To follow the history of the vine and winemaking from the very beginning until now, we must take a winding route that stretches back over a period of more than 7 000 years.
Few facts are known about the early years although it is generally accepted that wine was made for the first time in Persia, with evidence of wine production dating back as far as 6000 BC. From there, winemaking spread to Egypt, where written references to wine dating back to 5000 BC have been found. At about that same time, they began making wine in Phoenicia. By 2000 BC, the Greeks and the Cretans had also begun producing wine. The Cretans in particular became famous for exporting quality wine.
By 1000 BC, the inhabitants of Sicily, Italy and most countries in North Africa had begun planting vineyards, and 500 years later wine production spread to Spain, the south of France and Arabia. In about 100 BC, wine was also made in northern India and China. Winemaking then spread to the Balkan States and northern Europe.
The history of wine virtually ground to a halt for the next 1 000 years as the decline of the Roman Empire and Europe's Dark Ages curtailed its development. Explorers in the 16th century accelerated the pace again and by 1530 the vine had spread to Mexico and Japan. Some 30 years later Argentina imported vine plantings, followed a short while later by Peru. The next milestone was the planting of vineyards at the Cape in 1655. California followed in 1697, and Australia and New Zealand in 1813.
The development of wine cultivation has over the years gone hand in hand with the spread of civilisation. Looking back at the early days of the vine and its product, it is obvious that while winemaking methods and advanced techniques produce different styles of wine, the basic principles have changed very little. It is interesting to note that viticulturists selected and propagated varieties thousands of years ago. They understood cloning techniques and made distinctive and excellent wines for export.
The ancient Greeks had no fewer than 18 adjectives to describe wine and the Romans made more than 80 styles. Some Roman wines were apparently still drinkable after being stored for 200 years. They developed many of the sophisticated viti- and vinicultural techniques still in use today.