I occasionally look for reasons why wine is so intrinsically linked with celebrations and social events; more so than any other drink. Wine’s place in history seems to have always been right in front of our eyes. Even in earliest recorded history, wine seems to have been enjoyed many fans-from royalty to the common man.
I grew up in a home that would be defined as teetotaling, based upon religious beliefs. Nonetheless, I could never really accept what appears to be a “teetotaler’s paradox”. For example, here is the rub: Was not the first miracle in the New Testament the turning of water into fine wine at a wedding celebration? Also, the Last Supper had wine with the meal. Again, in this example wine was consumed in the context of a celebration. In total there are more than 235 mentions of wine in the Bible; and yes some are admonitions about abuse of strong drink.
Over the years I got over this conflict in logic, but I continue to ponder how wine has become a drink associated with celebrations, of welcomes, of friendships and even something to be enjoyed as a quiet moment of self reward. Great people through the ages talk about wine with awe, reverence and as if wine had/has mystical qualities. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were absolutely in love with all things wine and even seemed to be inspired by wine. During my years in the Navy I participated many occasions of festive recognitions with the ceremonial toasts using wine. There are even books written on the etiquette of toasting. We see wine used all around us; everything from state dinners to a casual meeting of friends at a dinner party. It isn’t unheard of that a teetotaler may raise a glass of wine for a toast without drinking the wine.
But the question still remains: How did wine become so recognized as a celebratory drink?
Any wine commentary with attributions before say 5,000 BC becomes somewhat meaningless to me. Just for the record however, there are indications that grape vines have been discovered in historic carbon dated digs going back 60 million years. Vines are not wines, so let’s move on. Wine as a fermented beverage starts at about 8,500 BC following the first fermented beverage which was mead and beer. “As cultivated fermentable crops, honey and grain is older than grapes, although neither mead nor beer has had anywhere near the social impact of wine over recorded time,” says Tom LaMar a wine researcher. From what I can determine, the first recorded vineyard and wine production can be attributed to Noah following the Great Flood. Thank you Noah.
Probably Egypt and Mesopotamia (due to the commercial route facilitated by the Euphrates River) were the first to develop a great appreciation for wine. There is evidence that royalty found favor in wine and used wine for social events and trade. Some say beer and wine consumption was the outgrowth of poor water quality; however that may not be totally true as peasants did not have much access to wine or beer.
The Greeks, being great world traders about 1,600 BC, are credited with bringing wine to more markets. After discovering the medicinal values of wine, wine was celebrated for its therapeutic values along with social values which have been commented on by great Greek thinkers like Plato. “No thing more excellent nor more valuable than wine was ever granted mankind by God,” Plato-400 BC. But, it was the conquest of the Romans that stepped up the trade in wine all over their empire. We all have read enough about the Roman Empire, including the findings in Pompeii, to know the Romans treasured their wine for celebrations.
From a historical perspective it is believed wine may have been around for approximately 10,000 years. It must have been a very pleasant drink in its most early existence because it survived a rather hostile environment-considering fermentation techniques, containers, heat, etc. Folklore indicates that a young Persian princess, in a fit of depression, attempted suicide by eating rotting grapes. To her surprise she found fermented grapes tasted good, relieved her of emotional stress and left her feeling buoyed in spirit. I think that same effect of fermented grapes can hold true to this day! From these humble beginnings many empires have found great value in wine, even establishing wine trade; from the Greeks to the Romans to Western Europeans. So, we know wine had great perceived value.
From the Bible we know man has been instructed to look at wine as part of festivities and celebration. Even the Old Testament instructs that there is medicinal value to wine. In fact science has been researching wine aggressively since 1954 when Dr. Jack Masquelier started doing wine research relative to health. As an aside, there are more than 300 compounds found in wine and others yet to be discovered. Seems science likes wine.
The complexities found in wine continue to keep the mystery of wine thriving and add to the romance of discovery. Even the fact that wine comes anew every year makes it magical. Maybe because wine is crafted in art and science, orchestrated by Nature, this adds to the pedigree that is totally wines’.
I conclude wine has maintained its personality and value and allure in societies celebration over the past 10,000 years for the following reasons:
Wine manages to impact the senses like no other fermented beverage. There is a mystical color that captivates our sight. Wine has very complex smells. The tastes of wine runs the gambit of spices, smoke, leather-and the list goes on. Part of the taste is driven by tannins and acids. Even the sound of pouring wine is pleasant to the ear.
Wine is precious. It is created in and of the land, which is traditionally a humble existence. This is part of the pedigree that makes it precious–handmade.
The academic side of wine has been documented since Biblical times and re-enforced in subsequent cultures. Mr. Jim LaMar wrote that wine is a most “democratic beverage”; probably because it is available for the masses to enjoy the same as royalty. It is well researched and science continues to improve wine.
Tradition and classic cultures have kept wine as a social and celebratory drink.
The complexity of wine enhances the enjoyment of food and food is always part of celebration.
The alcohol in wine stimulates and can be relaxing and these factors always are part of a social atmosphere.
Lest we forget, wine has health benefits-’here’s to your health’ is a toast often heard at many events.
A wide variety of wines satisfy most any palate at an assemblage of people with various levels of wine experience and background.
The last factor that I think has made wine an enduring beverage of celebration and social gatherings is its mystery; not even the most educated amongst us can explain.
Some traditions don’t last from one generation to another. Even some celebrations don’t survive over the millenniums. But wine has survived the test of time and still holds people in its grasp when it comes to celebrations, social events between friends and family, and meaningful events. For me, it works as a sipping beverage after a hard day and I just want to relax with my family.
Steven S. Lay has been in the travel and corporate meetin