social impact through time ...
Fossil vines, 60-million-years-old,
are the earliest scientific evidence of grapes. The earliest written
account of viniculture is in the Old Testament of the Bible which
tells us that Noah planted a vineyard and made wine. As cultivated
fermentable crops, honey and grain are older than grapes, although
neither mead nor beer has had anywhere near the social impact of
wine over recorded time. Wine and history have greatly influenced
MIDDLE EASTERN ORIGINS
An ancient Persian fable
credits a lady of the court with the discovery of wine. This
Princess, having lost favor with the King, attempted to poison
herself by eating some table grapes that had spoiled in a jar. She
became intoxicated and giddy and fell asleep. When she awoke, she
found the stresses that had made her life intolerable had dispersed.
Returning to the source of her relief, her subsequent conduct
changed so remarkably that she regained the King's favor. He shared
his daughter's discovery with his court and ...
Certainly wine, as a natural
phase of grape spoilage, was "discovered" by accident and is
not an invention of man. It is established that grape
cultivation and wine drinking had started by about 4000 BC
and possibly as early as 6000 BC. The first developments
were around the Caspian Sea and in Mesopotamia, near
present-day Iran. Texts from tombs in ancient Egypt prove
that wine was in use there around 2700 to 2500 BC. Priests
and royalty were using wine, while beer was drunk by the
workers. The Egyptians developed the first arbors and
pruning methods. Archeological excavations have uncovered
many sites with sunken jars, so the effects of temperature
on stored wine were probably known.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology
and Anthropology has a web site covering the
Origins and Ancient History of Wine with several
very interesting and user-friendly articles about
the discovery and science of wine's social origin
Wine came to Europe with the
spread of the Greek civilization around 1600 BC. Homer's Odyssey
and Iliad both contain excellent and detailed descriptions of
wine. Wine was an important article of Greek commerce and Greek
doctors, including Hippocrates, were among the first to prescribe
it. The Greeks also learned to add herbs and spices to mask
The foundation and strength of
viniculture in Western Europe are primarily due, however, to the
influence of the Romans. Starting about 1000 BC, the Romans made
major contributions in classifying grape varieties and colors,
observing and charting ripening characteristics, identifying
diseases and recognizing soil-type preferences. They became skilled
at pruning and increasing yields through irrigation and
The Romans also developed wooden
cooperage, a great advance for wine storage which had previously
been done in skins or jars. They may also have been the first to use
glass bottles, as glassblowing became more common during this era.
POLITICS, AND RELIGION
By the first century AD, wine
was being exported from the Empire (Italy) to Spain, Germany,
England and Gaul (France). It wasn't long before these regions began
developing their own vineyards and the Roman Emperor forbid the
import of French wines to eliminate their competition with the local
wines. Over the next few centuries, France would become dominant on
the world wine market. Monastic wineries were responsible for
establishing vineyards in Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhine Valley.
Sacramental usage preserved wine industry methods and traditions
through the dark ages.
By 1152, during the reign of Henry
II, Britain had become the principal customer of Bordeaux. The end
of the Hundred Years War in 1453 left the city of Calais as the only
French territory still under British control and trade between
England and France nearly cut off. So the English "discovered" and
developed a great love of Port.
Exploration, conquest and
settlement brought wine to Mexico, Argentina and South Africa in the
1500s and 1600s. Although there were many attempts during this
period to plant European wine vines along the Atlantic and Gulf
Coasts of North America and in the Mississippi River basin valleys,
none were successful. Each vineyard planted would die off within two
or three seasons. No one apparently sought to determine why, even
though little difficulty was encountered in Mexico or California
vineyards. In the late 1800s, one answer to this mystery would
ultimately prove fatal for nearly all the vineyards of Europe.
WINE MISSION FOR
Hernando Cortez, as Governor of
Mexico in 1525, ordered the planting of grapes. The success was such
that the King of Spain forbid new plantings or vineyard replacements
in Mexico after 1595, fearing his colony would become
self-sufficient in wine. This edict was enforced for 150 years,
effectively preventing a commercial wine industry from forming.
