Statue of Dionysus holding a wine cup with wine grapes dangling

Anthropology: Wine as a Symbolism of Culture from Ancient History to the Present

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made of grapes and yeast through alcoholic fermentation. This drink has been a part of human history for thousands of years and it is still a popular drink among most cultures in the world. Even if grape wine is not popular around the world, there is always a local version made with other fruits that are consumed.

Over the years, vineyards have become places of high interest among tourists. This is because people are more curious and eager to experience authenticity and to learn about the beverage in detail. After all, wine is a mysterious item as its taste, quality and aroma differ from region to region and according to the changes in climate. That means, even if a wine is produced in the same region, its taste will differ every harvest season.

Moreover, the location, ambience, and activities that these vineyards have to offer truly captivate tourists and wine enthusiasts from all over the world. Their visits, therefore, benefit them, the local winemakers, and the economy.

This post, therefore, talks about wine and its production, how to visit a vineyard, what to expect in those visits and lastly recommends some of the best wineries to visit across the globe.

Difference between vineyards and wineries

Before we begin, let’s understand the difference between vineyards and wineries. The two words are often used interchangeably to describe a place where wine and grapes are produced, and where visitors can go for tours and sample wine while viewing the green landscape.

This is partially correct. However, there is a small yet significant difference between the two.

Vineyards are the fields or the terrain where grapes are cultivated. The main purpose of these grapes is to be made into wine. The grapes grow in specific ecosystems, either between 30-50 degrees latitudes or at higher altitudes, where the climate is cooler.

vineyard
A Vineyard is where grapes are cultivated primarily for making wine. Photo by Johny Goerend on Unsplash

Wineries are the establishments or buildings where wine is produced. This is where the beverage is actually made by winemakers.

winery building
An image of a winery, the building where wine is produced. Image by Gerhard Bögner from Pixabay

Some wineries have their own vineyards while others don’t. Those without a vineyard purchase grapes from elsewhere to produce wines.

There are also different types of wineries, and one such type is the vineyard winery. Here, the grapes and wines are produced at the same place and this is what we usually refer to when we speak of visiting a vineyard, because that is what we would normally expect to see. This is why the two words are used interchangeably.

This post will also use the words interchangeably. However, they will refer to vineyard wineries.

Wine and Vineyards: The Past

Now that we know the difference between the two places. Let’s look at the past to understand the significance of wine and vineyards to humans.

Ancient History

The first record of making wine was in 6000 BC. This was during the Neolithic period, when humans started to settle down, cultivate crops and domesticate animals. It is said that the first wines were produced in present-day Georgia, Kurdistan, and Armenia.

This is because the type of grape used to produce wine, Vitis vinifera, was naturally only available in this area of the Middle East.
Additionally, historians estimate this time period because winemaking required pottery for the process.

Alcohol was said to be one of the first food items to ever be consumed after rice and barley. Beer and wine were the first two types of alcoholic beverage. The liquid would have intoxicating effects, and compared to other intoxicants available at the time, wine seemed to be both appetizing and effective. Some researchers believe that it was this quest for getting a consistent supply of resources to produce wine and bread, the two staples of humans in the Neolithic period, that facilitated the development of agricultural methods.

From this region, wine, along with grapevines, reached the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, from where it reached Greece.

Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire

Wine culture was prevalent among the Greeks due to the following of Dionysus, the God of Wine, fertility, and grape harvest. There are several myths related to the God; one of them says that he came from the East. This is relevant because the grapevines also came to Greece from Asia.

dionysus
Dionysus is the Greek God of Wine, fertility and grape harvest. His Roman equivalent is called Bacchus. Image Credit: Greek Mythology

In the Middle Eastern settlements, wine was a beverage for the elite. However, in ancient Greece, it was for everyone, regardless of gender or social status. It is deeply integrated into the Greek culture through literature and art. The Greeks then introduced wine and grapevines to Italy and France approximately 2500 years ago.

