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The Wine List
Winemaking is such an ancient craft, that’s its origins are wrapped in legend and myth. There is even evidence that our evolutionary forbears made alcohol with fermented grapes in the Neolithic period – meaning that wine may even predate homo sapiens.
A Persian fable tells the story of a princess who had lost favour with the Kind. Overwhelmed by sadness, she at some table grapes that had spoiled in their jar, attempting to end her life. But the suicide attempt did not go as planned. Instead of slipping into an eternal slumber, she found herself getting giddy and elated, before passing out. When she awoke, she found that she no longer felt the weight of her sadness and continued eating the spoiled grapes. With a much-improved mood, she regained the favour of the King. And so, the story goes, wine was discovered by humans.
The word “wine” comes from an old English word, which itself is built on old Dutch and German words, tracing its roots to the Latin word for vine. Viticulture, or winegrowing, was commonplace in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians used grapes of all colours, along with dates and pomegranates. They are most well-known for popularising the pressing of grapes by treading them in a large pressing vat, rather than using a stone press, which cruses the seeds and stems, making the wine bitter.
The next people to carry the torch of winemaking were the Greeks, who called it the “juice of the gods” and established an industry spanning Western Europe. The Romans then entered the game, classifying grape varietals, identifying vine-diseases and inventing the wooden wine barrel. They were also the first to use glass bottles for wine, with the oldest bottle dating back to 325 AD.
After the fall of Rome, the baton was handed over to Christian Church, who were responsible for the advancement of the craft and industry, until the French aristocracy joined in. Later, following the French Revolution, ownership of the vineyards returned to the people. Following Europe’s golden age of wine production, in modern times, winemaking is a truly global affair, with major winemaking regions in South Africa, Australia, the US, Japan and many more.
While the history of winemaking is long, the basic steps in the process remain largely unchanged. First, the grapes – which have been lovingly cultivated because good wine is made in the vineyard – are harvested and sorted. Next, they are crushed and pressed – today, this is largely done mechanically. The next step is where the magic is at play: the fermentation process. Fermentation happens either with naturally occurring or added yeast, depending on the winemaker. Lastly, it is time for the wine to be clarified, bottled and aged (typically in the bottle or in barrels) before it is your chance to enjoy.
Across this production chain, it is the winemaker who is really key. Each and every decision that they make has an impact on the wine you’ll end up with, allowing for a seemingly endless list of possibilities. And therein lies the real joy in enjoying wines: finding a varietal that you love, produced in a terroir that delivers the profile you prefer, by a craftsperson who has been able to bring out the best in every sip.