Tracing the Vine: The Ancient Wonder of Wine and Vine
When I was much younger, I was curious about the dark red liquid my father drank every night. At the end of dinner, he would pour a glass for himself and my mother, and they would abscond to the living room to drink, whispering sweet nothings to each other’s ear.
I would later discover – finally tasting it for myself at the appropriate age – that the beverage they enjoyed so much was called wine. It had been around since the dawn of civilization, and is adored by people all over the globe.
After many years of enjoying its taste, I wondered how the ancients were able to create such an exquisite product. That led me to the discovery of the grapevine – the fruity source at the heart of wine.
The Coming of the Vine
Many believe that the origin of vine was in Mesopotamia, but there have been a few discoveries of ancient vine fossils, most recently in Upper Valdarno, Italy, that tell a different story.
The grapevine fossils (Vitis Vinifera) found in Valdarno date back to two million years ago. This incredible find gives strength to the theory that the vine wasn’t just idling in one region, but spread out wildly through a large land area, which included the Middle-East, Southern Europe, and possibly even Asia.
Another notable vine fossil (Vitis sezannensis) was discovered in the Sezanne Palaeocene site in France, and was carbon-dated to around 55 and 59 million years ago.
The vine has been around since before the time of man, dating back to the Mesozoic era, at the end of the Cretaceous period, around 65 million years ago.
Behold! Man turns Vine into Wine
One theory of how man began to domesticate vine suggests that the ancients were attracted to the brightly-coloured berries attached to the vines stretching high up the forest trees.
They picked bunches of grapes, and enamored by their sugary-sour taste, decided to store them for later. These clusters of grapes, kept in crude containers would release their juices at the very bottom, in what would be an ancient form of natural, almost accidental, fermentation.
Vine fossils dating back to 400,000 years ago show proof of Homo heidelbergensis gathering and consuming grapes, which adds weight to the previously mentioned theory.
Seeds have been discovered in the Franchthi cave in Greece, dating back to 12,000 years ago, and at Haifa in the Israeli coast, dating back to around 6,900 B.C.
The earliest evidence of wine comes from Georgia, where wine jars dating 8,000 years old were discovered, and in Iran where they found 7000-year old containers. The oldest known winery was discovered in Armenia, dating back to the 6,100-year old winery, Areni-1. It eventually made its way to Syria, Greece, and Rome.
The rest as they say, is history.
The Reproduction of the Vine
Studies suggest that the small differences in vine subspecies, sativa and sylvestris, was achieved by human hands and not natural selection.
The feature where the wild vine is different from the cultivated vine is the sex: the sylvestris is a dioecious subspecies. It means that the plant is either 100% staminati (male) or 100% pistillate (female).
The sativa, however, is a hermaphrodite. It possesses both types of flowers. A small percentage of sylvestris is hermaphrodite, and it may have been from this variety that humans began the domestication of the vine.
The shift in man’s attitude from nomad to settler, known as the “Neolithic Revolution”, brought about the birth of agriculture, and subsequently, the desire to cultivate the wild vines, which would allow them to pick grapes within their settlements. The cultivation of these domestic vines eventually led to thousands of years of innovation which culminated in the tasty wine that we all enjoy today.