Until the beginning of the 17th century, wine was in an excellent position to be the only healthy drink, to some extent, worth of being stored. It had no equal. Water, in general, was not suitable for consuption, at least in the cities, and ale varieties, without hops, deteriorated rapidly. There were no spirits, no soft drinks nor the caffeine drinks that we enjoy nowadays on a regular basis.
In Europe wine was consumed disproportionately, one could say that the entire continent was immersed in a State of perpetual inebriation. From the 17TH century, all this started to change thanks to the arrival of chocolate, coffee and finally the tea. At the same time, the Dutch began to develop the art and trade of distillates and many areas of Western France became providers of cheap wine, thanks to their stills. The hops also contributed to more stable beers and big cities began to channel the sewage and clean their waters. Thus, the wine industry was in danger unless they develop new ideas.
It is probably not a coincidence that the production of wines, that we today consider classics, occurs in the middle of the 17th century, but what definitely launched the wine into another level was the invention of the glass bottle and its resulting technological changes in terms of production, making bottles more resistant and easier to manufacture. By that time, someone had also the idea of joining the bottle, the cork and the corkscrew.
Little by little, wine producers came to the conclusion that the wine stored in glass, properly capped, bottles preserved their content longer and in better conditions than wooden barrels, aging the wine in a different way and providing complexity and bouquet. Thus, aged wines were created, and with them the opportunity to double or triple the prices of those wines susceptible of aging. It was the owner of Château Haut-Brion the first to conceive the idea of what would end up being called “Reserve” wine : harvested later than usual, selected, ripe, stronger and elaborated with a much greater deal of care.
Already in the 18th century, the nature of Burgundy changed. The more delicate wines had been the most popular, Volnay and Savigny and since then, they gave way to easy to stock, aged wines. In the regions of Burgundy and Champagne the use of Pinot Noir was already obliged and considered the variety “par excellence”. In Germany the first Riesling vines were planted and experiments with other grape varieties were taking place almost everywhere.
The wine that most benefited from the use of glass bottles was the Oporto wine, mainly due to the price rise that the French wines experimented during the frequent war periods of the 18th.
Already in the 19th century, the majority of the population in Italy, directly or indirectly, earned their living in the wine industry and in Spain (La Rioja) the first modern wines intended for export were being developed.
However, phylloxera arrived and the scene changed radically, in fact it was thought the wine had come to an end and was living its last days. Luckily, graft and the selection of varieties made a new beginning possible although it was slow and had lots of setbacks, such as overproduction and two world wars.
In the 20th century, two of the most important revolutions take place in the world of winemaking: the scientific and the technical revolution. Fermentation, thanks to Pasteur and his discoveries of microorganisms, went from being a mystery to a fully controllable process. Vintages were machine harvested and even temperature could be controlled during winemaking. These advances were deemed almost unthinkable years ago.
The first school of Oenology opened in Bordeaux in 1880 and many more followed: Montpellier, Geisenheim (Germany), Davis (California) and Roseworhy (Australia), but it wasn’t until the 50’s, after the second world war, when producers began to know prosperity.
The modern world of wine, as we know it, appears in the 1970s with the emergence of quality table wines, tasty and unexpensive to meet a new audience. Nowadays ‘modern’ large wineries have lost part of the old romance, betting on new technology and thus saving costs.
Despite the problems arisen for years until today, wine has entered the 21st century in good health. Although with a little overproduction but with many technological and scientific advances that few could have imagined not so many years ago. Communication and logistics, giving rise to competition between wines from around the world, also contributed to shape the contemporary image that we know today, we can access information in seconds of almost any wine, get a fair idea of it and have it delivered to our front door.
Wine, like almost all other areas in life, cannot escape the technological progress.