Archaeology and the natural sciences especially chemistry, geology, and archaeobotany provide the best starting point for discovering the beginnings of viniculture. Ancient organics deriving from grapes and wine are being studied by radiocarbon dating, high-resolution microscopy, chemical analysis, and DNA analysis.
Ancient organics have been found most often in pottery vessels, which absorb liquids and retain them in their pores and clay ionic structure. Pottery is one of the oldest inventions by humans.
The Middle East, East Asia, South Asia, Mesoamerica and Peru, the earliest civilizations in the world, developed their own writing systems, architecture, art, technologies, agriculture, viticulture, foods and beverages within their own unique contexts.
25000-23000 BCE: in this prehistoric period, archaeological discoveries include the early use of clay in forming figurines of humans and animals made of pottery in a settlement near Brno in the Czech Republic.
18000 BCE: Earliest use of pottery vessels are based on discoveries found in Jiangxi, China. Fragments of pots found in the Xianrendong Cave date to between 18000 BCE and 17000 BCE.
18000-14000 BCE: Ceramic pottery spread in Eastern Asia.
14000 BCE: Sherds of ceramic artifacts found in Japan and the Russian Far East.
9000 BCE: Early clay vessels are dried in the sun or fired at low temperatures below 1000 Centigrade. Pottery vessels were monochrome in color but occasionally are painted with linear or geometric motifs.
9000 BCE: Clay based vessels are now commonly used for water and food.
8500-4000 BCE: During the Neolithic Period humans occupy villages year-round in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains bordering the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (modern Iran and Iraq), Transcaucasia (modern Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) and on the Anatolian plateau in eastern Turkey. Such settlements are also found in Taurus and Lebanon Mountains.
8000 BCE: Transcaucasia is unique for its diverse ecology which is home to over 6,000 plant species particularly wild fruit and nut species. The wild grape subspecies Vitis vinifera sylvestris still grows wild in Transcaucasia.
8000 BCE: Anatolia is probably where vineyards were first cultivated in the Middle East no fewer than 10,000 years ago according to leading expert and archaeologist, Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. This hypothesis still needs to be substantiated.
7000 BCE: The earliest evidence of a honey, grape, hawthorn tree fruit, and rice mixed based fermented drink is found in ancient China.
“The earliest attested use of wild grapes in wine” as well as “the earliest chemically confirmed alcoholic beverage in the world” are confirmed to date to 7000 BCE.
According to Professor Patrick McGovern’s research, the history of Chinese grape exploitation, probably of wild grape species, and winemaking dates back to between 7000 BCE and 9000 BCE.
Professor Gina Hames’ research concurs: “The earliest wine or fermented liquor came from China, predating Middle Eastern alcohol by a few thousand years. Archaeologists have found pottery shards showing remnants of rice and grape wine dating back to 7,000 BCE in Jiahu village in Henan province.”
6000 BCE: The first pottery and plaster vessels appear at this time according to research by Dr. Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
6000 BCE: In Georgia the roots of winemaking were established in the Neolithic period. Large clay jars were fired in kilns, grapes harvested, crushed and possibly fermented in vessels buried in the ground like the qvevris used today.
5400 BCE: In upland Mesopotamia (the Zagros Mountains of modern Iran) six wine jars were excavated at Hajji Firuz Tepe in a Neolithic “kitchen,” dated to between 5400 and 5000 BCE. Two of the jars, which were tested, had residue of a resinated wine. Tree resins were added to wine in ancient times to give added flavor and aroma and to help preserve it.
4100 BCE: The earliest known winemaking facility with stomping platforms and underground jars for fermentation is excavated in Armenia, providing evidence for large scale wine production.
3500 BCE: The invention of the tournette and later the true wheel provide potters with a technology to produce artifacts with a guaranteed radial symmetry.
3500 BCE: In Palestine and Transjordan, the domesticated grapevine (Vitis vinifera vinifera) is well-established.
The Egyptian hieroglyphic pictogram for “grape, vineyard, wine” very appropriately shows a trellised vine. Egyptian texts are among the earliest writings describing winemaking and vineyards in the world.