As in Europe, however, vineyards
survived under the auspices of the church and the care of the
missions. In 1769, Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra
planted the first California vineyard at Mission San Diego. Father
Serra continued to establish eight more missions and vineyards until
his death in 1784 and has been called the "Father of California
Wine". The variety he planted, presumably descended from the
original Mexican plantings, became known as the
and dominated California wine production until about 1880.
California's first documented
imported European wine vines were planted in Los Angeles in 1833 by
Jean-Louis Vignes. In the 1850s and '60s, the colorful Agoston
Harazsthy, a Hungarian soldier, merchant and promoter, made several
trips to import cuttings from 165 of the greatest European vineyards
to California. Some of this endeavor was at his personal expense and
some through grants from the state. Overall, he introduced about 300
different grape varieties, although some were lost prior to testing,
due to difficulties in preserving and handling.
Considered the Founder of the
California Wine Industry, Harazsthy contributed his enthusiasm and
optimism for the future of wine, along with considerable personal
effort and risk. He founded Buena Vista winery and promoted vine
planting over much of Northern California. He dug extensive caves
for cellaring, promoted hillside planting, fostered the idea of
non-irrigated vineyards and suggested Redwood for casks when oak
supplies ran low.
For centuries wine was produced and enjoyed with little thought for
and no true understanding of its underlying science,
wine evolved through "spontaneous
generation," as far as anyone knew.
French chemist Louis Pasteur, among
many discoveries relating to his germ theory of diseases, first
proposed and proved, in 1857, that wine is made by microscopic
organisms, yeasts. This led to the discovery and development of
different yeast types and properties and ultimately to better
hygiene, less spoilage, and greater efficiency in wine production.
In 1860, Dr. Jules Guyot published
the first of three treatises describing regional traditional
vinicultural and viticultural practices as well as his own
observations and arguments on the economy of grape growing. Before
these documents, viniculture was a practice that had been
apprenticed from generation to generation for over 5000 years,
without written records or formal instruction.
YANKEE VINE-KILLER BUG
In 1863, species of native American grapes were taken to Botanical
Gardens in England. These cuttings carried a species of root louse
called phylloxera vastatrix which attacks and feeds on the
vine roots and leaves. Phylloxera is indigenous to the Mississippi
River Valley and was unknown outside North America at the time.
Powdery mildew, a fungal disease, also indigenous to North America,
had previously migrated to Europe and caused problems in some areas.
No one, however, had any idea of the wide-reaching destructive
potential of Phylloxera.
Native American varieties developed
resistance to phylloxera by evolving a thick and tough root bark, so
that they were relatively immune to damage. The vinifera vines had
no such evolutionary protection and phylloxera ate away at their
roots, causing them to rot and the plant to die and driving the
pests to seek other nearby live hosts, spreading inexorably through
entire vineyards and on to others.
By 1865, phylloxera had spread to
vines in Provence. Over the next 20 years, it inhabited and
decimated nearly all the vineyards of Europe. Many methods were
attempted to eradicate phylloxera: flooding, where possible, and
injecting the soil with carbon bisulfide, had some success in
checking the louse, but were costly and the pests came back as soon
as the treatments stopped.
Finally Thomas Munson, a
horticulturist from Dennison, Texas, realized that native American
vines were resistant and suggested grafting the vinifera
vines onto riparia hybrid rootsocks. So, there began a
long, laborious process of grafting every wine vine in Europe over
to American rootstocks. It was only in this manner that the European
wine industry could be retrieved from extinction. Downy mildew,
another fungal disease in American grapevines, unfortunately
probably migrated to Europe on some of the rootstocks imported for
grafting. One tragic consequence of the Phylloxera devastation is
that many of the native species indigenous to Europe, since they
were of negligible commercial value, were not perpetuated by
grafting and became extinct.
There was some debate generated by
this replanting that the quality declined in "post-phylloxera"
wines. Whether this was indeed the case and whether this was due to
the rootstocks themselves or to the relatively sudden and nearly
universal youth of the vines, or to changes in vinification
techniques, or to some other concurrent factor or variable, is
unknown. Undoubtedly, it will remain a matter of theory and opinion
and provide animated conversation at wine tastings, but ultimately
never be proven.
