Thresholds of Wine and the Culture Surrounding It
Wine is of great economic, cultural, and symbolic value in today’s society. People can travel across the globe to visit globally renowned wineries and are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a good bottle of wine. It is a major industry and provides a living for many people. It is also often the basis of many social activities like wine tasting and female book clubs. According to a survey done by ‘The Top Tens’ wine was voted the 3rd best alcoholic drink, showing how prevalent it is in our culture. However, the wine of today’s day and age is a lot different from the first traces of wine in ancient times. But how can a drink have such an impact on our lives? Before we dig into the origins of wine and answering this question, it is important to define what exactly wine is in reference to the wine of ancient times as the wine back then is quite different to the wine of today. According to the Cambridge dictionary, Wine can be defined as ‘an alcoholic drink that is usually made from grapes but can also be made from other fruits or flowers. It is made by fermenting the fruit with water and sugar.’ With this now fresh in our heads let’s dive into our first threshold.
Threshold 5 – life
Threshold 5 is all about the first traces of life. The new earth provided a perfect environment for living organisms. The Goldilocks conditions of complex chemical compounds, the right amount of energy and liquid water led to new organisms. These new organisms developed metabolism, homeostasis, reproduction and adaptation. This threshold relates to wine as wine is produced through grape fermentation and grapes are plants. Therefore grapes are living species. Around 3 billion years after life first appeared in the form of bacteria, plants emerged. Then 475 million years ago plants begin to spread across the land. With these plants were the ancestors of grapevines. As these plants began to spread they began to evolve and adapt to their environments. However, some plants were not able to adapt fast enough when natural disasters like eruptions, extreme temperature changes and meteoroids hitting the earth leading for them to become extinct. With many of these disasters, versions of grapevines came and went but the ancestors of the grapevines we see today persisted and evolved. Alongside, they evolved Homo-Sapiens. This brings us to our next threshold, Threshold 7.
Threshold 7 – Agriculture and Civilisation
Threshold 7 sees the early humans transition from their previously scavenging lifestyles into Agriculture. The Goldilocks conditions of increasingly dense communities, more gained knowledge of the environment through collective learning, warmer climates after the last ice age and more competition for resources enabled for the domestication of plants and animals as well as making way for villages, cities and agrarian civilisations to emerge. In this process, the early ancient civilisations were not as advanced in their knowledge of irrigation technologies. Because of this both the townspeople and the animals drank from the same water. Soon the water became contaminated with animal products such as poo so the people had to come up with an alternative drinking source. So wine became a water substitute. Now this may sound crazy and you may be led to assume that everyone was always drunk on wine, but as funny as that would be, the wine was not as strong back when it was being first fermented. The earliest archaeological evidence of ‘wine’ was found on a hill in Georgia known as Gadachrili Gora. After great analysis, a test found that the radiocarbon from the artifacts and remains dates from 5,800 B.C. to 6,000 B.C. As these small agrarian communities began to grow they turned into empires. These empires included the ancient cities of Greece, Rome and Egypt. In each of these societies, wine played a big part.
In ancient Greece, wine was of such importance that there was even a god of wine, Dionysus. A part of Dionysus legend was that wine drunk moderately brought joy and pleasure but if you were to overdo it then it is a curse. The wine was often associated with discussion and poetry and was drunk at a symposium. A symposium was held after a meal and occurred in a specific room. There were many rules and regulations around a Symposium like When you entered you had to wash your hands and put a wreath on your head. These rules and regulations enhance our knowledge of the importance and value wine had in the ancient greek societies. In fact, as Plato once stated in 400 BC ‘No thing more excellent nor more valuable than wine was ever granted mankind by God.’ Various types of wine were also used for medicinal purposes by using them as an analgesic, diuretic, tonic and digestive aid.
In ancient Rome, there was also a god of wine named Liber. He was the god of viticulture and wine, fertility and freedom. Wine was drunk at a convivium which was a large banquet consisting of different courses of rare and fine foods and had things music, acrobats and mock battles for entertainment. In the room where the convivium was held would be a crater, a huge jug of wine with an open top. The wine would then be mixed with water, which was the most common way of drinking wine. Much like ancient Greece wine was also used for medicinal purposes. Wine was a recommended cure for mental disorders such as depression, memory loss and grief, as well as bodily ailments, from bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gout, and halitosis to snakebites, tapeworms, urinary problems and vertigo.
In ancient Egypt wine was kept for the top levels of society. The wealthy of society displayed their wealth by the amount of wine they had and the size of their wine cellars. For most people, wine was drunk at festivals or used in religious offerings as it was so expensive. Just like Ancient Rome and Greece, wine was for medicinal purposes. It was often used in a mixture to try and help asthma, lower someone’s fever, or to induce labour. Yet again the Ancient Egyptians also had a god of wine Asar and a Goddess of Wine Renenutet. As the Egyptian God of agriculture, Asar was responsible for both wine and beer, And as the Goddess of the harvest, Renenutet was a deity particularly important to grape growers. This made her a goddess of wine.
Threshold 8 – Expansion and Interconntion
As people started farming, networks got larger and people were increasingly specialized in their work and trade. Populations in cities grew larger, and therefore trade reached longer distances. From this grew trade routes that connected other cities and regions. The main route that wine was originally traded across was the Phoenician trade route. The trade route was by sea and connected the Greek islands, southern Europe, the Atlantic coast of Africa, and ancient Britain. The route traded a variety of goods from plants or foods like olives, figs, dates, walnuts and almonds to textiles items like wool, linen yarn and cotton and amongst all of this, wine. So through this route wine become way more accessible to other regions and grew in popularity. Later as the different world zones continued to connect, wine also was exchanged along the silk road. The silk road stretched from China to Korea and Japan in the east and connected China through Central Asia to India in the south and to Turkey and Italy in the west. So now wine is being traded along most of Europe and Asia and a bit in Africa. From here came the Columbian exchange which connected the Americas, Europe, and Africa also began to trade grapevines, winemaking techniques and therefore wine. So from this point, the exchange of wine boomed. Winemaking technologies improved and Grapevines began to grow and be transported all across the globe, eventually making its way to Australia where we now have some of the finest wine money can buy.
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