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History of Wine and History of Wine Making Processes

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Published: Tue, 19 Dec 2017


Wine is one of the oldest things in history. It was part of the history since the pharaohs’ existence and it is still to these days. Wine was consumed for several reasons such as rituals, religious purposes, or just for the love of it. This research will discuss the general history of wine, where the first grapes were trodden, a general history of wine making, the process of making wines, classification of wines and different point of views of wine from different people. This will answer the question: What does one need to know about wine?

Wine making has been around for thousands of years. It has been used for at least 4,500 years. Egyptian records dating from 2500 BC refer to the use of grapes for wine making (“The Wine Making Process” 2008). The first wines seem to have originated in the Middle East. In the Old Testament, there are also frequent references to wine.

In its basic form, wine making is a natural process that requires very little human intervention. Mother Nature provides everything that is needed to make wine; “it is up to humans to embellish, improve, or totally eradicate what nature has provided, to which anyone with extensive wine tasting experience can attest” (“The Wine Making Process” 2008).

There are five basic components or steps to making wine: harvesting, crushing and pressing, fermentation, clarification, and aging and bottling (“The Wine Making Process” 2008). Undoubtedly, one can find endless deviations and variations along the way. In fact, it is the variants and little deviations at any point in the process that make life interesting. They also make each wine unique and ultimately contribute to the greatness or embarrassment of any particular wine.

What One Needs to Know About Wine

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from the juice of grapes. During fermentation, the yeasts digest sugars found in fruit juice, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide gas in the process. Although grapes are the most common fruit used to make wine, wine is also made from the fermented juice of pears, apples, berries, and even flowers such as dandelions (Gabler 2003). Wine naturally contains about 85 to 89 percent water, 10 to 14 percent alcohol, less than 1 percent fruit acids, and hundreds of aroma and flavor components in very small amounts. Wine character is derived from many factors including the grapes it is made from, where they were grown, and the production techniques applied by the wine maker (Anderson 1989).

The practice of making wine is as old as our most ancient civilizations, and wine has played a central role in human culture for more than 8,000 years. In contrast to most foods and beverages that spoil quickly or that can spread disease, wine does not spoil if stored properly. The alcohol in wine which is called ethanol, is present in sufficient concentrations to kill disease-causing microorganisms, and throughout history, “wine was often safer to drink than water or milk” (McGovern 2003). This property was so significant that before the connection between microorganisms, poor sanitation, and disease was understood, ancient civilizations regarded wine as a gift from the gods because it protected against disease.

The earliest scientific evidence of grapes is the fossil vines. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Noah planted a vineyard and made wine (McGovern 2003). As cultivated fermentable crops, honey and grain are older than grapes. Wine and history have greatly influenced one another.

History of Wine

Wine was discovered by accident as a natural phase of grape spoilage. It has been established that by about 4000 BC, grape cultivation and wine drinking had started (McGovern 2003). The first developments were around the Caspian Sea and in Mesopotamia. There are also some texts found in tombs which prove that wine has been used in ancient Egypt. Priests and royalty were using wine during ceremonies, while beer was drunk by the workers. The Egyptians developed the first arbors and pruning methods (Hurley 2005). Archeological excavations have uncovered many sites with sunken jars, and this gave researchers the idea that ancient people have known that temperature had effect on stored wine (“Wine History” 2008).

The spread of the Greek civilization started the wine origin in Europe. “Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad both contain excellent and detailed descriptions of wine” (Arkell 2006). Wine was an important article of Greek commerce and Greek doctors (i.e. Hippocrates). The Greeks also learned to add herbs and spices to mask spoilage.

Starting at about 1000 BC, the Romans made major contributions in classifying grape varieties and colors, observing and charting ripening characteristics, identifying diseases and recognizing soil-type preferences (“Wine History” 2008). They became skilled at pruning and increasing yields through irrigation and fertilization techniques. They also developed wooden cooperage which is a great advance for wine storage which had previously been done in skins or jars. They may also have been the first to use glass bottles.

