Archeological evidence shows grapes to be 60 million years old, with evidence that cultivators have been growing grapes for consumption for thousands of years. Grapes are eaten as fruit, are often made into jams and jellies, and are used to make wine, a drink that has been popular for a very long time.
Early Grapevine Growing
The earliest depictions of grape cultivation were found on ceramic jars made in Georgia in 6,000 BC, and other evidence shows that grapevines were also cultivated in Iran between 5,000 and 5,500 BC. There are references to grapes in the Bible; Noah planted and maintained vineyards.
One of the most common uses of grapes has been in the making of wine. Hieroglyphics show that wine was produced as long ago as 3,000 BC. Ancient Persia claims to be the original discoverer of wine. A story claims that a lady of the Persian court tried to poison herself with spoiled grapes and instead became intoxicated. She enjoyed the experience, and it also increased her favor in the court, leading to the deliberate production of spoiled grapes.
Wine gradually spread throughout the world and became popular in places like ancient Greece. The Romans developed a strong vineyard culture that played a major role in advancing the development of grapevines. The Romans classified the varieties of grapes, determined which diseases could infect grapevines, discovered what soils the grapevines would flourish in, and mastered the increasing of grapevine yields through pruning, irrigation and fertilization. Roman provinces often competed to see who could produce the best wine.
Wine in the Middle Ages was mostly drunk by the nobility; the peasants had to be satisfied with ale. During that time, wine was usually not aged very long. It often had spices or honey added, and was uually consumed watered down. As the mercantile classes started to increase in wealth, they were able to afford an increased consumption of wine. Grapevines were brought to America by the Spanish explorers. When grapevines arrived at California, they flourished because the growing conditions for grapevines were perfect--as they still are..
While grapevines from the old world flourished in California, grapevines native to America were found in North Carolina. There has been so much intermixing between grapevines that researchers today have a difficult time identifying native species.