The blight resulted in shortages of
wine for many years, so that fraud and adulteration became problems,
eventually leading French wine growers to the form the system of
which has become the model for all wine producing countries to both
protect wine trade reputations and authenticate products for
During the period when the
Europeans were contending with phylloxera, the American wine
industry was ironically flourishing. By 1900, America had a fully
developed and proud commercial wine producing business. Leading
brands from California, New York, Ohio, Missouri and New Jersey were
appearing on many of the best restaurant wine lists alongside
French, German and Italian listings. Barrels of California wine were
being regularly exported to Australia, Canada, Central America,
England, Germany, Mexico and the Orient.
The destruction of the American
wine industry would come not from an entomological pest, but from a
political one. While it took a hundred years instead of 20 to
complete its course, the results were even more devastating. It
didn't spread from vineyard to vineyard, but from town to county to
state to the entire nation.
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism and
their related problems were much more widespread and affected a
radically larger share of America's population in the early and
mid-1800s than they do at present day. Excessive use, rather than
moderate use, was the norm in an era of fewer entertainments and
The first Prohibition law went on
the books in Indiana in 1816, forbidding the sale of any alcohol on
Sunday (still enforced to this day). By the 1840s, towns and
counties in Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New
York and Ohio had gone legally "dry". In 1851, Maine enacted the
first statewide law prohibiting the manufacture and sale of liquor
and, by 1855, thirteen of the thirty-one United States had followed
The Industrial Revolution led from
local to large-scale brewing and mass marketing, with intense
competition. A proliferation of saloons drove owners to seek side
profits by pursuing illegal and unsavory vices such as gambling and
prostitution. As another beverage containing alcohol, wine began to
suffer the successful excesses of beer.
In 1880, Kansas became the first
entirely "dry" state, followed by Iowa, Georgia, Oklahoma,
Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia.
Although the laws allowed winemaking to continue for sale elsewhere,
few wineries in these states could compete without selling their
wines locally. Most closed their doors and abandoned their
The Drys went so far as to have any
mention of wine expunged from school and college texts, including
Greek and Roman classic literature. Medicinal wines were dropped
from the United States Pharmacopoeia. They even tried to prove that
praises for wine in the Bible were actually referring to unfermented
grape juice. Thirty-three states had gone dry at the outbreak of
World War I. While the Doughboys were fighting in Europe, Wartime
Prohibition was enacted in 1919.
Over President Wilson's veto,
Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,
known as the Volstead National Prohibition Act, named after
Minnesota Republican Andrew Volstead, teetotaller and primary
proponent. After midnight on January 16, 1920, the "manufacture,
sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors," as well as the
exporting or importing of same was forbidden and became a Federal
Through a provision that made
penalites not applicable1
to "a person manufacturing noninoxicating cider and fruit juice
exclusively for use in his home," thousands of otherwise law-abiding
citizens became home winemaking hobbyists and quasi-bootleggers.
This poorly-constructed clause eliminated consequence without
strictly legalizing either home brewing or winemaking, yet the
obvious difficulty of intepreting and applying its intent led to new
pasttimes for many households.
Explosive demand for fresh grapes
and a shortage of refrigerated railroad cars in which to ship them
caused prices to skyrocket. Growers began replanting their vineyards
from fine wine varieties over to table or juice grape varieties that
shipped better. Planted acreage nearly doubled from 1919 to 1926.
Vineyard land prices climbed from $200 an acre in 1918 to $2,500 an
acre in 1923. Prosperity for the growers lasted barely five years.
In 1925, the railroads finally had enough cars, too much fruit was
shipped and it rotted on the Eastern docks. In 1926, vineyard land
fell back to $250 per acre. The massive plantings produced a
constant surplus of California grapes that persisted until 1971.
By the time of National Repeal,
effective December 5, 1933, the industry was in ruins. Although some
wineries managed to survive by obtaining permits to make wines used
for medicinal, sacramental and non-beverage additive purposes,
production dropped 94% from 1919 to 1925.
