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"The Origins and Ancient History of Wine"

The grapevine, Vitis vinifera vinifera, showing three varieties of the domesticated grape: red, white, and blue.

The grapevine, Vitis vinifera vinifera, showing three varieties of the domesticated grape: red, white, and blue.

C o n t e n t s :

Intro- living out our past through wine

Neolithic Period - "chateau hajji firuz"

- wine for the afterlife

- under the grape arbors...

One of a kind laboratory
- ancient evidence; modern technology

Map - wine's whereabouts: then and now

The grapevine & tree resins - nature's ingredients


The Grapevine

Tree Resins

The terebinth tree continues to be abundant in the Middle East, growing even in desert areas. A single tree, which can grow to as much as 12 meters high, can yield up to 2 kilograms of resin.

Pliny the Elder, the famous 1st century A.D. Roman encyclopedist, devoted a good part of one of his books to the problem of preventing wine from turning to vinegar. Tree resins--pine, cedar, and often terebinth (which Pliny described as the "best and most elegant" resin)--were added to Roman wines for just this purpose. Roman also used resins for medicinal purposes; indeed, modern chemical investigations have proven that resins can kill certain bacteria, thereby protecting organic compounds from degradation.

In recent times, terebinth tree resin has been used to make chewing gum in Greece and prepare perfume in Egypt. The only modern carryover of the ancient tradition of resinated wine is Greek retsina.

Winemaking is very much constrained by the grapevine itself, even given the necessary containers and the means of preservation. The wild vine is dioecious (meaning it has unisexual flowers on separate plants that must be pollinated by insects). Only the female plant produces fruit.

The wild grapevine grows today through the temperate Mediterranean basin, as well as in parts of western and central Asia. Sometime during the Neolithic Period, the wild Eurasian grapevine was eventually developed as our domesticated type. The domestic vine's advantages over the wild type can be traced to its hermaphrodism (bisexual flowers occur together in the same plant, enabling self-pollination by the wind and fruit production by every flower).

The genetic "history" encoded in the DNA of modern wild and domesticated grapes, together with that of any available samples, suggests an alternative means to track the development of viniculture in the Old World. Using recombinant DNA techniques, it might be possible to delimit a specific region of the world and the approximate time period when the wild grape was domesticated. A "Noah" hypothesis would seek the progenitor(s) of modern domesticated grape varieties and their sequence of development and transplantation. (Noah, the biblical patriarch and "first vintner," is said to have planted a vineyard on Mount Ararat after the flood, later becoming drunk after he drank the fermented beverage.)


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