Wine and civilization have advanced together in lock step through the millennia. Architecture has been a conduit for both their growth and maturity from cave to castle.
In today’s high-tech world of winemaking, precision storage and network distribution, we should pause and think about how architecture has helped create the wines we drink and love today.
This column series won’t be all history lessons but also cutting edge wine tasting rooms, edgy wineries and how to build your own wine cellar. Archaeology has always been a fascination to me, and it gives today’s winemakers insights on the process historically.
We know that wine was being produced seasonally as a byproduct of grape juice in the Armenia and Georgian mountains over 8,000 years ago.
However, it was a haphazard process. And it wasn’t until about 3500 B.C. that production was moved indoors and became a permanent part of the community.
One ancient wine cellar was found in an Armenian cave with a crude but functional wine press with a fermentation tank along with a leather shoe. This suggests that shoes were removed and the custom of stomping grapes was common. Lucy Ricardo would be proud!
Interestingly, Egyptians who are known for their beer production, were making wine around 4000 B.C. While grapes were never grown in ancient Egypt, there was a royal winemaking industry in the Nile delta of importing grapes from Palestine and Phoenicia
Around 2700 B.C., grape vineyards grew on the Delta wine kept in glass containers were essential for a soul’s voyage into the afterlife.
Wild grapes were grown from what is today the country of Turkey all the way to South Iran. The ancient Mesopotamians recorded 81 vineyards in a single village and the tablets were clear that they “drank wine until saturated and inebriated”.
But hold on.
Did the Chinese invent wine even earlier? Fluids proved to be grape-based from 9,000 years ago have been discovered in China which included rice, honey and fruit. Rumor is, the Chinese were making Sangria before anyone else made wine.
In the sixth century B.C., Greeks pioneered the cultivation and production of wine from grape vineyards as well as olive oil from olive tree orchards. Their methods influenced today’s France, Italy, Austria and even Eastern nations for wine production. One of the earliest known Greek wine presses was discovered in Crete, dated to around 1600 B.C. Eventually the Romans picked up the baton and made it a true business for trade throughout the Mediterranean.
The best wine was produced from free-run juice released by grapes under their own weight before any treading or pressing in cool underground rooms or caves. This wine was used for medicinal purposes.
In 200 B.C., a very detailed account of the workings of a Roman press room was published by Cato the Elder. By the first century, wine was produced in large tanks or troughs from grapes stomped by feet or paddles.
Of course, the Romans were always eager to erect temples to Bacchus, the god of wine, grape harvest, wine making an even religious ecstasy. Throughout the Mediterranean dozens of such temples dotted the Roman cities.
In the Middle Ages, winemaking was advanced by religious orders who owned the best vineyards around their abbeys and monasteries. The basket press became popular and was made of woods staves bound together and the disk wood press towards the bottom with the juice seeping out between the staves into a wooden surrounding basin. This remained the common method into the 19th century.
Keeping wine in vessels to age was uncommon in this unsanitary era. There are reports of wine cellar workers suffocating from released carbon dioxide while treading fermented wine grapes in a vat.
Since the 10th century, wine and architecture have become so intertwined as to become co-dependent.
Castles and monasteries initially shaped the image of wine as more than an elixir but as an experience. Rather than go into an extensive history here, a follow-up article of how today’s wine industry is so dependent on cutting edge architecture.
Today’s wineries are becoming temples to Bacchus, as if the Romans had built them. While contemporized and edgy, they are often with all the solemness of a cathedral.
So, which comes first? The wine or the architectural statement?