Cheers to Ancient Egypt!

Grapes. Alcohol. Taste provoking. Chill. Social. Celebratory.

These are some of the common ideas that come to mind when we think about wine today.

And these ideas are not new! Wine is an object of antiquity that has accompanied mankind for ages. The earliest evidence of wine we have found, is 7000 years old in the Middle East. Wine was known to the Egyptians who lived in the Middle East before 3000 BCE. Some even believe that Egyptians were the pioneers to wine making!

So how did ancient Egypt produce wine? In his book “Gods, Men and Wine”, William Younger affirms that "It is in Egypt where we must go for our fullest knowledge of man's early and deliberate growing of wine."

This is a video explaining how wine was produced by the Egyptians.

https://youtu.be/pHAElqsIJWY

 

To help you guys out, below is a summary of the wine making process by the Egyptians, as shown in the video:)

1. Harvesting of Grapes

Figure 1: Grape harvesting

Vines were trained on rafters supported by rows of columns (Figure 1). These columns divided the vineyard into avenues, making it easier for harvest.

During harvests, the grape bunches were placed carefully into baskets. The Egyptians would balance these baskets on either their heads or shoulders. At times they would sling the baskets onto the backs of their servants or harness, or simply carry them in their arms.

2. Treading on Grapes

Figure 2: Workers treading on Grapes

After harvesting the grapes, they would be placed in vats made of granite or schist. Sometimes, a stone press was used to crush the grapes. But this method would cause stems and seeds to be crushed in the process, thereby blending into the beverage and adding bitterness to it.

The traditional method of stepping on them with the feet was gentler and would relieve more bitterness from the wine as compared to using a stone press. (Assuming they washed their feets beforehand HAHA)

Men would hold onto poles affixed in the building as shown in Figure 3a while treading on the grapes.

Grape skins would be put in sacks and afterward be pressed (Figure 3b).

3. Pressing of Grapes

Figure 3a(Top): Holding onto poles while treading Figure 3b(Bottom): Wine press

To maximise the full use of the grapes, the Egyptians would conduct a second pressing. This was to extract the remaining juice from the grapes. The wine-lees (Lees are dead yeast cells and other particles remaining in a wine after fermentation) would be put into an oblong linen slough, and squeezed by twisting the linen stretched across a solid wooden frame as as shown in Figure 4.

4. Fermentation 

Figure 4: Twisting of linen to extract remaining juices

Fermentation takes place when enzymes in the sugar are exposed to the natural yeast in the parts of the grape. Fermentation stops when alcohol percentage reaches approximately 14%-15%. The remaining unfermented sugar will add to the sweetness of the wine. Depending on the desires of the wine producers, the wine might be fermented for a few days to produce a light alcoholic product, or kept for several weeks to produce a strong alcoholic drink. To get a bitter and richer flavor, the seeds, stalks and skin of the grape would be crushed along with the grapes. This separated red wine from white wine.

5. Bottling and Sealing

Amphorae vessels

Figure 5: An amphorae vessel used to store wine

After fermentation, wine is stored in short, wide-necked jars with coned bases, known as Amphorae vessels. Their coned bases aid in collecting dregs to prevent fermentation while in storage.

The jar of the wine will be sealed with a stopper to protect the flavor of the wine. A hole will be made in the stopper for the carbon dioxide that accumulated during fermentation to escape.

6. Labelling and Storing

Figure 6: Inspection of wine

The wine will be inspected by special officers or “inspectors of the wine” (as seen in Figure 6).

Good wine, in the context of our present time is associated with a sophisticated style of living. It is relished and enjoyed often by the wealthy and the classy. Likewise were the Egyptians.

Wine or irp (as it was known to them) was mostly savoured exclusively by royal families. Being able to own a vineyard was a mark of prestige in those days. It is a pity that these large scale equipments were only available to the well-off. Producing wine required much wealth, and the poor rarely had opportunities to enjoy this beverage.

Wine was also used during festive occasions, especially in worship to their gods and goddesses. An example would be during the Hathor (depicted in figure 7)  celebration. Hathor was known to them as the goddess of love, joy, music and drunkenness. Wine was an offering to her and the Egyptians used wine in their rituals, banquets and feasts to celebrate the festive occasion.

Figure 7: Hathor

"In water you see your own face, but in wine the heart of its garden." - Ancient Egyptian Proverb

The Egyptians held a deep regard for wine. It was used for many purposes and was of great significance to them. The effort the Egyptians placed in wine production was of great passion and care. Their attention to this craft has made the future generations enjoy the fruit of their labor. Today Egypt is known for producing one of the finest wines in the world despite its unfavourable climatic conditions.