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March 31, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2020 issue

Where and when did it all start?


Words: Fabien Etienne

8000 B.C. The earliest known wine producers came from what is now known as modern day Georgia. Large earthenware vessels were discovered that had been used for winemaking. Even today, Georgia still uses earthenware vessels called Kvevri.

The real story of wine made from grapes begins in China. Radiocarbon dating shows that residues on pottery shards date back to around 7000–6600 B.C. from the Chinese early Neolithic site of Jiahu. These remains were found to have come from a fermented beverage made of a mixture of rice, honey, and fruit.

But what is wine?

Wine is the product obtained exclusively from the complete or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes, whether crushed or not, or grape must.

Many fruit juices and musts can be fermented, but the word ‘’WINE’’ is reserved solely for the product resulting from the fermentation of grapes.

Grapes belong to the botanical family vitaceae, of which there are many species. The species that are most widely used in wine production are Vitis labrusca and, more specifically, Vitis vinifera, which has long been the most widely used wine grape throughout the world.

However, that’s not the whole story. Wine is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of different molecules. Many of them are aroma molecules from the grapes themselves (primary aromas), the winemaking process (secondary), and the aging process (tertiary). Even though they’re crucial for our enjoyment, aromas are only a very small proportion of a wine’s composition.

From Vine to Wine

After the harvest, the crush process is the first step in turning the grapes to wine.

The primary, or alcoholic, fermentation of wines is the process that transforms the grape musts into wine: the yeast consumes the natural grape sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) along with other by-products that contribute to the sensory characteristics of the wine.

Artificial yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, in dried or liquid form) are added to facilitate the control of fermentation. They work by consuming most of the sugar in the grapes, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol along with a large number of molecules (superior alcohols and esters) that have an important impact on the aromas and flavours in the wine.

Aging the wine can be done in different ways depending on the desired outcome. It is a process that can be done in just weeks, or it can take several years.

Red wines are generally aged longer in order to highlight the flavour compounds, while white wines are meant to keep their light flavour. Aging can also be done in barrels made of different materials such as oak, French oak, stainless steel, or ‘toasted’ barrels.

Wine making can be considered both an art and a science. Different climates and soil types will impact a single grape variety resulting in different styles of wine. In fact, very few winemakers would agree on just one “correct” method of wine making.

“Wine is quite simply the most delicious, most varied and most complex drink on the planet.’’
Jancis Robinson

Fabien Etienne is a professional sommelier and wine consultant based in Malta. He organizes wine training, private master class as well as other bespoke wine services. 

Find out more on

Instagram fab_somm or contact him on 9938 8088 or

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