The Process of Wine-Making

Wine is the product of the fermentation by yeast of grape juice or grape must which is a grape juice that still contains the fruit’s skins and seeds. Once the grape sugar has been completely consumed, fermentation is complete, and wine has been produced. Enology is the science that deals with wine making.

The basic production elements of wine are simple, manipulation of the grapes, juice or must, and wine to produce the desired combination of flavors and aromas which is very difficult. Many recognize this process as an art form. Wine makers try to optimize production of specific aromas and flavors that is described with terms like cherry, chocolate, and vanilla; and minimize the formation of negative flavors and aromas that is described as wet dog, plastic, and rotten egg. It is also important that the wine acids and alcohol are balanced. If the wine is too acidic, the wine may taste sour. If the ethanol level is too high, the wine will have a strong taste of alcohol.


The single most important factor that contributes to a wine’s character is the grapes that are used. Grapes influence the wine’s flavor, alcohol content, acidity, and even its color. White wine, which is actually straw to golden-yellow in color, is produced from white grapes, and red wine is produced from red grapes. Red and white wine production is basically the same except for one primary difference: the presence of the grape skins during fermentation. White grapes are crushed and the juice separated from the skins prior to fermentation. Red wine is fermented with the grape skins. Red pigments that are called anthocyanins and other compounds in the grape skins are extracted during the fermentation process to divulge the characteristic red color of the wine as well as other features (“The Wine Making Process” 2008). A blush or rose wine is light pink in color and is produced from red grapes not fermented with the skins. A little pigment is released when the red grapes are crushed, but not to the same extent as during fermentation.

Crushing and Processing

In modern wine production, the grapes are harvested from the vineyards and taken to a winery where they are passed through a machine called a destemmer-crusher that separates the fruit from the stems and cracks the berries open to release the juice (“The Wine Making Process” 2008). To make white wine, the must is transferred to a press where pressure is applied to separate the juice from the skins. The amount of pressure used influences what flavor compounds are extracted from the skins. After pressing, the white juice without the skins is transported to a fermentation tank. In red wine production, the must from the crusher is transferred directly to a tank for fermentation.


The containers used for fermentation are mostly stainless steel or wood. The type of container used and the temperature of fermentation influence the characters of the wine. Many of the aroma components of wine are volatile that is, they leave the wine by evaporation. This evaporation occurs faster at higher temperatures, so to retain fruity characters in the wine the temperature of fermentation must be controlled, usually by direct cooling of the fermentation tanks (“The Wine Making Process” 2008). Stainless steel is much easier to cool than wood and is preferred for temperature-crucial fermentation.


The wine maker may allow fermentation to proceed relying only on the yeast naturally present on the grape skins and in the winery equipment or the wine maker may add extra yeast in a process known as inoculation. Two yeast species are used in fermentation, Saccharomyces cerevisiae or Saccharomyces bayanus (“The Wine Making Process” 2008). Yeast is responsible for the presence of positive but also negative aroma characters in wine. For example, when yeast is under stress it produces a compound called hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs. To avoid this undesirable quality, a wine maker may add nutrients to the fermentation tank. The duration of fermentation also influences wine character.

Other naturally occurring microorganisms may grow in the must or juice, affecting the flavors and aromas of the finished wine. For example, lactic acid bacteria use the acids in wine as a source of energy, reducing the wine’s acidity. These bacteria also produce other aromas and are responsible for the buttery smells that can be found in wine. Sometimes the wine maker restricts the growth of lactic acid bacteria, especially if the wine is already low in acidity or if the buttery character would clash with other aromas of the wine. The acetobacter which is “another type of bacteria can spoil the wine by converting ethanol to acetic acid to make vinegar” (“The Wine Making Process” 2008).

