Wine History Print E-mail

A little Wine History

All about Vines

80 million years ago there were already vines in this world – wild vines of course. Their buds
hung in the trees like lianes. A few small and mostly sour berries hung on them. The meadow
forests along the Rhine were the last refuge areas for such wild sorts. Humans already
selected unconsciously a breeding selection. Namely, on their wanderings they always picked
only the sweetest of these wild berries. Doing this, they unconsciously only picked the best
gene material. With their excretion of undigested pits they intensively sowed them outside the
first villages again. These wild berries were incidentally almost without exception red. Today
they are largely extinct, the straightening of the Rhine has destroyed their environment, more
over they would have been exposed helplessly to the vine diseases, which were brought from
America in the 19th century.
Later, humans moved on to intentionally select the best vines with the best grapes, planting
and breeding them. The cultured species resulted from this.
The antique cultures named their wines after their origin. Plinius names 80 different wines in
the 1st century. Indeed, it is not clear from which species they were pressed. Specific
descriptions of wine species are found only in few places. The species didn´t play a large part
until the 15th century, because these wines were not sulphurized and tasted more like sherry –
the different species are hardly detectable in taste. It was only important that the grapes
brought a large crop, had a lot of sugar so they built a lot of alcohol and that they were not
brimming over with acid.
The awareness of species didn´t come until sulphurization took place. The sovereigns
demanded the tenths of the best wines and therefore advocated the cultivation of yet better
species. These species though always grew mixed with others, in order to minimize a bad
harvest and to improve the taste in bad times. The so called “mixed batch” was standard until
the 20th century.
To trace the origin of single species is a difficult undertaking. Connoisseurs, who would like
to gain more insights, have at best historical descriptions at hand. Gene-analyses can help in
this new age, at least to clear up the degree of relationship. Thereby it has shown that the
Traminer in today´s Rhine and Donau area is the closest to the wild vines. The Ortlieber also,
rarely only grown in the Baden area, is suppose to be an ancient wild vine and the
Orangentrauben (only still found in Austria im Klostereuburg in a vine garden) originated
from wild vines.
It is speculated that the Riesling, Silvaner and Spätburgunder were already planted in Roman
times. However, this can´t be proven. It is rather assumed that the Romans cultivated
descendants of these Mediterranean wild vines. Different from the Mediterranean big grapes,
they have loose berries and are frost sensitive. These grapes came to Germany with the
Romans themselves, but most of all with the crusaders. The Gutedel could be the oldest of
them. It most likely originated in Palestina, but is only found today in the Markgräfler country
side. The career of the Muskateller is similar. The Elbling belongs to this and probably came
from Italy and France. The Malvasier has also old southern sources, as well the Portugieser
and the Trollinger.
Many of the old species are already extinct. They were “classics, but also classically bad” (Dr.
F. Schumann, SLFA Neustadt). Perhaps one species named Gelsdutte, which characteristical
grapes are found on temple templates in Palmyra (Syria). This species probably didn´t ripen
in Germany. Besides, the respectively dominant species were easily replaced by a better one.
Ultimately, more sugar, more aroma and a better crop were always the reasons for this
change.