History of Beer and Wine

Well, at least the history of how they got to California


Ancient Romans would have loved California


Beer and wine stretch back into ancient times, as does our everlasting appreciation for them. The first hard evidence of beer currently comes from stone bowls carved into a cave in Israel around 13,000 years ago. Small-batch crafted homebrew in a cave sounds like literal hipster heaven. Wine appears just a tad later, reaching Greece via the Middle East and Caucasus region around 7,000 years ago. King Tut’s tomb was found with wine containers stamped with the field and year in which they were grown. It is an actual ancient tradition to read about where and when the grapes were grown as you sample a glass.

Beer and wine stretch back into ancient times, as does our everlasting appreciation for them


Ancient Greeks, famous lovers of wine, drank it diluted with water. In fact one sign of being a barbarian, or non-Greek, was drinking wine “straight” without adding any water. One additional sign of being a barbarian was drinking that other alcohol: beer!
Beer is associated more with Germanic northern Europeans than their Latin counterparts down south. It was, and possibly still is, considered less cultured then wine possibly because wine was seen as Greek and Greek culture was copied throughout the Mediterranean to an extent.

While Greeks were drinking wine and Germans were brewing beer, it was another seafaring culture that actually spread wine throughout the known world. Phoenicians were fascinating Middle Eastern seafaring people who also brought the alphabet along with their wine to settlements in North Africa and Spain. Their trading ships brought the beverage to ports in Spain, Italy, Croatia and the Black Sea, establishing some of the most classic wine growing regions today. Much later Rome would unite these areas and more under one polity. 

Roman wine was technically all Rose, a blend of red and white wines, skins and all. It is a common assumption that white grapes make white wine and red grapes red, however it is actually the inclusion of the stems, skins and seeds or not. Adding these additional parts of the plant makes it red whereas the pure grapes make it a white.

Romans settled where they could grow good grapes and olives. These were staple crops that helped tell them apart from other cultures of the time. Romans would have loved California. The climate, wine and olive oil from here are all on par with Old World offerings. 

Grapes were transported deep into France and Germany by Romans and those emulating Rome. Vineyards in these iconic regions were established by 100 AD 

Once the Roman empire collapsed, around 500 AD very roughly, the Mediterranean world also went through a political and economic change. In these turbulent and violent times religious monasteries helped keep ancient knowledge alive, just barely. This time period is now commonly referred to as the “Dark Ages”. Texts were preserved by monks completing their religious duties as scribes. These monks also experimented with making wine and beer. 

Wine is essential to Catholic rituals and tedious work such as copying books and gardening were seen as devotional work to God. As monks created new wines and the commoners drank new beers, experiments with other plants and fruits bore new results as technology progressed. These experiments led to new types of alcohols like Whiskey by the 1100s AD. 

Hard alcohol developed in Europe for the first time as distillation an chemistry filtered in from the more scientifically advanced regions of the Middle East and North Africa by around the 1400’s. Many think of the Middle Ages as an era of Crusade and war, but a plethora of cultural exchange and rediscovery was also taking place. These new alcohols were often named after the monk or monastery that created them, such as Chartreuse and Dom Perignon. Specific recipes are still used today. 

California Beer and Wine trace themselves back to the different drinking cultures of both Spain and the UK, two of the main European powers to colonize what became the United States. Spain brought a Roamn-esque win tradition while England brought over a Germanic beer drinking style. Wine was not as important for Protestant England as it was for Roman Catholic Spain. Catholicism requires communion wine while Protestantism does not.

In a wide sweeping generalization Germanic (Northern European) food is based off of beer and bread whereas Latin (Southern European) cuisine is focused on Wine and Pasta. This is vastly oversimplified but the idea can be seen today in the food and drinking cultures of Northern and Southern Europe. 

By the nineteenth century Europe had become more focused on preserving alcohol tradition than experimenting with new tastes

As England expanded overseas it needed a way to ship beer to its far-flung colonies. A distinct preservation method and flavor emerges from the process of keeping beer fresh over long sea voyages: IPA. Indian Pale Ale comes from beer having to survive the months long journey from port to port, from England to India or America. Beer arriving from overseas to early American colonies would have been IPA style. 


By the nineteenth century Europe had become more focused on preserving alcohol tradition than experimenting with new tastes. This leads to the perfection of many classic vintages, but not many new styles. Wine and beer are firmly region specific, like Port and Champagne. Change was brewing in California where Spanish missionaries had planted vineyards in the late 1700’s. San Juan Capistrano is supposedly the very first European vineyard in California. Beer was followed in the Golden State not too long after, In 1896 Anchor Brewing opened in San Francisco. Shortly after San Diego Brewing company opened in Southern California. Prohibition interrupted all of these operations but the roots were planted too deep to be killed by one bad era.  

Glass of Sangiovese from Leoness Cellars in Temecula, CA

The above article contains a mixture of opinion and research, message me for the list of sources

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