The consumption and appreciation of wine, however, were popularized during the Roman Empire. They were the ones to give birth to the concept of viticulture because they had elaborated and organized methods to grow grapes. During this time, wine started to be classified into vintage grading, place of origin, type of grape among other criteria to determine quality wines.

Fall of the Roman Empire

By the 4th century, viticulture was at risk due to the fall of the Roman Empire. The previous winemakers and peasants did not have the knowledge or resources to continue production. So, churches stepped in, as they had both.

It is interesting to note that by 313 AD Christianity became the main religion of the Roman Empire, which gave churches a lot of power and access to financial resources at the time. The churches would require wine for rituals, so they continued producing both grapes and wine after the decline of the Roman empire and, throughout the middle ages.  It was these medieval monasteries that continued and developed ancient winemaking techniques. They would even host tourists and royalty to showcase their wines.

church in a vineyard
Medieval Church between the vineyards. These churches took the initiative to save wine and its process in the dark ages. Image Credit: Winetraveler

Wine reaching the Americas

The grapevines reached the Americas through the Spanish conquistadors. Local vines had already grown there, and new vines were introduced. The Spanish loved wine but, they were unable to import it from Spain as it was expensive and took a long time, so they found ways to produce wines using grapes from local vineyards.

Purpose of Wine

Wine is one of the most widely consumed alcoholic beverages in the world. It is consumed especially at celebrations and social events as drinking has always been a social activity. So much so that public areas have been dedicated to socializing and drinking. We know them as pubs and bars.

wine and socializing
Wine has been consumed while socializing in many cultures around the world. Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Nevertheless, different cultures have different views and perceptions about alcohol consumption and intoxication. This depends on the history of a particular culture.

Anthropology: Cultural Symbolism of Wine

Wine also has strong links with world religions. In some, its consumption is forbidden or looked down upon. However, in others, it has different meanings.

For example, in some minor religions in the Middle East, grapevines are a symbol of death and rebirth because of their nature and the way they grow throughout the seasons. In other middle eastern faiths, wine represents the soul.

In some other religions, red grapes and the color of wine are associated with blood. The followers believe that wine came from the blood of an animal that they would use to sacrifice to the Gods. As such, wine became a sacred offering to the Gods.

In the Jewish faith, wine is seen as a holy drink and it is used for many of the rituals. Similarly, in Christianity, it is the most mentioned beverage in biblical texts. It is seen as a gift of God and a symbol of love shown by God as the beverage that provides joy and life to people. In Italy, Christian art even includes images and decorations of grapes and wine.

Many associate wines with fertility for plenty of reasons. Firstly, it is due to its association with Dionysus, the God of fertility and wine. Secondly, it is because historical evidence from Babylon suggests that the first winemakers were women.  This comes from the notion that during the time of the hunter-gatherers, the men would hunt animals while the women would gather nuts, fruits, and seeds. They had presumably gathered grapes at one point and accidentally discovered the process of making wine.

Enotourism

More recently, wine has found a new purpose and it is captivating the attention of tourists around the world. Enotourism or wine tourism refers to travel for the purpose of appreciating, consuming and purchasing wine. It even involves activities such as vineyard tours, wine tasting, harvesting grapes, attending wine festivals and more, at the place where wine is produced.

In this experience, visitors engage in the heritage, production process, geography and economy that involves the entire ecosystem and resources of a vineyard and/or winery.

This form of tourism involves sharing of knowledge, stories, lifestyles in the most authentic manner possible. This especially interests wine enthusiasts and those interested in learning about the origins and cultures of various foods and beverages.

In this case, the tourist benefits from gaining knowledge and making memories, the winemaker benefits by promoting their wines and services at their establishments and the local economy also benefits from the activities of the tourists.

