The Impact of Wine on Mediterranean Culture

I’m sure we have all had — or will soon have — the pleasure of tasting a wonderful glass of wine. Whether it be a vibrant glass of rosé or a light Sancerre, wine has always had that deluxe taste that we love to enjoy at dinners and parties. You may not think much of it, I mean we all drink wine right? With that being true, the unique process of making wine and its strong cultural upbringing brings it immense value to some people; it is a part of their community. While this community of wine-drinkers may not really exist in America, we can look to a unique region of the world where wine is prominent – the Mediterranean.

The traditions of winemaking in the Mediterranean go all the way back to before the Greco-Roman Empire. Since the empire possessed great methodologies for producing grapes, winemaking was popularized. The people there were also lucky since they had the ideal environmental factors which facilitated wine production. Being in the chaparral (temperate woodlands/shrublands), countries like Croatia, Greece, and Italy have some of the best oak trees in the world, things which many European winemakers desired. Mix that with some indigenous grapes from the vineyards, and you have some top-notch Mediterranean wine.

Now that the Greeks and Romans had all of this rich wine, what would they do with it? Besides drinking, wine was often used in religious festivals and was thought to have magical powers. The Greeks were among the first to embody this cultural vitality wine brought them with the creation of Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine. Furthermore, they also believed that when you drink red wine, you were not only getting in touch with the spirit of Dionysus (Bacchus was Roman alternative), but you were also ridding yourself of sins and bringing you towards divinity under the wing of God. All being said, there is a definite exaggeration of the powers of wine the Greeks definitively thought, but we can see that no other alcoholic beverage or beverage at all was more significant to them than wine. The popularity and influence of wine began to spread rapidly amongst nearby countries in Europe, soon taking over nearly the whole continent. We see large productions of wine in France, with the branding of new kinds of wine such as champagne, brandy, and cognac (named for the actual city in France). Wine also spread to Spanish cities like Catalonia and Valencia. As we can see, wine was spreading, and it was spreading fast.

I may not have had the experience of really drinking wine yet, but an image I will always remember are the vineyards in Croatia. Growing up I always traveled to Croatia, a small European country situated on the Adriatic Sea, over the summer as I had a house and family there. Aside from the glistening sun and crystal water, I will always remember driving down the dirt paths, passing by miles and miles of vineyards. Lots of these pieces of land were owned by small craftspeople and they would often hold tiny little shops in which they would not only sell wine, but also other small herbs and sweets. They would have honey, jam, lavender, fruits, and vegetables, and when I was younger I would always run up and sniff every scented candle there was to offer. The wine in Croatia was fresh and tasted like the roots of nature, the kind I didn’t mind trying. I was always amazed by how beautiful and almost surreal these places were, not only reflecting on me the wonders of the Mediterranean, but also showing me that beauty in life comes from simplicity and that naturality is what makes us human.

Another thing I remember is the annual Black Island Wine Festival. With a millennia-old tradition of winemaking, every mid-July, many winemakers from Croatia would bring their freshly made wine to this event that was situated in the open space of the Old Town. On this night, hundreds of natives and foreigners would gather, dressed in fancy attire to this event. Black, red, white, any kind of you could think of was there and people would walk about, conversing with each other over wine while a band of musicians played near the stairs of a church. I guess you may be thinking why something like this would resonate with me. Why would I remember something like this rather than perhaps a special gift? It all comes down to how much change it brings to people, and in this case, how something so small can bring so many people together. This wasn’t just a gift, it’s something that allows us to learn more about each other. It makes us laugh. It makes us cry. It allows us to relax, yet it spices up our lives. It makes us feel human. It’s the thing that makes the virtues of beauty and simplicity possible – it’s wine.