Atlantic History Wine
by
Rod Phillips
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0149

Introduction

Wine was a staple of the daily diet in many European societies for hundreds of years before regular contact was established between Europe and the Americas. By the 1500s, wine was widely consumed in those regions of Europe where it was produced (especially in the Mediterranean area), and by the better-off social strata elsewhere, such as Britain, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia. Not only did wine embody social and religious status, but it was consumed, like ale and beer, in preference to the often polluted water that was available. Although it is important to consider wine within two broad contexts—alcoholic beverages (including ale/beer and distilled spirits) and diet more generally—wine has a discrete history. It had strong associations with health, fertility, and spirituality (and was important in Christian ritual and symbolism), and some categories of wine (such as port and champagne) carried immense significance for class and gender. Although various commodities were fermented to make alcoholic beverages in the Americas before European contact, Europeans transferred viticulture and winemaking across the Atlantic. From the 1520s, the Spanish planted vines and produced wine in their Mexican and other American colonies. Their successes were the beginnings of the important wine industries of Chile and Argentina. Other imperial nations—notably the British—tried to follow suit in North America, but it was not until the 19th century that a significant North American wine industry emerged, first in the Midwest (especially Ohio and Indiana) and later in California. Perhaps because of the late start of their wine industry, North American consumer preferences ran to spirits (especially whiskey) and rum, rather than to wine. Wine was imported from Europe to serve the American wine market, and the wine trade has been one focus of historians of wine. Other prominent themes in the literature are viticulture and winemaking, the cultural meanings of wine (including its associations with class and gender), links to health and religion, regulation of production and distribution, and consumption patterns. In the broader context, wine is integral to histories of alcohol. Historians have examined varying attitudes toward wine, beer, and distilled spirits, as well as the place of wine in secular and religious commentaries on alcohol consumption and drunkenness. This article focuses on the specific histories of wine, even though they have frequent commonalities with the histories of other alcoholic beverages.

General Overviews

There are few global histories of wine (Johnson 1989, Phillips 2001, Unwin 1991), and none dealing specifically with the Atlantic world. In contrast, there are several surveys of the history of wine in France (such as Dion 1959, Garrier 1998, Lachiver 1988), partly because of the early maturation of its export wine industry, and a good survey of wine in the United States (Pinney 1989). The wine histories of other major wine-producing countries, such as Spain, Italy, Argentina, and Chile, are not well studied.

  • Dion, Roger. Histoire de la vigne et du vin en France des origines au XIXe siècle. Paris: Flammarion, 1959.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is a general overview of viticulture and wine in France, and its particular strength is the attention it pays to the spread of vineyards and viticultural practices from the viewpoint of a physical geographer. It is also a very sound source of information on the social and cultural aspects of wine, and it gives impressionistic accounts of consumption patterns.

  • Garrier, Gilbert. Histoire sociale et culturelle du vin. Paris: Larousse, 1998.

    E-mail Citation »

    Despite the title, the scope of this book is confined to France. It is thematically comprehensive, covering not only viticulture, production, distribution, and consumption, but the broader cultural associations of wine (such as health, medicine, politics, and social class). The book is written as a series of short sections, making it more manageable for students than Dion 1959 and Lachiver 1988, which have fewer, longer chapters.

  • Johnson, Hugh. The Story of Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 1989.

    E-mail Citation »

    This illustrated book is written for a nonacademic readership, but it provides a reliable history of wine from known beginnings to the present. Organized chronologically, it also looks at specific wines, such as port, sherry, and champagne. The text is often more likely to appeal to wine lovers wanting a history that celebrates wine than to scholars. Nonetheless, it is a good starting point and is easily accessible for undergraduates. Also available in many foreign-language editions.

  • Lachiver, Marcel. Vins, vignes et vignerons: Histoire du vignoble français. Paris: Fayard, 1988.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the most thorough book on the history of French wine. Starting with the introduction of wine to Gaul by the Greeks, it takes the history to the modern period. Although comprehensive in thematic scope, it is especially strong as an economic and socio-geographical history of French wine.

  • Phillips, Rod. A Short History of Wine. New York: Ecco, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    Covering the Neolithic to modern periods, this focuses on the postmedieval world and places wine firmly in historical context. It is thematically comprehensive, covering production, the wine trade, social and cultural meanings of wine, attitudes toward drinking, and wine markets and consumption patterns. First published in 2000 (London: Allen Lane), and available in many foreign-language editions.

  • Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America from the Beginnings to Prohibition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

    E-mail Citation »

    The America referred to here is the territory that is now the United States. This work surveys the history of wine from the failures of the 16th and early 17th centuries, through the rise of the California industry in the late nineteenth, to the 1930s. It is a clear and strong narrative, with good biographical accounts of the major figures in the history of wine in America.

  • Unwin, Tim. Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade. London: Routledge, 1991.

    E-mail Citation »

    This pioneering book focuses on grapevines and the spread of viticulture (notably vitis vinifera, the species most commonly used for winemaking) from the Middle East to the Mediterranean and Europe, and from there to the Americas and beyond. It spans the period from the ancient world to the 20th century.

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