Music and Wine: how the evocation of memory brings vines and vinyl into the same space
Jun 20, 2022
It all starts with that first taste
News / May 25
May 25 is officially National Wine Day. The origins of this festival are shrouded in mystery, but what we DO know is this is a brilliant opportunity to celebrate wine with our favorite people. In fact, it’s such a tremendous idea that your friends at VIVANT have turned it into National Wine Week!
You could make sacrifices to the God, Bacchus, if you really want to, but we think you’d rather take a trip to the future of winemaking and sample some simply wonderful organic and biodynamic wine with our special National Wine Day Collection.
But first, let’s get a handle on what we’re celebrating here.
It’s a miracle. And it’s been happening for over 6,000 years.
The earliest evidence of wine production was found in the ancient region of Colchis, which is now in the modern day country of Georgia and dates from 6000 BCE (note: this stands for Before Common Era, which is now used by historians and curators instead of BC).
Ancient texts from as early as Herodotus in the 5th century BCE link the Caucasus region with winemaking, and we can tell from these early references that the wine of that time was sweet. But wine had already been around for centuries by then.
In terms of large scale production, we look to Armenia, where the oldest winery was discovered in 2011 dating back to 4100 BCE.
The Caucasus area is perhaps the cradle of wine but today you more immediately associate countries such as France, Italy and Spain with European winemaking. And one of them does lay claim to ancient history thanks to an excavation in 2017 which led to wine residue being discovered in the glaze of a clay pot in Sicily.
Sicilians believed that their viticultural history began when the island was colonized by the Greeks in the first century BCE, but this discovery has proved that they had their own indigenous winemaking in 4000 BCE – nearly 3,000 years earlier than previously thought.
The Egyptians, of course, get in on the act around 3000 BCE, but Greek historian Plutarch tells us that the Pharaohs eschewed the domestically-grown red wines due to a superstition. They believed red wine was the blood of those "who had once battled against the gods and from whom, when they had fallen and had become commingled with the earth, they believed vines to have sprung."
We really only started seeing the genesis of a wine trading market during the time of the Phoenecians. Winemaking knowledge was gradually transmitted from its Caucasian origins towards the Mediterranean and reached what is now Lebanon and its indigenous civilization, the Phoenecians. This amazing culture operated between 1550 and 300 BCE and their acquired knowledge saw the spread of the hallowed Vitis Vinifera vine firstly to Egypt and then the wider Mediterranean.
Their business acumen coupled with their maritime expertise created international trade for a burgeoning wine industry. Without Vitis Vinifera, we’d not be able to make wine taste remotely as good.
Of course it was only a matter of time before the Romans made an appearance. They made so many advances in civilization as we know it that they were bound to take wine under their wings. While the Romans were in the ascendancy, grape varietals were classified, as were vine diseases, and, perhaps even more impressively, they introduced the idea of wooden barrel aging. The second century BCE was considered the ‘golden age’ of Roman winemaking.
After the fall of Rome halfway through the first millennium CE (note: Common Era replaces A.D.), wine’s historical trajectory goes a bit flat. It wasn’t called the Dark Ages for nothing.
The onset of beer brewing, and its relative cheapness compared to wine ensured that it was no longer the drink of the people, as it had been in Roman times. Winemaking still happened, as churches had to ensure communion could go ahead, but the industry stopped flourishing at this time. Indeed in some areas where wine had thrived, Islamic rule outlawed its consumption.
At the turn of the millenium there came into existence a few businesses that sound more familiar to modern ears. Staffelter Hof and Schloss Vollrads in Germany were already established by this point and Château de Goulain in France’s Loire Valley was soon to start producing wine - and they all still do, astonishingly.
Now, we all love a monk, but do you realise how crucial these religious orders were to the future of wine? The only group of people consistently scholarly enough to be able to understand written Latin, the monks of the late middle ages were able to take instruction from Roman texts and start making wine all over the continent.
Firstly as a way of ensuring that mass could go ahead in the traditional way but soon after it became a vocation, and by the middle of the millenium, they’d got pretty good at it.
The first Burgundy wines were being made at Cluny Abbey in the 14th Century and could be found across Europe a century later. There was no pressure on these orders to make profits so they could really get stuck into experimentation, and from this, quality improved over the generations.
With the disastrous onset of the Black Death in the mid-14th century, it soon became the case that wine was a far safer drink than water, and this increased demand all over plague-stricken Europe.
Grape seeds were planted, thanks to the explorer Hernán Cortés, in the early 1500s, and by the mid-17th Century, Spanish missionaries had found suitable land in what is now the United States.
They planted Vitis Vinifera vines and the journey began. Recently, some brave winemakers in California and the Canary Islands are giving mission grapes a renaissance, so it may be possible to taste what American wine was like during the first flourish of winemaking, centuries ago.
The Lafite vineyards in Bordeaux were planted in the 1670s and ‘80s, but soon after that the Spanish War of Succession broke out which impacted trade, and the distribution channels that had been opened by the business-leading Dutch were hard to navigate safely. Interestingly, this was turning into something of an advantage because Bordeaux became hard to find on the continent and particularly in the greediest market of all, the UK. This scarcity led to bottles that did manage, largely through privateering, to find their way to London, fetching abnormally large sums at auction and elevating both the region and its winemakers
The 17th and 18th centuries gave birth to most of the fortified styles of wine we love today, like Port, Sherry and Sauternes. And let’s not forget the onset of Champagne. But also remember that the first wines from Champagne were not sparkling. Bubbles would have been seen as a fault, and there is a compelling argument that it was actually the English who POP-ularized the effervescent style after the imported still wines had warmed during travel and fermentation had begun again after being halted by Champagne’s cold winter, causing the cork to pop when opened across the channel months later.
Things really started to take shape in the middle of the 19th century with the Bordeaux Classifications of 1855 (which still exists and stratifies Bordelais wine today).
And across the pond, the first commercial winery starting operations in California with Englishman John Patchett in 1858.
It was all going so well.
American vines had been being imported for years for various reasons, including research and experimentation, but these shipped vines housed a large number of stowaways that no-one detected as they are miniscule. It could be that advances in maritime travel, and the increased speed of trans-Atlantic voyages, meant that any pests on the vine at the point of uproot were still alive by the time they were planted in Europe. And the name of these little beasts - phylloxera.
These aphids killed the vines by suffocation and the scale of the damage was unimaginable. The first recorded case was in the southern Rhone in 1863, and it took decades for the industry to recover, even after the genius solution of grafting on phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks onto the European vines had presented itself.
In the 20th century, two World Wars and the spectacle of Prohibition did nothing to advance the world of wine, but the industry and the vaunted regions got back on their feet in the 1950s.
Perhaps the next big sea change happened in 1976, at a wine tasting event in France that became known, thanks to Time magazine’s inspired headline, as The Judgement of Paris. In Greek mythology this event led to the Trojan War, but in 1970s France this led to wines from the United States beating the sainted wines of the home nation in a blind tasting.
The current changes in the wine industry are centered around methods of production. A move to sustainable, organic and even biodynamic farming are at the forefront of today’s world wine industry. This is the future of wine production and informed consumers are making their choices in a more responsible way. So let’s celebrate National Wine Day, and indeed National Wine Week, by starting to make consumer choices that will extend the future of the wine industry by taking care of the land and the surrounding environment.
Here’s to you and your future generations.
Happy National Wine Day, from your friends at VIVANT.
Subscribe to our weekly editorial digest and get a curated mix of stories straight to your inbox.
Digital / Yearly