Wine production and wine tourism are inter-dependent as one can’t exist without the other. For the past 20 years, wine-producing regions in South America have been involved in Enotourism, while other countries are only just starting to see its benefits or seeing it as an alternative form of

The origins of Enotourism differ in every region but it was popularized when the wine from the Napa Valley of California won over the big French wines in 1976 at the Judgement of Paris, a wine competition, popularizing their wines and branding them as world-class. This made people curious and motivated them to visit Californian vineyards, and eventually those vineyard wineries that weren’t part of the Old World.

Visiting a Vineyard Winery

All vineyards have their own philosophies and resources, so, depending on that and the way things work there, the experience at a vineyard could vary. However, most vineyards strive to educate, entertain, and engage the visitors in the winemaking process, workshops, and local traditions through festivals, for example.

Depending on the nature of the vineyard, it can provide an array of facilities and experience. Here they usually arrange activities related to the winemaking process. In larger vineyards, they engage their visitors in activities unrelated to winemaking, such as walks, kayaking, golf, cycling, cooking classes, in addition to touring the vineyard and sampling wines. Many even have accommodation and restaurants, so it is possible to book a stay at the wineries. Some even have wine museums to strengthen the educational aspect of the experience.

You can visit a vineyard individually or in groups by booking a tour or stay at the desired winery online or via a tour operator. The tours could last a few hours, or even a few weeks, depending on the level of interest or desired tour package. Vineyards are usually open for tours in the summer or just after summer, which is when the grapes are harvested.

grape harvest
Wine grape harvest at the vineyard. Photo by Lasseter Winery on Unsplash

Wine tourism is more about the experience more than anything else, so it is absolutely fine if you do not drink alcohol. The tasting is a part of the experience however, it possible to skip it or, alternatively to just taste the wines without swallowing it. Usually, during wine tastings, a dump bucket is provided to spit out drinks. Wine tastings involve sampling a lot of wines so many people simply taste and spit it out to avoid intoxication. It is neither obligatory to be a wine connoisseur to visit or stay at a vineyard.

The culture at a vineyard involves learning about the grapes, the way they are grown, the harvest, learning about the winemaking process, interacting with the winemakers, learning about their daily lives, and enjoying the beautiful landscapes.

At the tour of the vineyards and winery, a group of people along walk and learn about the entire winemaking process, while a host guides them and explains everything to them in detail. After the tour, the group usually goes to the tasting room to sample wines from different grapes, vintages, and wines at different stages of the ageing process. At the wine tasting, you would normally be told what to look for in a good quality wine. These usually involve the senses of sight, smell, and taste.

wine tasting
Wine Tasting involves swirling the wine glass, checking the colour, smelling and tasting wine. Image Credit: Wine Enthusiast Magazine Tasting

Sampling starts with dry white wines, to dry red wines and finally end with dessert wines. Some wineries provide palate cleansers in between each sample.

It is good etiquette to purchase wine from the winery after the entire experience because the reason wineries open up to the public in the first place is to promote and share the stories behind their wines. This is not just a marketing technique but, also a way to leave their legacy and preserve their heritage.

Vineyards and Wineries to visit around the World 

There are thousands of vineyards and wineries around the world. It is challenging to select only a few as each one has something unique to offer. However, for the sake of this post, I have chosen only some of the best vineyard wineries to visit or stay in for your next vacation. The list includes producers of both Old and New World wines.

Note: Old World wines referred to the original European regions that would produce, such as France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc. while the New World referred to all other regions.

1. Château Pape Clément, Pessac, Gironde, France 

It is a prestigious Bordeaux winery in the Pessac-Leognan appellation, located 15 minutes from Bordeaux city. The Bordeaux region is known to produce some of the best wines in the world and this winery does the same.

