About Wine & Spirits
Dear Mega Wine & Spirits customers,
Welcome to our continuation of our wine education series. We hope that you enjoy reading the following passage.
In our last blog, we focused on wine in ancient times through the middle ages. In this entry, we will study wine production and consumption from the 15th century onwards as well as its role in the subsequent European expansions throughout the globe.
It is remarkable to note that, throughout the history of wine, the first time the Bible mentions the production of wine was in the Book of Genesis when Noah, drunk and terrified, warns his sons about the Great Flood that is soon to come as announced by God himself. In contrast, archaeologically speaking, the earliest evidence found containing remains of wine dates to samples of the substance in pots traced to 7000 BC in modern day China. It is theorized that this first evidence of consumption was related to religious rituals rather than daily affairs.
Christians eventually inherited the consumption of wine as a riteto commemorate Jesus’s Last supper. Wine has had a religious/ritualistic connection since the auburn of time, representing a vessel of sense and sensibility in the never-ending history of mankind.
As mentioned in our last entry,only the nobility had access to then-expensive wine throughout most of the colder parts of the Old Continent, as climate conditions made it more difficult to mass produce grapes. Lower classes couldn’t afford it, even though wine was instrumental in the most sacred ritual of Catholic Mass. To ensure that supply remained constant, and the faithful quenched, several catholic Orders at the time devoted their efforts to working the land while finding a way to balance their commitments to spiritual life. As a direct consequence, the Benedictine monks became one of the largest producers of wine in France and Germany. Cistercians, Carthusians, Templars and Carmelites were also historically relevant producers who still maintain their output well into modern times.
The Benedictines owned vineyards in the Champagne (Dom Perignon was a Benedictine monk), Burgundy, and Bordeaux regions of France. The monks turned wine industry into a huge enterprise to ship their production all over Europe providing the precious liquid for Mass celebrations. Wine transportation was easy if cultivated lands were near navigable rivers as the Loire and Garonne, as taking advantage of bodies of water reduced costs and made these industries highly profitable.
As an interesting side note, around this time in 1435, Count John IV - a wealthy member of the Holy Roman high nobility – became the first person to plant and develop the Riesling variety of grape near modern-day Frankfurt.
After the discovery of America, many European grape varieties were brought to the new land, specifically to Mexico. Spanish “conquistadores’ shipped it over mostly to supply wine for the Catholic Mass. The initial grapes which populated western parts of South and North America, a variety of Vitis Viniferacurrently referred to as mission grapes, can still be found today. French, Portuguese, Italian and German grapes were also brought by Europeans as they slowly colonized the continent. Mexico eventually grew out of its initial mandate to produce for religious reasons and quickly became one of the most important wine producers worldwide during the 16thcentury, causing the Spanish King to decree a royal order to halt Mexico’s production and plantations to avoid wealth-fueled separatism and rivalry to the Iberian motherland.
Shortly before the discovery of the New World, England and France came into conflict with each other in what became known as the Hundred Year’s War, and their once prosperous mutual wine trading came to an end. The Dutch eventually took advantage of the situation by picking up the vacuum in commerce and expanded their reach throughout Europe as primary merchants of the liquid well into the XVI and XVII centuries.
Later, the age of Enlightenment in the 18th century experienced an increase in the study of winemaking methods through heavy support of research at a university level. For example, in 1756 the University in Bordeaux encouraged students to find methods to increase wine transparency other than using egg whites (which was the only known method at the time). In Burgundy, students were invited to find new techniques to improve the quality of the region’s wine. Experts began to focus on which grape varieties grew best in different lands to increase their yields and thus generate more profits.
However, despite the interest of mostly French universities to improve the quality of wine production, results were not optimal. By the time of the French Revolution (1789) poor quality wine was being produced primarily due to the lack of knowledge among many French wine makers that failed to embrace or become exposed to newly developed technologies.
This all changed in 1801 a major finding made by Antoine Chaptal revolutionized the wine industry in what became known as the process of Chaptalization – thus virtually ending the discrimination of grape yields in accordance to regional constraints. Chaptalization consisted of a new way to increase alcohol levels in wine by adding copious amounts of sugar before the fermentation process for the yeast to feast on and later transform into alcohol.
The process itself became controversial since it was criticized for giving certain producers an unfair advantage, and even today Chaptalization – or sometimes known as enrichment - has become increasingly regulated by governments, or even outright banned, with the few notable exceptions only allowing for low-sugar grape regions to benefit from the method as a way of compensating for their inherently lacking raw fruits.
In the next blog, we will continue exploring the series of events that brought prosperity to this golden age of wine in the 18thcentury, its decline, and later its subsequent revival.
Thank you for reading, and we at Mega hope you enjoyed sharing with us this cultural and historical experience. WE WILL CONTINUE NEXT WEEK… WINE IS A PASSIONATE AND NEVER-ENDING ISSUE.
So SAMPLE, TASTE, ENJOY, LOVE LIFE…. CHEERS!