The History of Viticulture
Viticulture (from the Latin word for vine) or winegrowing (wine growing) is the cultivation and harvesting of grapes. It is a branch of the science of horticulture. While the native territory of Vitis vinifera, the common grape vine, ranges from Western Europe to the Persian shores of the Caspian Sea, the vine has demonstrated high levels of adaptability to new environments, hence viticulture can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
The earliest evidence of grape vine cultivation and winemaking dates back 8,000 years. The history of viticulture is closely related to the history of wine, with evidence that humans cultivated wild grapes to make wine as far back as the Neolithic period. Evidence suggests that some of the earliest domestication of Vitis vinifera occurred in the area of the modern countries Georgia and Armenia.The oldest-known winery was discovered in the “Areni-1” cave in Vayots Dzor, Armenia. Dated to c. 4100 BC, the site contained a wine press, fermentation vats, jars, and cups. Archaeologists also found V. vinifera seeds and vines. Commenting on the importance of the find, McGovern said, “The fact that winemaking was already so well developed in 4000 BC suggests that the technology probably goes back much earlier.” There is also evidence of grape domestication in the Near East in the early Bronze Age, around 3200 BC.
Evidence of ancient viticulture is provided by cuneiform sources (ancient writing on clay tablets), plant remains, historical geography, and archaeological excavations. The remnants of ancient wine jars have been used to determine the culture of wine consumption and cultivated grape species. In addition to winemaking, grapes have been grown for the production of raisins.
The earliest act of cultivation appears to have been the favoring of hermaphroditic members of the Vitis vinifera species over the barren male vines and the female vines, which were dependent on a nearby male for pollination. With the ability to pollinate itself, over time the hermaphroditic vines were able to sire offspring that were consistently hermaphroditic.
At the end of the 5th century BC, the Greek historian Thucydides wrote:
The people of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine.
Thucydides was most likely referencing the time between 3000 BC and 2000 BC, when viticulture emerged in force in Asia Minor, Greece, and the Cyclades Islands of the Aegean Sea. During this period, grape cultivation developed from an aspect of local consumption to an important component of international economies and trade.