Wine, Religion and Origins   •   Comments »

55-65 Million years. That’s an estimate on the age of vitis vinifera, the grape vine that produces wine. My friend Greg Mu once told me that all plants aspire to be grape vines. It is not an intuitive thought, but the more I considered it, I think he was right.

They are a resourceful, beautiful and resilient force of nature.  Their roots grasp several feet in the soil through ancient mineral in a  decisive pursuit of water. They shed fruit and leaves in the winter,  obediently conforming to the rigor of the season.They return with renewed grace and begin the exercise again the following year. Vines play nice when cultivated by man yet when left alone, explore terrain with exuberance and without limitation. I am obsessed!

Moving to Northern California has restored my awe of the mighty vine.  Several trips to vineyards this summer and my new home have sent me on a quest for the origins. Not just with grapes, but in all things ag.  Lately I am compelled to reach back. Train my thinking in the old ways and looking for ancient wisdom.

Reading more about the history of wine is helping me understandnd the modern wine trade. The story lines are in many ways predictable (religion, persecution, commerce, greed, karma—ie, phylloxera, etc), but no less exciting. Here’s the beginning of a few long-form posts on this history….

Nearly 7,000 years ago there were vines planted in Mesopotamia.  Knowledge of viticulture was first expanded under the Pharaohs in Egypt.  They got down on wine for celebrations, religion and pleasure. Kind of amazing to think that this is still pretty much true today.

Then, Greece happened. They planted tons of vineyards in the latter half other 2nd Millennium, BC. Separate accounts suggest the passage of vineyard knowledge was from Eurasia, though it seems likely that the Greeks went straight to the Egyptians for, ah-hem, the dirt on vines.  Especially since there was soon after an economic relationship between the two countries.

And these people were drinking the juice! Wine cults were formed.  Dionysus was the Greek God of wine, madness and ecstasy. My kinda God.  The Romans adopted Dionysus as Bacchus, with predictably similar values.  Bacchus was said to absolve man of his mundane daily ritual and perform miracles like making wine, milk and honey erupt from the ground.

Understandably, the Greeks tried to follow suit in performing such miracles and spread viticulture to their colonies in Southern Italy and France. Southern Italy become known as “Wine Land”, or under the subsequent Roman rule, “Enotria”.

The Roman Emperor Charlemagne (768-814) really began to push viticulture into a more organized commercial arena.  The irony in his “commercialization” was that the primary growers/benefactors become the Church. Beginning with the  Cistercians in the12th Century, Monasteries began taking care of vineyards in places like Burgundy and Rhine, and in fact, many like regions throughout Europe that remain  pillars of the wine industry even today.  By the end of the 17th Century there are 750,000 acres in Germany dedicated to viticulture—over 3 times more than what is planted today. The social, political and economic influence of the church, strengthens ongoing and inextricable link to religion and wine.


Posted September 1, 2011 • Filed under Wine
Photos by Danielle Bernstein, Clear Films

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