The chateau was named after Pope Clement V and it is home to the oldest vineyard in the region, with the first harvest taking place in 1252. The terroir is best known for producing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. Wine tourism programs are organized every day and it is even possible to book a stay at the chateau. For more information on the wines and tours visit their official website here.

bordeaux
Image of the Chateau de Pape Clement. Image Credit: Bordeaux Travel Guide

2. Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy 

The Greeks introduced wine to Italy through this region in 800 BC as they had colonized Sicily at the time. Mount Etna is an important wine-producing region in Italy because it is still home to the original vineyards in Europe that was not destroyed by the Phylloxera pest in the 19th century. Wineries in the Etna DOC produce the Nerello Mantellato and Nerello Cappuccio grape wine which are blended to form the Etna Rosso red wine. Tentura delle Terre Nere is a winery located at the northern slopes of the Etna volcano. They organize wine tastings and even lunches for a small group provided prior booking is made. More information on their official website.

sicily winery
Image of the Tenuta delle Terre Nere vineyards. Image Credit: Fine Wine Encounters

3. Domaine Foivos, Kefalonia, Greece

Historical vineyard located in the Kefalonia, an island situated to the west of mainland Greece. This vineyard winery still grows some of the native grapes such as Muscat, Thiako, Muscatel, etc and produces PDO certified sweet wines and PGI certified Mantzavino red and white wines. Domaine Foivos is considered one of the oldest active wineries in Greece. Click here to visit their official website for more information on bookings and wines.

4. Marques de Riscal, Elciego, Alava, Spain

This modern Spanish winery in Elciego, in the Spanish province of Alava, is a large area dedicated to producing and showcasing wine. So much so that it is called the city of wine, with a luxury hotel with unique exteriors, a vinotherapy spa experience and restaurants apart from the main winery and picturesque landscapes. This place was titled one of the best wineries in the world in 2020. For more information on visits and their wines visit their official website here

Marques de Riscal
Image of the Marques de Riscal winery in Spain. Image Credit: Marques de Riscal

5. Sula Vineyards, Nashik, Maharashtra, India

Winemaking has existed in India since the Indus Valley Civilization and, thanks to the modern vineyards emerging in South Western India, it has become a popular destination for wine tourists over the years. Sula Vineyards in Nashik, Maharashtra produces premium wines with Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc, Riesling, among others. The vineyards are also home to two resorts with the best amenities. They organize winery tours, tastings, breakfasts on a daily basis and even organize a music festival every February called the Sula Fest. For more information on Sula vineyards, visit their website here.

sula vineyards
The Sula Vineyard at Nashik, Maharashtra, India. Image Credit: TripAdvisor

6. Concha y Torro, Pirque, Cordillera, Chile 

The winery was established in 1883 with the founder wanting to produce the best wine in the world. Wines were originally produced with French grapes from Bordeaux. The winery now has a rich history, from being a small private winery to becoming internationally acclaimed and being one of the top wine producers in the world. It produces both red and white wines with Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Semillon, Carmenere and Gewurztraminer. It is open to visitors for a tour of their winery and cellar. For more information, visit their website here.

7. Klein Constantina, Cape Town, South Africa

This vineyard is located at the foot of the Constantiaberg mountain in Cape Town South Africa. It is one of the oldest vineyards in the region being established in 1685 initially intended for farming. The unique climatic conditions make it suitable for grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat de Frontignan, ideal for dessert wines. The estate now organizes winery tours and tastings to visitors and it even has a bistro that serves a story on a plate paired with their wines, providing a refined gastronomic experience. For more information, visit their official website.

klein constantina
The Klein Constantina Vineyard in South Africa. Image Credit: Wanted Online

8. Tyrell’s Wines, Pokolbin, New South Wales, Australia

Established in 1858, this family winery located in the wine-producing region of the Hunter Valley is one of the oldest in Australia. It is often referred to as the birthplace of Australian wine. The winery is known for its production of Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz wines. They have opened up their cellar doors to visitors for various wine tasting experiences, but a prior booking is to be made. For more information on them, visit their official website.

tyrrells winery
Tyrrell’s winery in the Hunter Valley. Image Credit: Winecraft

Though wine tourism is a relatively new concept, it is most definitely a unique way to explore new destinations and support rural economies.

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