Monday, April 16, 2012

The origin of wine: The when and where

In my previous post on the origin of wine I noted the scientific consensus that the vitis vinifera that is used in the production of 99.9% of the world's wines is a domesticated version of vitis vinifera silvestris, a wild Eurasian grape that still survives today in a number of Eurasian and North African habitats.  The modern wild grape is dioecious, must be cross-pollinated by insects, and fruit is only produced by the female plant. Somewhere in our distant past, and at a specific geographic location, someone(s) took this wild grapevine into cultivation and selected for plants that were hermaphroditic (self-pollination by wind; fruit production by every flower) and bore larger, juicer, and tastier fruit with fewer seeds.  The questions to be answered are: when and where did this domestication occur?

Doctor McGovern (Ancient Wine) states that while it cannot be ruled out that Paleolithic man did not have some contact with wine -- the Paleolithic hypothesis -- humans living in that era did not have the technology or lifestyle to be credible actors in the domestication of silvestris and vinification of its juice.  He instead points to the Neolithic era as being the most likely answer to the when question.  Writing in Penn Museum's Expedition (The Beginnings of Winemaking and Vinification in the Ancient Near East and Egypt, 39(1), 1997), McGovern et al., propose the Neolithic as being the first period in our annals when all of the requisite conditions for domestication  of the wild grapevine were present simultaneously:
  • Humans were living in year-round communities
  • The above was brought about partly as a result of the domestication of many different plants and animals
  • People living in this era had invented bread and beer, both requiring fermentation with yeast
  • Pottery vessels (which would become important for the storage and transportation of wine) first appeared around 6000 BC.
A number of archaeological findings serve to cement the Neolitihic as the period within which the grapevine was domesticated and wine made and also allow us to narrow down the answer to the where question:
  • Pips from vitis vinifera vinifera dating to the 6th millennium BC were found at Chokh in the Dagestan Mountains of the northeast Caucusus (McGovern et al.)
  • Pips from vitis vinifera vinifera dating to between the 6th and 4th millennium BC were found at Shomutepe and Shulaveri in Transcaucasia (McGovern et al., This et al.)
  • Discovery of "wine jars" dating to between 5400 and 5000 BC at Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran.
Hajji Firuz Teppe, an ancient town located in the northern Zagos Mountains of Iran, was the subject of an archaeological excavation in 1968 at which five 2.5 gallon (9 liter) jars were found imbedded in an earthen floor along a wall of a Neolithic mud brick building.  Two of these jars had a yellowish residue on the bottom which, after being subjected to infrared liquid chromatography and wet chemical analysis, proved to be a combination of calcium tartrate and terebinth tree resin.  Tartaric acid in the amounts found can only be associated with grapes and the amount of wine that would be housed in the five containers would be much more than required for a single family's use.  Clay stoppers that perfectly fit the openings at the top of the clay jars were found in close proximity to the jars and was assumed to have been used to prevent the contents from turning to vinegar.  These factors led the archaeologists to tag this site as a wine-production facility -- playfully called "Chateau" Hajji Feruz by Dr. McGovern.  As wines in Greece even today are resinated, the assumption is that resin was added to Neolithic wines either as a preservative or for medicinal purposes.

According to This et al., "Uncertainty remains about the place and period of the original domestication ... but archaeological and historical evidence suggest that premier domestication occurred in the Near East."  McGovern takes the position of the Near East as the locale and the Neolithic as the period.  Doctor Jose Vouillamez sees Transcaucasia as the consensus center of origin for botanists, archaeologists, and historians but avers that recent findings in genetics, archaeology, and linguistics point to southeast Turkey between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers as the point of origin.  The genetic aspect of this claim does not seem to be supported by the Sean Myles et al., study (Genetic structure and domestication history of the grape, PNAS 2010) which only goes as far as claiming a Near East origin for vitis vinifera subspecies vinifera.

From its origins in the Near East, vinification had diffused to Egypt and Lower Mesopotamia by 3500 - 3000 BC and to Crete by 2200 BC.  From Crete it migrated to Rome and its colonies and then up the major rivers to Europe and from there to the New World.

Hello world.

© Wine -- The View From Orlando

No comments:

Post a Comment