The Georgians – and here I refer to those denizens of the Caucasus Mountains rather than the inhabitants of the sprawling suburbs of Atlanta — claim to be on vintage no. 8000, or thereabouts. If true, their boast sets the origin of wine culture deep into the era we call the neolithic and makes wine older than cities, writing, and metallurgy.
It’s amazing all right, but not quite as amazing as it would have appeared to a pious Anglican of the 17th century who, on the basis of a chronology worked out by Bishop James Ussher, was convinced that the creation of the world had taken place as recently as October of the year 4004 BCE. Under Ussher’s scheme, wine would be even older than the earth.
Okay, so the bishop of Armagh was way off. But even if we just stick to what the Bible has to say on the subject, wine appears as one of man’s early and important achievements. In the well-known story of the great flood that appears in Genesis chapters 6-9 we’re told that the first thing the patriarch Noah did after emerging from the ark with his family was to plant a vineyard.
We can skip over the question of where Noah got the plant material to establish his new property, since it’s clear that getting too literal isn’t likely to lead anywhere. The more interesting question goes something like this: why would a man who had just come through this epic, traumatic ordeal choose as his first post-diluvian project one that requires daunting amounts of labor and offers no immediate reward? After what he’d seen, what assurance did Noah have that God’s wrath wouldn’t be visited on the world again, perhaps this time wiping out all life, no exceptions granted? [Read more…]