Paintings and frescoes on the walls of Egyptian tombs in Saqqara, Giza, Thebes, and elsewhere illustrate grape cultivation, the winemaking process and commerce.
Wine was placed in tombs, stored in pottery jars with labels. The first “wine labels” referred to the vineyards where the grapes were grown.
By the end of the Old Kingdom, five distinct wines were produced as a canonical set of provisions for the after-life.
Egypt is the first country to worship wine as both a social drink and a sacred beverage.
No wild grapes grew in Egypt in ancient times. Domestic grapes and winemaking were introduced from the Levant to Egypt around 3000 BCE. Previously, wine was imported from Canaan and Palestine.
Vineyards were planted in the Nile Delta and along the river by 3000 BCE, and harvested in June and July before the annual flooding of the Nile River.
The Egyptians established wineries; there were fifteen production areas. Grapes were stomped after harvest and were initially fermented in clay vats. Wine was stored in pottery amphorae.
Red wines were predominant in Egypt. The five clay amphora found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb contained wine residue. It is not known whether the Egyptians produced or imported white wine.
3100 BCE–2700 BCE: Mesopotamia (modern Iran): Wine jar fragments discovered at Godin Tepe. The reddish residue represents the lees of a well aged vintage of wine.
2500 BCE: Wine was produced by the Canaanites and Jewish people in the Judea where they lived as semi-nomadic tribes. Wine has been described as “monotheistic Judaism’s most faithful companion.”
Sacred texts of Judaism discuss the myths associated with grapes and wine. In ancient Judea, wine was made by fermenting grape juice in large clay vats called Dolia, made specifically for this purpose.
Grape juice and wine were transported across the Middle East in goatskin canteens, shaped long and narrow, on camels. This made wine a global commodity and the wine trade took root especially in the kingdoms of
Cyprus and Crete.
3000 BCE: Wine culture which was entrenched in the Near East by the beginning of the Bronze Age. Wine was used in every aspect of life including meals, celebrations, religious traditions, social relations, economic trade and political power.
2300 BCE: Mesopotamia—Sumerian City of Lagash: First record of the word “wine.” Written on ancient clay tablets, “The King commanded that wine be brought down from the mountains to him in great urns.” The wine was produced in Iran and Anatolia at this time. Wine was expensive and enjoyed primarily by a limited number of wealthy people.
2200 BCE: Crete (Greece) had large scale wine production according to molecular archaeological analyses yielding grape skins, seeds and stems found in the village of Myrtos.
Large clay vessels used among civilizations that bordered the Mediterranean Sea in the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages were found in Pithoi. These vessels were used for storage of liquids and grains.
1550 to 300 BCE: Phoenicia (modern Lebanon): The Phoenicians built a maritime trading empire starting in 1550 BCE that carried wine produced in Canaan with the knowledge of vineyard and winemaking to modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.
Cathaginian writer Mago, wrote agricultural treatises recording the ancient knowledge of Mediterranean winemaking and viticulture of the 3rd and 2nd Centuries BCE. His 28 volumes of writings were highly acclaimed.
The Phoenicians propagated several of the ancestral varieties of the Vitis vinifera species of wine grapes and sold the cuttings on their trade routes. They planted vineyards according to favorable climate and topography. They developed a variety of winemaking styles including sweet raisin wines (a sweet white wine), to sharp retsina made with pine resin.
The Phoenicians used the clay amphora for the storage of wine and for transport on their ships throughout the Mediterranean basin. They were among the first to bring wine to Egypt.
The Greeks were educated by the Phoenicians in three major areas: winemaking, viticulture and shipbuilding technologies that enabled the Greeks to build huge fleets and expand beyond the Aegean Sea.
The word amphora is a Greco-Roman word developed in ancient Greece during the Bronze Age. The first literary person to use the word was the Roman writer Cato. The Romans adopted the word when they became a Roman Republic.
Greeks established settlements throughout the Mediterranean. Each settlement was expected to plant vineyards for local use and trade. The Greek colonies in what is now southern Italy had indigenous grapes which provided an ideal place for wine production. The Etruscans developed early winemaking techniques and used amphora in the region we know as Tuscany. However the Greeks profoundly influenced the Italian viticulture and production methods of winemaking.
