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The Mythological Roots of Wine

Wine has been around for nearly as long as man has been upon the earth. How wine was discovered and then recreated is a chapter of history that will be forever lost. To make up for this lack, man connected it to his gods. Every ancient culture, which extolled the virtues of fermented grape juice, thanked one deity or another for the gift bestowed upon us mere mortals. Wine was considered a deep, rich mysterious liquid, which, by drinking, would allow us to understand the minds of the gods.

Wine was sacred to many cultures around the world. Some of the characters in the stories, we still know today, such as Bacchus and Dionysus. Some are lesser known, today, but were still important to their ancient cultures. Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of intoxicating beverages, as was Varuni to the Hindu peoples.

The ancient Egyptians held a yearly Feast of Drunkenness to the goddess Hathor. The god of wine to this formidable culture was Osiris, who gave it to his people as the sweat of Ra, the Sun God.’

The red wine from Nimea, Greece is attributed to Hercules. He fought a lion, there, and where his blood dripped on the ground, grapevines sprung up. The locals will tell you that the grapes they produce are descended from those same vines.

Retsina is known as the Wine of the Gods, in Greece. Personally, though, I believe they were mad at us when they gave it to us. Santorini’s history (and mythology) states that this Greek isle was the true location of Atlantis. Whether true or not, we know that the volcanic ash on the remainder of the island is exceptional for growing grapes.

Odin, the great god of the Norse Vikings, received all wisdom after drinking the precious mead he stole from the giants. He even seduced the giant’s daughter to help him in his quest. I wonder if that same mead was part of the seduction.

But there were also stories of mythological proportions of people who had dramatic experiences with this Elixir of the Gods. Deichtine, the sister of Conchober, king of the Ulster Celts, became pregnant after drinking wine. The story’s not as sordid as you might think. So did Noah’s daughters-in-law (that one is and I refuse to give you details).

Then there is the story of Oferus, the Hermit who first planted Syrah in the Rhone Valley, France. As the story goes, he was a knight in the Crusades. While in the Middle East, fighting for god and king, he encountered a wine so complex and exciting that he decided to take roots home to plant. He spent the rest of his life as a religious hermit, planting Syrah vines up and down the Rhone Valley. It is also mythological that Syrah is so named because the French could not say Shiraz.

According to legend, the Romans pushed the Burgundians out of the Rhine River Valley and they eventually ended up in Gaul. Long known for its wines, Burgundy has two vines, which were planted by Roman soldiers. These vines still produce fruit and the wine is some of the most expensive in the world. This is not mythology, but it’s still a great story of such proportions.

Fergus Mac Roich, one-time ancient king of Ulster, was cursed, such that he was not able to pass an alehouse without stopping to drink. To pass up even one would be the cause of his death. Mead or beer, it made no difference. According to the mythology, he had drink every time it was offered to him. It took him a long time to get to battles.

Whether based in truth or total fabrication, the mythologies behind wine afford a rich tapestry of stories. They give us something to talk about besides the weather patterns in Sonoma. They often give us something to aspire to or a lesson to be learned. Wine is as much a part of our mythology as it is our history. I’m sure you can find more such stories and open up a whole new realm of conversation over a good bottle of wine.