The stories in the history of wine are quite old. If the first produces could survive, we would have a chance to taste wines aged for 8000 years. Since then, it has always been an inseparable part of our civilization by triggering our passion, encouraging the adventure spirit and sometimes manipulating our deepest fears and grieves.
Our ancestors liked it so much that they couldn't believe they were capable of creating such an incredible beverage without getting help from a greater power. So they invented gods solely responsible from the grapes and wine production. They built temples and worshiped to whom possessing the wisdom to create wine.
Yi-Ti, a Chinese God and probably the inspiration of “green man” legend of the west world, has produced the first rice wine in China about 5000 years ago.
Meanwhile in Anatolia, Teshub was quite busy to make Hittite mortals happy with his quality wines. We think there were more than a thousand deities and gods in Hittites and our knowledge about them is highly limited. Fortunately the wine god Teshub was a dominant character and we have a good collection of information about him. His followers led the path to the today’s Turkish wines.
In ancient Egypt, stories go weird. Shezmu was an immortal working with Osiris who was the goddess of beer. Unlike Osiris, Shezmu takes the attention with his demonic attitude rather than a god. He was taking care of sinful dead coming to underworld by tearing off their heads and throwing them into his wine press to make wine.
In the Mediterranean, where is one of the most suitable locations in the world for growing grapes in wine history, there lived the most famous wine God. Greeks called him Dionysus so Romans had to find a different name to make it difficult for us to memorize and they called him Bacchus! His cult was based on mysteries and women devotes who have uncontrolled excessive sexual aspects. Sex, wine and power; like a Hollywood movie, isn’t it?
So the wine kept flowing…
Documented history of wine and viticulture starts with Anatolian civilizations. The Hittites, after settling on Anatolia around 2000 BC, had established a wine empire and controlled the viticulture with the first known laws and regulations in the history.
Tablets found in Bogazkoy archaeologic excavations provide valuable information on the laws regarding to protect vine yards and wine products which are also showing the sociologic and economic importance of the grapes and viticulture in the Asia Minor.
The Hittites left us golden wine cups, cups made up of ceramic animal figures and rock carvings illustrating wine and grapes. These artefacts can be seen in Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
The east expansion of viticulture was from Mesopotamia (south east of Anatolia) to Nile Delta. In Egypt, viniculture and vineyards were leading the economy especially between Old Kingdom (2686 BC – 2181 BC) and New Kingdom (1550 BC – 1069 BC).
The economic importance of wine production in Babylon civilization is also obvious. Hammurabi, the sixth king of Babylon, regulated wine trade and consumption in his famous code of laws.
In the Far East, in China, Han Dynasty started vine cultivation around 2000 BC. Archaeological findings show the technology and the botanical ingredients were brought from Anatolia.
The west expansion of viticulture in the history of wine followed a similar path. The Hittites who migrated to Aegean islands and Crete were some of the pioneers in establishing Minos civilization. They also brought the know-how required for wine production.
Minos was an advanced civilization. Trade, metal works, olive and wine production were only a few of the industries they were leading. They even invented the spare times! Believe me, I have heard it in a BBC documentary. The viticulture that Minos implemented in Crete was carried to Peloponnesus and Thrace later.
Greeks, especially Phoenicians living in today’s Mediterranean coasts of Turkey were highly advanced in marine transportation. They were the ones bringing wine and it production techniques in Europe and other distant lands like France, Northwest Africa, Sicily, South Italy and Spain.
The first vineyards in France established by Greek immigrants around 500 BC. At this point, Roman took over the flag and spread wine to the every corner of the known world in those days.
You probably know that Ankara is the capital of Turkey. It is the city I was born. But do you know its name is a part of history of wine and coming from grapes? Only a few do. Ancyra, Ankara’s ancient name which is pronounced more or less the same, means “unripe grape” in ancient Greek and “enguru - grape” in Persian.
Asia Minor, which we call Anatolia has always been a busy land by means of civilization traffic. When Turks has come in 11th century, viniculture continued to develop and spread. Although Ottomans preferred grapes as a fruit, they didn’t interfere the operation of vineyards being carried out by the Christians.
Only Non-Muslims were allowed to produce and consume wines in the Empire for more than 600 years. Greeks and Armenians living in Anatolia were the only producers of all types of grape products including wine and fresh grapes. Turkish history of wine and viticulture were in a serious decline. Average Ottoman family was consuming only fresh grapes, raisins and vine leaves all these years.
Banning of alcoholic beverages Ottoman Empire reminds me the prohibition in the States in 1920’s. As much as I know, underground alcohol rivers were flowing at illegal bars and clubs. It seems things were more or less the same during Ottoman ban. According to the results of a census held in 1637 – all censuses were only for Istanbul back on those days – there were 160 pubs and around 6000 liquor stores in the city.
The prohibition was ended in 1876 with the Tanzimat reform era. A new era, westernization had just started so the wine production.
As I always say, my country is a land of contradictions. A few years after freeing from the prohibition, Europe, especially France were fighting with a deadly plague which effects grapevines; the phylloxera. Ottoman saw the trade opportunity. They produced and exported 300 million litres wine to Europe.
After hundreds of years of interruption in viticulture and wine production, Turkey has started over to offer a large selection of wines made up of Anatolia’s unique grape varieties cultivated on its fertile lands.
Turkey today is working hard to catch up the lost time she had gone through. While various brands and different grape combinations can be found in the market shelves, the researches continue to keep the history of wine alive in Anatolia.