Grape varieties grown by ancient Greeks include Aglianico, Grechetto and Trebbiano. Today Aglianico and Trebbiano are grown in San Luis Obispo County.
In the 4th Century BCE, Greek writer Theophrastus created a detailed record of Greek influences and innovations in viticulture including the study of soils to determine the best place to plant specific grapevines; the practice of minimizing yields to obtain more intense concentration of flavors and quality; the practice of suckering and using cuttings for planting new vineyards.
Training vines enabled Greek viticulturalists to manage the canopy and control yields providing easier cultivation and harvesting.
Greek winemaking techniques include the crushing of grapes by placing them in wicker baskets which were placed in earthenware or wooden vats. Vineyard workers climbed into the baskets and crushed the grapes gently with their feet while often being serenaded festively by flute playing musicians. The must was moved to large clay jars (Pithoi) to ferment. The Greeks produced both sweet aromatic wine and drier types of wine, ranging in color from black to tawny to clear.
The wine drinking customs included diluting wine with water. This practice was a mark of civilized behavior. The Greeks believed that drinking undiluted wine could lead to death.
Culturally, wine served economic, religious, social and medical purposes in Greek society. Wine was an important commodity traded throughout the Mediterranean.
Festivals were held throughout the year to honor the God of wine, Dionysus. The Anthesteria was a wine festival celebrating the beginning of spring and the opening of the clay pithoi, storing the matured wine of that last vintage. Greek doctors prescribed various types of wines as an antiseptic and as an aid for analgesic, diuretic, tonic and digestive ailments.
Roman viticulture and winemaking profoundly influenced the modern winemaking regions of France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Wine became the democratic beverage under the Romans who made it available to all men and women including aristocrats, soldiers, slaves, peasants and colonists.
Viticulture and wine production was established in all areas of the Roman empire according to archaeological evidence of the Amphorae, the clay vessels used to transport wine.
The Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom in the 8th Century BCE which eventually became a republic with a government of the Senate and the People in the 6th Century BCE.
The Roman Republic initially conquered and assimilated its neighbors on the Italian peninsula. In the 3rd Century BCE, Rome expanded their empire to include territories around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.
By the 1st Century BCE the Roman Empire emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean Basin and became a leading cultural, political and religious center.
Ancient Rome established the viticultural traditions we see today in the famous wine regions of the world through trade, military campaigns, settlements and their culture. They introduced quality wine and viticultural techniques. Wine became a cultural, lifestyle and economic force—a lasting legacy from the ancient Roman Empire.
The first step was to place the grapes in a container to gently tread on the grapes by foot. This free-run juice was collected and placed in a separate vessel because it was the most highly prized juice. It was considered to have medicinal properties.
The second step was to move the grapes to a special room and place them in a shallow concrete basin on an elevated platform. Wooden beams were placed across the basin with a device designed for crushing (pressing) the grapes between the beams. The grape skins could be pressed up to three times for quality wines. Future pressings made a low-quality wine, produced for the lower classes to drink.
The third step was fermentation. The grape juice was moved to large earthenware jars known as dolia which were often half-buried in the ground. Each dolia held up to several thousand liters. The dolia were kept in a barn or warehouse.
The final step was to move the wine into Amphorae for storage and aging. The aging of wines was important to the Roman winemakers. Roman law described new wines as aged less than a year. Older vintages were more expensive than new vintages regardless of quality. Some wines were aged between 15 and 25 years.
Sweet white wine was highly regarded in the ancient world. Because the wines contained high alcohol content, wine was often diluted with warm water.
The Roman winemakers were focused on aroma and planted herbs such as lavender and thyme in their vineyards. Some added herbs and spices directly to the wines.
Amphorae, filled with aging wine, were often placed in chambers called fumarium to add smokiness to the flavor.
Some wines were aged in Amphorae lined with resin which produced a flavor similar to modern retsina wine.
Some wines were made from dried grapes or raisins to produce the sweet Passum, widely used in rituals and in medicine.