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300,000 years ago, the climbing vine, “vitis vinifera”, grew spontaneously along the so called ”fascia viticola” (wine range), which reached from where Spain is now to the slopes of the Himalayas.
In that prehistoric phase, biological conditions were created for the proliferation of this plant, ancestor of our grape. Jumping ahead in time, we reach circa 6.000 years ago, when the current inhabitants of Armenia and eastern Turkey, part of the antique wine range, were the ﬁrst to domesticate the grapes and make wine.
At the time, of course, Armenia wasn’t deﬁned as a nation: in ancient times, those lands were called “Colchide”, the mythic Colchide, reached and explored by Jason and the Argonauts.
Humans had passed from a nomadic to a static life. Man didn’t know how to write, his back had straightened, he communicated with what could be considered a form of pre-language.
Jason gets the golden ﬂeece: a detail of a Grecian urn. Whatever the origin, the evolutionary spark which brought the inhabitants of Colchide to make wine, to create wine from a controlled fermentation of the cultivated grape, is still a mystery. Man’s intervention is fundamental: after all, the natural derivative of the grape is acidity.
Grape doesn’t spontaneously turn into wine, and no scientist or historian has ever explained how the “invention of joy”, (to quote the marvelous book on wine by Sandro Sangiorgi), came about.
We only have scientiﬁc hypotheses that note a great cataclysmic event, a ﬂood, that occurred 6000 years ago: this is the “when”. For the “how”, we leave scientiﬁc logic and adventure to the seduction of suggestion.
In fact, authors, writers, poets of distant cultures and populations, sing of their myths, of their holy texts, of their mysterious legends, of a dramatic ﬂood which almost caused the extinction of man. Among the few survivors, there is always a hero, a carrier of light, a superior Bishop who guides his people and plants a grapevine.
The “how”, is therefore entrusted to histories, legends or biblical stories of people who lived and developed thousands of years after the ﬂood. The Babylonians, ﬁrst in chronological order, loved and appreciated wine.
The ﬁrst artistic document of people drinking wine, the “Stendardo di Ur” dates back to the Babylonians. It is conserved at the British Museum.This population recognized and adored a goddess of the grapevine, Geshtin, “mother of the grape”. In an epic narrated in one of their literary works a hero, Ut Napishtim, appears.
To workers who were building an ark in order to confront the ﬂood, he offered juice from the vine. Dercos-Haelius, “the sailor of the new wine”, was another hero outlined, who confronted the ﬂood, and at its end, planted a vine to signal rebirth. We then arrive at the Greek civilization.
Some of you will remember the ﬁgure of Deucalione, whose dog gave birth to a branch of a grapevine which was then planted by his son, Oreste. Finally, and most well-known, is the sacred reference which we all are familiar with, the biblical story found in Genesis of the universal ﬂood and Noah’s Ark.
Noah planted grapes and got drunk on them once he arrived at Mount Ararat in Turkey. Remember “L’Ebbrezza di Noe’’”, (Noah’s Drunkenness), by the great Michelangelo.
Aside from legend and biblical stories which bring to light (sort of) how wine was born, an aphorism of Tucidide is relative: “The populations of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learned how to cultivate wine and olive oil”.
The Greek historian underlines the birth of viticulture as a fundamental passage for human civilization. As written above: wine as a synonym for civilization.
It is suggestive that the origin of wine is connected to the birth of the Renaissance, a new Golden Age, and the ascent of the human genre, successive to and better than the anti-diluvian man, dominated by barbarism and sin. After so much water to wash away sins and ugliness, ﬁnally, here is wine!
Francesco Sorelli – Il Bisarno Oltre la Sieve