Great Moments in Wine History

Great Moments in Wine History

Aside from maybe water and milk, wine is one of humankind’s most ancient beverages.  Thousands of years ago, water was probably lethal, and it was hard to get the goat to stand still long enough to be milked.  Even if you could get milk, that was a dangerous drink, too.  Wine, since it contains alcohol, was not only safe to drink, but could help you forget (for a little while) how nasty and uncomfortable it must have been to live around 300 BCE…or during the Black Plague in Europe in 1400.

So there’s a lot of history to be had, and our President Kevin Raulston suggested that we take a look at some of it.

Around 70BCE philosopher and wine lover Pliny the Elder wrote “In Vino Veritas,” meaning “In wine, there is truth.”  The phrase lives to this day, in both English and Latin.

Let’s not forget the Biblical story about how Jesus of Nazareth turned water into wine back around 30 BCE.  Even a few thousand years before that, wine was a sacred beverage to the Jewish tribes…and later to the Christians.

In 1000, the Chateau de Goulaine was built in the Loire Valley.  It still operates to this day…the oldest winery in the world.

In 1693, my favorite monk Dom Perignon “invented” Champagne.  That’s not exactly the way it happened, but there are several legends associated with Brother Dom, and they’re all fascinating.

A statue of Dom Perignon

Wine came to North America a bit later than the first Pilgrim landing, and around 1800 Thomas Jefferson got really excited about this particular beverage.  He and Benjamin Franklin made several trips to France (Franklin was the US Ambassador) and became even more entranced.

An event that literally transformed the wine world happened in 1870.  A little bug called a root louse, known as phylloxera, destroyed 75% of the vineyards in France and Europe.  The bug, which is so tiny that it was invisible to scientists of the time, gnaws on the roots of grapevines and kills them.  It was finally discovered that American rootstock is virtually immune to the bug, and today almost every grapevine in France and the rest of Europe is planted on American roots.

One of the most infamous chapters in American wine history started in 1920 with the introduction of Prohibition, which lasted until December of 1933.  We all know how that turned out.  We can thank that well-intentioned but misguided piece of legislation for Al Capone, bootlegging, and the Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Probably the most significant event in the history of American wine was a contest in 1976 that came to be known as the Judgement of Paris.  A British man who owned a wine store in Paris staged a blind tasting with several of the most famous wine critics and connoisseurs in France.  They tasted a group of French and American wines and rated them without knowing which was which.  The American wines won in every category and news of the event gave American winemaking the prestige it deserved.  It was described as “the wine tasting that shocked the world,” and “a kick in the pants for French wine.”  This story is told in a book by journalist George Taber called The Judgement of Paris, and it’s a great read.  Also, the movie Bottle Shock with Alan Rickman is an excellent (if a bit romanticized) account, and it’s well worth renting from Netflix.

Today, Direct Cellars members are making history by enjoying great wines from all over the world, introducing them to friends and neighbors, and building a solid business along the way.  That’s pretty historic, too.

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