Wine and its Origins - A Timeline

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from grapes; and depending on your definition of "made from grapes" there are at least two independent inventions of wine. The oldest known possible evidence for the use of grapes as part of a wine recipe with fermented rice and honey was in China, about 9,000 years ago. Two thousand years later, the seeds of what became the European wine-making tradition began in western Asia.


8000 B.C. - Residues on pottery sherds from the Chinese early Neolithis site of Jiahu have been recognized as coming from a fermented beverage made of a mixture of rice, honey and fruit. The presence of fruit was identified by the tartaric acid/tartrate remnants in the bottom of a jar, familiar to anyone who drinks wine from corked bottles today.

5400 B.C. - The earliest chemically attested grape wine in the world was discovered at Hajji Firuz in the northwestern Zagros Mountains of Kurdistan, where a deposit of sediment preserved in the bottom of an amphora proved to be a mix of tannin and tartrate crystals. The site deposits included five more jars like the one with the tannin/tartrate sediment, each with a capacity of about 9 liters of liquid.

5000 B.C. - Iran discovers wine residue inside ceramic jars. The jars contained a form of retsina, using turpentine pine resin to more effectively seal and preserve the wine. Production spread to other sites in Greater Iran and Greek Macedonia by 4500 B.C. The Greek site is notable for the recovery at the site of the remnants of crushed grapes.

4000 B.C. - The oldest-known winery was discovered in the Areni-1 cave in Vayots Dzor, Armenia

3100 B.C. - The pharaohs rise to power in Egypt. They begin making a wine-like substance from red grapes and, due to its resemblance to blood, use it in ceremonies. During this time, the Egyptians come in contact with Jews as well as the Phoenicians. It would be the Phoenicians who would cultivate the wine and begin to spread it around the world.

1200 B.C. — 539 B.C. - The Phoenicians begin to trade across the Mediterranean, including the Middle East (current day Israel) and stretching around the sea from North Africa to points in Greece and Italy. It was during their trading that they also brought with them wine, transported in ceramic jugs, as well as grapevines. During travels, the Phoenicians come in contact with the Jews, who began to use wine to mark religious ceremonies. We first hear the mention of wine in the book of Genesis, when, after the flood, Noah, drunk on wine, exposes himself to his sons.

800 B.C. - The Greeks, having been exposed to wine by the Phoenicians, begin to perfect the beverage. Wine becomes a symbol for trade, religion and health. A god is named in honor of wine: Dionysus. As the Greek city-states begin to rise in power, they colonize other land around the Mediterranean, and, along with their armies, travel with wine. After a new colony was conquered, Greeks would settle the area, bringing grapevines with them. Sicily and southern Italy formed some of the earliest colonies, and the wine then traveled up the boot toward Rome.

146 B.C. - The Romans take wine as their own, creating Bacchus, their own god of wine, and make wine a central part of their culture, just as the Greeks had done. They build upon and formalize the Greek's cultivation methods to the point that terroir is recognized and famous vintages (121 BC the most well known) are enjoyed for decades. As the Empire and its troops expand across Europe, Romans plant grapevines in modern day France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain as well as a number of Central European nations.

380 - As the Roman Empire adopts the Catholic Church and Christianity, wine becomes a central part of the sacrament. Wine’s importance to Catholicism and Mass causes the Catholic Church to focus on wine cultivation and production. Monks in Italy and France begin working as vintners, and winemaking technology is perfected. As the Catholic Church grows across Europe, wine goes with it.

Modern Era

Wine travels to the New World and it’s brought to Mexico and Brazil by the conquistadors to provide the necessities of the Catholic Holy Eucharist. Planted at Spanish missions, one variety came to be known as the Mission grape and is still planted today in small amounts. Succeeding waves of immigrants imported French, Italian and German grapes, although wine from those native to the Americas (whose flavors can be distinctly different) is also produced. Mexico became the most important wine producer starting in the 16th century.

In the late 19th century, the phylloxera louse brought widespread destruction to grapevines, wine production, and those whose livelihoods depended on them; far-reaching repercussions included the loss of many indigenous varieties. Lessons learned from the infestation led to the positive transformation of Europe's wine industry. Bad vineyards were uprooted and their land turned to better uses. Cuvées were also standardized, important in creating certain wines as they are known today; Champagne and Bordeaux finally achieved the grape mixes that now define them. I

Today, wine in the Americas is often associated with Argentina, California and Chile, all of which produce a wide variety of wines, from inexpensive jug wines to high-quality varietals and proprietary blends. Most of the wine production in the Americas is based on Old World grape varieties, and wine-growing regions there have often "adopted" grapes that have become particularly closely identified with them. California's Zinfandel (from Croatia and Southern Italy), Argentina's Malbec, and Chile's Carmenère (both from France) are well-known examples.