For everybody living today, Italian wine has simply always been a part of life. For centuries, the Italian wine industry has been providing people with its gorgeous products. And so many of the famed producers of today can trace their histories back for hundreds of years.
Take the Antinori family as an example.
Since the late 1300s, this family has been making wines for people all over the world. Today, they are amongst the most respected producers to ever exist. And yet even they, with almost 700 years behind them, barely scratch the surface in terms of how long humans, as a species, have been cultivating the grape and making wines.
So, how long have we been masters of the grape?
In fact, how long has the grape even existed?
As we considered the history of the Italian wine industry, these are the questions that began to form for us. And it is these questions that have inspired the writing of today’s article.
We’re not going to look at the history of the Italian wine industry here…
We’re going to look at the history of wine itself!
And that all starts with the very first examples of the vine that would become so important to the entire industry.
The First Grape Vines
The discover how old the grape is, we can look to a recent discovery in the Italian region of Valdarno.
Archaeologists have discovered some pretty impressive fossils in this region. Very recently, they have uncovered the fossilised remains of a grape vine.
Perhaps that isn’t immediately impressive. After all, we know that vines have been tended for thousands of years, as we will explore in a short while. So, it stands to reason that there should be evidence of these old vines lying around.
Only, these fossils weren’t from vines that humans had cultivated in the past.
Instead, they are the fossils of wild vines that grew without any intervention.
And that’s not all…
These fossils were 2 million years old.
This important discovery tells is that vines have existed in Italy for at least 2 million years. As such, we can feel justified in calling Italy the land of wine. After all, grapes have been growing on this land since before the dawn of humanity!
And yet, there are examples of vines that are even older than this!
In fact, there are some fossils in existence that show us that vines have existed for 60 million years. This means the grape dates all of the way back to prehistoric eras that are beyond our imagining.
Of course, the plant itself is only one component of wine.
The other is the human element.
While the grape can grow on its own, with no intervention, it requires the touch of people to turn the grape into the wonderful drink that we all love so much.
The Earliest Days of Wine
When we talk about the early days of wine, we tend to focus on the ancient civilizations for which wine became such a crucial part of culture.
Take the Ancient Greeks as an example.
We know how important this culture was in the development of the wine industry that we have today. The Greeks unearthed so many secrets of the vine and we’re so in love with wine that they even had their own god devoted to it. We can, of course, say the same thing about the Romans, who similarly had such a passion for wine that they had a god of it.
And yet, the tale of wine goes back much farther than these civilisations.
If we head all of the way back to the time of the ancient Egyptians, we see evidence that people understand the benefits of fermenting fruit to create alcoholic drinks.
Hieroglyphics show is that the Egyptians drank some form of wine. However, the evidence uncovered so far suggests that this was very different to the wines we know today. The Egyptians used grapes of all types to create their wines, rather than solely the white and red grapes that we use today. They also incorporated other fruits into their winemaking, including dates, pomegranates, and figs.
We imagine this would lend the wine some very interesting tastes.
But the drinks would be unlike what we have today.
Still, we can say from this that the Egyptians can place themselves as one of the creators of what we now know as wine.
And yet, the evidence shows us that even that are far from the first people to discover the joys of fermenting the grape and turning it into wine. To find out earliest example of this practice, we must head to the Zagros Mountains of Iran.
The Mountainous Wines
Little is known of the wines that were produced in Iran. In fact, such are the times today that wine is one of the last products you would expect to find in Iran. And yet, the fossil records show us that ancient Iranians played a crucial role in the development of wine into what it is today.
Fossils of the earliest wines have been found in these mountainous regions.
And what is most interesting is that these fossils predate the entire ancient Egyptian civilisation. The age of the pharaohs truly began in about 3,000 BC, which is when the Kingdoms of upper and lower Egypt united. Prior to these, both areas had been settled but were not truly united into a culture. It is only after this date that we start to see evidence of the early Egyptians form of wine.
The fossils found in Iran’s Zagros Mountains date back to between 5,400 and 5,000 BC.
Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest that some nomadic tribes had started making something like wine before this date. However, the Iranian fossils are such an important find because they were found in a region that had been settled. As such, these fossils may give us our earliest example of an actually industry cropping up around wine.
One thing is for certain.
The history of wine dates back farther than many of us could anticipate. And while Italian wines are now the cream of the crop, we can’t help but wonder what the world of wine will look like 8,000 years from now.
In 10,000 AD, will Italy’s wines be the subject of contemporary researchers’ discoveries?
Only time will tell.
I’m a passionate about good wine and good cooking.
I like to keep me updated and share with my online friends my gastronomic knowledge.