The botanical name for the common grape vine is Vitis vinifera. This plant is native to the Mediterranean area, the Middle East, Europe, and southwestern Asia. The uncultivated wild grape plant grows in humid forests and beside streams. It is now cultivated in every part of the globe except Antarctica. The fruit of the plant is known as grape, which is used as food and made into wine.
Appearance of the grape vine has been dated to 130 to 200 million years ago. People have had a relationship to grapes from the Neolithic period. Wild grapes were harvested by farmers and foragers, which became the basis for vine cultivation. Grapes were used for food and medicine. Domestication and cultivation began in southwestern Asia, Bulgaria, and Armenia in 3500 to 3000 BC. Vine cultivation and the creation of wine products spread to Europe. Grape presses dating to 3000 BC have been found in Turkey.
First Written Accounts
There are Sumerian texts from 3000 BC that mention wine and grape vines. Egyptian hieroglyphs also tell the story of wine. Wine was used as a part of religious rituals exclusive to the priest class and the pharaoh. The Etruscan civilization commemorated wine in artwork on pottery. The extensive trade routes of the Etruscans help spread wine cultivation beyond the Mediterranean area.
Greek and Roman
Written descriptions of wine making and grape cultivation can be found in works of Hesiod and Homer. The Greeks introduced grape vine cultivation to their colonies. During the Roman Empire the development of wine making increased and was written about extensively. Such works as De Agri Cultura by Cato the Elder and Georgics by Virgil give detailed descriptions of the Roman techniques of wine making. As the Roman Empire declined grape cultivation gradually became concentrated in monasteries.
Middle Ages and Renaissance
The Benedictines and other religious orders extended grape cultivation to northern climates in Europe. They grew grapes and made wine at higher altitudes than had previously been done. Grapes were also cultivated by royalty as a prestige symbol. During the Renaissance, grape vine cultivation again became popular with common people. Merchants and artisans invested in wine growing. There are many written accounts from this period about grape growing and wine making. Growing techniques became more scientific during this period.
Exploration, trade and religion brought European grape stock to America, Africa, South America and Australia. In 1,000 AD, Leif Erikson explored North America and found a wild grape species growing there. The native grape was difficult to cultivate successfully into wine. Eventually, the native grape rootstock was grafted onto European grape varieties and a strong grape variety was developed. The Franciscan monks brought wine cultivation to New Mexico in the 16th century because they needed the wine to hold daily mass.