When fermentation is complete, red wine is separated from the stems and grape skins by passing it through a press. Both red and white wines appear cloudy after fermentation, and the wine maker must wait for the yeast and other solids to settle to the bottom of the fermentation tank, forming sediment called the lees (Warrick 2006). The clear wine is racked or drawn off the lees and stored in a clean cask. In a process called fining, the wine maker may further clarify the wine by adding ingredients that attract unwanted particles, such as proteins that can cause cloudiness. These added ingredients settle to the bottom and can be easily removed.

Aging and Bottling

After fermentation, the wine maker has to decide how the wine will be aged. Aging of wine significantly affects the flavors and aromas present, and several different techniques are used. For example, wine aged in oak barrels picks up some flavor and aroma characters from the oak wood, a very desirable quality in some wines. A wine may be aged under conditions encouraging the loss of some of the fruity, volatile compounds, producing a wine rich in other characters, such as spicy or toasted flavors. Air exposure during aging can cause the phenolic wine compounds, extracted from grape skins and seeds, to combine with each other, producing large chemical compounds called “tannins” (“The Wine Making Process” 2008). Over time the tannins become so large that they form reddish-brown sediment in the bottle. This reduces wine bitterness and astringency. The length of time a wine is aged before it is bottled determines the extent to which these reactions occur. Once the wine has been aged, it is ready to be put into bottles, where it may continue to slowly age for many years.

The Components of Wine

The tannins are a component of a wine that is derived from the pips, skins and stalks of grapes. They are vitally important if a wine is intended to age, as they are a natural preservative. The tannins give structure and backbone to the wine (Robinson 2001). Tannins are of more importance in the ageing of red wines rather than white. The tannins act as a preservative, and as they fade over many years, the simple, primary fruit flavors have time to develop into the more complex flavors that are found in fine, aged wines (“The Components of Wine” 2008).

As like with fruits, wines need acidity. Some acids, such as tartaric acid, are known as volatile acids, and in small amounts these can really lift the flavors in the wine. Too much, and the wine begins to resemble furniture polish, acetone or even vinegar (Robinson 2001). “Higher acidity denotes a wine from a cooler region, such as Northern France, England or New Zealand while low acid wines come from countries with warmer weather, such as Australia, where acidity in the harvested grapes is often low enough to warrant chemical acidification” (“The Components of Wine” 2008).

Alcohol is the product of fermentation of the natural grape sugars by yeasts, and without it wine simply doesn’t exist. The amount of sugar in the grapes determines what the final alcohol level will be. The conversion of sugar to alcohol is such a vital step in the process of making wine, that the control of fermentation is the focus of much of the attention of the modern winemaker. Fermentation generates heat, and a cool, controlled fermentation will result in very different flavors in the wine when compared with wines where fermentation is allowed to run riot (“The Components of Wine” 2008).

The level of sugar in the wine determines how sweet it tastes. Even wines that taste very dry have some degree of residual sugar.Most dry wines have less than 2g/L of sugar, although levels of up to 25g/L may be present in wines which still taste dry due to the presence of acidity and tannin alongside the sugar (“The Components of Wine” 2008). The greater the amount of residual sugar in wine, the sweeter it taste.

Many wines are matured in oak barrels, and some are even fermented in oak. Oak from different sources will impart different characteristics on the wine, but in general oak maturation gives aromas of butter, toffee, caramel, vanilla, spice and butterscotch. It all depends on how much oak is used, how much of it is new as opposed to re-used, how long the wine stays in contact with the wood, whether the wine is merely aged in oak or whether the fermentation takes place in it, how the oak has been treated, and so on. For instance, barrels that have been ‘toasted’, which means the cooper has formed them around a small fire, often burning the oak shavings he has produced in the manufacturing process, will have aromas of smoke and toast (“The Components of Wine” 2008). Barrels that have been steamed during manufacture, however, may give more oatmeal aromas.

