By Marc Millon
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Extra info for Wine: A Global History
Indeed, throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, when water supplies could often be suspect, wine was considered positively health-giving. As repositories of knowledge and learning, monasteries promoted extensive and painstaking research into the cultivation of the grape, for surely the production of the best wines was seen as a way of honouring the glory of God (as well as of satisfying earthly desires). The technology of winemaking was improved by the monks, and medieval monastic cellars were as advanced as any in the world, with immense beam presses and cellars full of wooden vats for the storage of wine.
Few vineyard areas were to escape its ravages, save those whose roots lay in near pure sand, as in parts of the French Languedoc. All the rest were destroyed, one by one, a catastrophe that devastated the economies and livelihoods of winegrowers throughout France. Vineyards were fumigated in an attempt to eradicate the pest, but ultimately most succumbed, in many cases never to be replanted. P. vastatrix was not only voracious, but also fast-moving, and eventually spread across the vineyards of Europe by the 1920s.
For indeed, rather than celebrating the immense biodiversity of V. vinifera and the myriad grape varieties from which wines are made, are we not, in fact, seeing an ever decreasing number of grape varieties used to produce the wines that most people drink? The rise and rise of global brands means that, increasingly and sadly, the wealth of indigenous, local grapes with names known to few is being replaced by a mere handful of so-called international varieties known and recognized by their safe, familiar names and flavours.