue to vote my for my site by clicking the button on the upper right side of this page.

Most of you know that I teach wine classes to all types of wine students. From beginner to professional Sommeliers. This week, I was preparing my class presentation for a review of the history of wine. While I learned this for my Sommelier certification, it is not something that I spend a lot of time reviewing, or even discussing. So, I thought I'd give you my abbreviated version of the history of how wine made it to California (no, wine grapes are not native to our continent).

Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris
The wild grapevine (Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris) is thought to have been first cultivated (Vitis Vinifera Sativa) around 7,000 to 5,000 BC in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains of modern day Georgia and Armenia.

These first wines found their way south into the Mesopotamian cultures, and is even mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a story from the Sumerian culture dating to around 4,000 to 3,000 BC.

The wine and vines traveled down the Nile, and settled in the Egyptian culture. Here, the Egyptians began to keep records of vintages, and began to store and experiment with wine. After the Egyptians, the Phoenicians began to spread wine around the Mediterranean, where the Greeks became avid growers and traders of grapes.

The Greeks expanded their trade to the southern reaches of Oenotria (now Italy), by colonizing Sicily, Cyrpus, and continental Italy. It is with the Greeks that we are introduced to Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) and also Hippocrates (the father of medicine), who "prescribed" the consumption of wine to cure all sorts of conditions.

After the decline of Greece, the Romans stepped into the scene around 150 BC. The Roman Empire spread into what is now Spain and France, as well as the Etruscan regions of Italy. The Romans were the first to publish books on growing, and the importance of matching the grape variety with the proper soil and climate. At this point in history, the prized wines were typically sweet, or flavored to mask the spoilage issues. The influence of Roman doctors led a shift to drier styles. White wines were for the rich, and reds left for the poor. We also meet Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.

Christianity was the next step in the evolution of wine, as it became a key ritual representing the blood of Christ. Unlike Bacchus and Dionysus, the Christian approach to wine was in moderation.
 The monastic movement grew dramatically after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, but its' largest expansion was led by Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor, around 800 AD. His interests in the vine were focused on the Rhone and Burgundy regions of Gaul (France). The two most influential orders were the Benedictine and Cistercian monks. They kept meticulous records, and their viticultural studies and advances were extensive. Under the monks, the vine moved all over Europe.

Junipero Serra
The next big jump took place during the "Age of Discovery". The exploration of trade routes, and new sources for gold, oil, wine, and spices began with Portuguese discovery of Madiera in 1419, followed by the Spanish (Columbus, and later Cortez), the French, English, and Dutch (South Africa).

Cultivation in Mexico began around 1520, with plantings of the Criolla Grape (also known as the Mission Grape). Mostly used for religious services of the Catholic Church. This spread into California through the advance of a series of missions, by Father Junipero Serra.

Buena Vista Winery
California's first documented imported European wine vines were planted in Los Angeles (at that time some of largest expanses of vineyards in the world) in 1833 by Jean-Louis Vignes. By the 1850's, Agoston Haraszthy, made several trips to import cuttings from 165 of the greatest European vineyards to California. Haraszthy opened the first commercial winery in California, Buena Vista, in 1857.

There is so much more to the story of wine. Volumes of books have been written on the subject. Hopefully, this very short review with wet your appetite to learn more. Maybe even join one of my classes, where we get more in-depth. If not my class, find a local wine shop that offers instruction, and have fun!


  1. Amazing information. I was unaware of the history of Wine. It was a great read. Every wine drinker must know about the actual story of wine.
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  2. Georgia the birthplace of wine
    Winemaking is deeply rooted in Georgia’s history, culture and economy. The world’s first cultivated grapevines are thought to have originated in the country’s fertile valleys some 8,000 years ago. The famous 17th century French traveler Jean Chardin wrote that no other country was so rich in the diversity and quality of its wine. It is, therefore, no surprise that wine production is very important for Georgia’s economy. Many households depend on revenue derived from it and with a significant proportion of Georgia’s wines reaching foreign markets it is a key export earner. Strong competition from producers in the world’s other wine-producing countries and the need to expand market access, are fuelling efforts to modernize and improve the industry. This article examines the legal measures taken by Georgia to create a favorable policy environment to uncork the enormous economic potential of the country’s rich wine-producing heritage. I liked your blog, Take the time to visit the me and say that the change in design and meniu?

  3. Love this site! Makes learning about wine fun. Thanks for sharing!