Although grapes affected by Botrytis look terrible, discolored and shriveled, they are the starting point for making some fabulous wines. The Botrytis has the effect of reducing water content in the grapes, concentrating the grape sugars. The quantity of wine is thus reduced, one reason touted for the cost of these bottles. Another is the need for careful selection of botrytis-affected grapes, requiring large numbers of pickers making numerous passes through the vineyard during the harvest weeks (“The Components of Wine” 2008). The wine that results has a rich, luscious texture, with sweet, concentrated fruit flavors.

In many wines, the yeasts themselves are the cause of certain flavors. When a wine has completed fermentation it remains cloudy and contaminated with dead yeast cells. Many different techniques are employed to clarify the wine. Wines that remain on the lees for a long time, however, will take on extra richness and texture, with bread-like, biscuit-like aromas.

The Classification of Wine

Wines are categorized using a number of different methods. Sometimes they are grouped into different categories by grape variety, region of origin, by color, by the name of the wine maker or viticulturalist, or by production technique. Three basic groups of wines are most easily distinguishable for the consumer: table wines, sparkling wines, and fortified wines.

Table Wines

Table wines which are also known as still or natural wines are produced in many different styles and make up the majority of wines on the market. Traditionally consumed as part of a meal, table wines contain between 10 and 14 percent alcohol and are further classified by their color, sugar content, and the variety and origin of the grapes that were used (Parker 2002). Depending on the grape variety and wine-making technique, wines can be white, red, or pink in color. Most table wines are fermented until they are dry – that is, all the grape sugar has been turned to alcohol by the yeast. Slightly sweet or off-dry wines are made by stopping the fermentation before all the sugar is gone or by adding grape juice back to the wine afterwards.

In wine-producing regions outside of Europe, particularly California and Australia, table wines are often classified by the grape variety they are made from. At least 75 percent of the grapes used to produce the wine must be of the named grape variety. Chardonnay, for example, is wine made from at least 75 percent chardonnay grapes. Wines classified this way are sometimes called varietals, and include wines such as Riesling, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot (“A Brief History of Wine” 2004).

The traditional European classification system puts more emphasis on the region—or appellation—where the wine is from. The French system of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée labels wines based on their geographical pedigree (“A Brief History of Wine” 2004). The most renowned wine-producing regions in France, and possibly the world, are Burgundy, in central France, and Bordeaux, a region on the southwestern coast of the country. Bordeaux maintains a famous geographical classification system for some of its viticulture areas, dating back to the year 1855. Bordeaux ranks its best wineries, called châteaux, and their vineyards—crus, into five classes called grand crus. The highest class, called premier grand crus, is still held by only five wineries: Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Lafitte-Rothschild in Pauillac, plus Château Haut-Brion in Graves (“A Brief History of Wine” 2004). Wines from these vineyards in France are considered to be among the highest-quality wines in the world. Altogether, France produces about 600 million cases of table wine each year.

The French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system has been adopted by most other wine-producing countries. In addition to the primary grape variety used to make the wine, American wineries use a tag on their wine bottle labels called Appellation of Origin to indicate where the grapes were grown. An appellation can be a country, state, county, or geographically defined American Viticulture Area (AVA) (“A Brief History of Wine” 2004). At least 85 percent of the grapes used to produce the wine must be from the viticulture area stated on the label. The United States currently recognizes more than 130 AVA’s, distinguishable by geographical features. The largest growing region in the United States, California, has at least 75 AVA’s, including the Napa and Sonoma valleys (“A Brief History of Wine” 2004). About 150 million cases of table wine are produced in the United States each year.

Sparkling Wines

Sparkling wine is made from table wine that has undergone a second fermentation. The wine maker adds a measured amount of sugar and fresh yeast to the dry wine. This can happen in a closed tank, or directly in the bottle, which is the way the most famous sparkling wine, French champagne, is produced. The yeast ferments the added sugar, but this time the carbon dioxide gas remains in the sealed bottle, creating carbonation. When the sparkling wine is poured into a glass, it produces the gas bubbles to the surface.

