Viticulture & winemaking
World's oldest bottle of wine, Historisches Museum der Pfalz in Speyer
Today's grape varieties evolved during a centuries-long process of selection. The wild vines that tasted best and seemed best-suited for winemaking were cultivated and ulimately developed into the species known as vitis vinifera. There is evidence that viticulture existed thousands of years before Christ, especially in the highly developed Middle Eastern civilizations that today correspond to modern Egypt, Iran or Israel. Grapes were also cultivated in Greece and Italy during the pre-Christian era. In Asia Minor, Dionysus was worshipped as the god of wine; Bacchus was his Roman counterpart.
In the course of their conquests north of the Alps some 2,000 years ago, the Romans - who adopted viticulture from the Greeks and Etruscans - introduced viticulture to the Germanic territories. In the 8th century, Charlemagne regulated viticulture and viniculture as well as wine-related commerce. Monasteries were centers of wine culture, wine was the drink of the people. Documents show that vineyards existed in nearly all of Germany during the Middle Ages. However, due to climatic changes, improved methods of brewing beer and increased imports of wine, the area under vine continually decreased after 1500.
Many vineyards were still planted with several grape varieties side by side as late as the 19th century, and at the end of the century, viticulture practically came to a standstill when the vine louse phylloxera wreaked havoc throughout the vineyard area. As a result, many indigenous grape varieties disappeared. Viticulture revived at the turn of the century with the introduction of grafting vines on phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks - a practice that was later made mandatory. Vine breeding and selection led to the standard grape varieties that are predominant in modern German viticulture.