Even after Repeal, several
states stayed dry: Kansas until 1948, Oklahoma until 1957, and
Mississippi until 1966. Seventeen states chose to obliterate
free-market capitalism by establishing monopoly liquor stores with
limited selections and plain-as-dirt merchandising that discourages
respectable housewives from shopping.
There remain local prohibitions
that are arbitrary, inconsistent and niggling, with such manifest
foolishness as streets lined door-to-door on one side with taverns
and "package stores" and nary a one on the opposite side where the
dry boundary runs down the middle of the roadway. Today 10 percent
of the nation's area and 6 percent of the population remain dry.
Anticipating Repeal, speculators
and quick-buck artists soon flooded the legal market with quickly
and poorly made wine. Dilettantes published books and articles
warning Americans about rigid rules that must be followed to serve
the proper wine with the proper food from the proper glass at the
proper temperature. Faced with bad-tasting products with which to
risk committing social blunders and while remaining uncertain about
the social acceptance of any alcohol, most Americans stayed away.
Hard drinkers stuck to hard liquor. For decades, moderate wine
drinking in a social context survived almost exclusively in
households that made their own.
The only group of wines that sold
well following Repeal were the fortified dessert wines. Taxed at the
lower rate of wine as opposed to distilled spirits, but with 20
percent alcohol, this group made the cheapest intoxicant available
for derelicts and winos. Before 1920, there were more than 2,500
commercial wineries in the United States. Less than 100 survived as
winemaking operations to 1933. By 1960, that number had grown to
only 271. California had 713 bonded wineries before Prohibition; it
took more than half a century, until 1986, before that many were
Before 1920, table wines accounted
for 3 of every 4 gallons shipped. After 1933, fortified wines were 3
of every 4 gallons shipped. It wasn't until 1968 that table wines
sales finally overtook fortified wines, regaining the status of most
popular wine category.
Prohibition left a legacy of
distorting the role of alcohol in American life, ruining a fledgling
world-class wine industry, weakening the U.S. Constitution, and
boosting the success and profitability of Organized Crime (the price
of whiskey rose over 500% during the 1920s). The maze of confusing
and conflicting laws that currently vary widely between states
impedes commerce, sustains distribution monopolies, casts aspersions
of greed on tax coffers, and mocks the American sense of fair
More police officers were killed
during the decade of the 1920s than in any decade in history. The
"Grand Experiment" implanted moral ambiguity and disrespect for
authority in an entire generation of Americans, while it deprived
them of potential social and health benefits, and brought the
character and term "wino" into the streets and the lexicon.
The one positive remainder is the
lingering Congressional hesitance to pass Constitutional Amendments,
especially regarding restrictions on individual liberty and personal
moral choice. We can only hope for the future that our
representatives don't commit such folly when powerful special
interests clash with the shared individual freedoms that make up the
The forces of prohibition are not
dead yet. They are more insidious, combining moralist and monopolist
factions, pursuing an agenda of obstructionist legislation, that
includes preventing or encumbering direct sales of wine to consumers
the Grapes and
Ship My Wine),
preventing health information from being printed on wine labels and
spreading disinformation about potential benefits and studies
related to wine and health.
WORK IN PROGRESS
In spite of the political workings, table wine has grown in
popularity in America.
U.S. per-capita consumption of wine still lags far behind most
countries of the Western Hemisphere. Although America wine-consuming
growth is on pace to become the number one wine consuming nation
within this decade, more than 85% of that consumption is
accomplished by less than 8% of the total population.
Research in the past thirty years
has led to developments in both agriculture and technology that have
greatly improved overall wine quality. The quality and stature of
California and American wine has never been better and worldwide
demand continues to grow. The attractions of the "gentleman farming"
lifestyle and the increasing demand have driven the industry to
swell to a total of 4,383 bonded US wineries in 2006.
In America's Bicentennial Year of
1976, the world of wine was shocked when two Napa Valley wines
(Stag's Leap 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Montelena 1975
Chardonnay) bested the top French wine counterparts in Paris, at a
blind tasting judged entirely by Frenchmen, all experts in wine! In
the first years of the New Millennium, it is now only surprising
when French wines win at similar events.