Under the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system, only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of northeastern France can officially use the name champagne (“A Brief History of Wine” 2004). Sparkling wines produced in all other regions of the world, even those produced using the traditional champagne method, are simply referred to as sparkling wines. About 13 million cases of sparkling wine are produced in the United States each year.

Fortified Wines

Fortified wines contain additional alcohol and are usually consumed in small amounts as aperitifs before meals or dessert wines after a meal. Popular examples are port and sherry. In port wine making, which originated in Portugal, the grapes are crushed and the fermentation started but then stopped by the addition of more alcohol, which kills the yeast. The resulting wine is sweet and has an alcohol content that is 5 to 10 percent higher than table wine. Originally from Spain, sherry is made by adding alcohol to a young dry wine in an oak barrel intentionally filled only halfway. Special yeasts called flour yeast grow on the surface of the wine and create the distinct nutty flavor characteristic of sherry (“A Brief History of Wine” 2004). About 8 million cases of fortified wines are produced in the United States each year.

Brandy is made from wine but is classified as distilled liquor, not as wine. Brandy is distilled from wine to concentrate the alcohol in the wine. To make a distillate, wine is heated in an enclosed copper pot until it boils and the alcohol evaporates (“A Brief History of Wine” 2004). The alcoholic vapor passes through a coiled pipe where it is cooled down until it forms a liquid again, or condenses. After distillation the brandy is aged. Bottled brandy typically contains 40 percent alcohol and has been aged in oak barrels for several years.

The Uses of Wine

Wine is a popular and important beverage that accompanies and enhances a wide range of European and Mediterranean-style cuisines, from the simple and traditional to the most sophisticated and complex. Red, white and sparkling wines are the most popular, and are also known as light wines, because they only contain approximately 10-14% alcohol. The apéritif and dessert wines contain 14-20% alcohol, and are fortified to make them richer and sweeter than the light wines (“Uses of Wine” 2006).

Wine has been used in religious ceremonies in many cultures and the wine trade is of historical importance for many regions. Libations often included wine, and the religious mysteries of Dionysus are usually thought to have used wine as an entheogen (“Uses of Wine” 2006). In the New Testament, it states that Jesus’ very first miracle was to turn water into wine while in the Old Testament; it states that the fermentation of grapes was known by Noah after the great flood. Wine remains an essential part of the Eucharistic rites in the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican denominations of Christianity (Parker 2002).

Wine Professions

Since wines had been around for thousand years, the following are the professions that are matched with the process of wine making (“Professions” 2006). A cooper is someone who makes wooden barrels, casks, and other similar wooden objects; a négociant is a wine merchant who assembles the produce of smaller growers and winemakers, and sells them under his own name; a vintner is a wine merchant or producer; a sommelier is a person in a restaurant who specializes in wine. They are usually in charge of assembling the wine list, staff education and making wine suggestions to customers. A winemaker is a person who makes wine; an oenologist is a wine scientist who is often referred to as a winemaker; and a viticulturist is a person who specializes in the science of the grapevines themselves. He can also be someone who manages a vineyard (decides how to prune, how much to irrigate, how to deal with pests, etc.) (“Professions” 2006).

The Impact of Wine

The health effects of wine are the subject of considerable ongoing debate and study. There had been many studies that reveal that wine consumption may reduce mortality due to 10% to 40% lower risk of coronary heart disease. This is because of the compounds known as polyphenols that are found in larger amounts in red wine, and there is some evidence that these are especially beneficial. One particularly interesting polyphenol found in red wine is resveratrol in which numerous beneficial effects have been attributed. Red wine also contains a significant amount of flavors and red anthocyanin pigments that act as antioxidants. With excessive consumption, however, any health benefits are offset by the increased rate of various alcohol-related diseases, primarily cancers of mouth, upper respiratory tract, and ultimately, cirrhosis of liver (“Medical Implications” 2008). Sulfites are chemicals that occur naturally in grapes and also are added to wine as a preservative. They can trigger a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction in a small percentage of consumers, primarily asthmatics.


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