History of wine cellars
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  • The history of wine cellars.

How wine cellars began.

Once civilizations began to prize wine enough to assign it monetary value for trade, wine storage techniques were developed to protect the wine merchant’s wares. The first known wine cellar was uncovered in the former Canaanite city of Tel Kabri, which was destroyed 3,600 years ago. While a far cry from the best wine cellar design of the modern era, these rudimentary wine cellars were meant to keep wines cool and shielded from the sun. Now, wine cellar design has evolved into an art form, where the cellar doesn’t just protect the wine but can be a vehicle for the display of a collection or even entertainment of fellow wine aficionados. Keep reading to learn more about the history of the wine cellar.

Tel Kabri wine cellar.

The Tel Kabri wine cellar was discovered in Israel in the former Canaanite city in July 2013. Archaeologists discovered an underground chamber over 40 square meters in size that were filled with 3-foot tall clay amphorae, vessels used in the Mediterranean to transport liquids such as olive oil and wine. When the amphorae were tested, the traces yielded chemical evidence that the vessels once held wine. It’s speculated that the wine cellar fueled lavish parties at the palace in Tel Kabri, as the room was adjacent to the palace dining hall. The room was rudimentary by most standards, as it wasn’t underground. However, it represents the first known, documented attempt to store wines.

Roman wine cellars.

The next civilization to attempt the task of preserving the desirable qualities of wine through proper storage was the Romans. The Roman style of a wine cellar, known as a fumantorires, were rooms adjacent to kitchens that were purposely filled with smoke. The smoke had a preservative effect on the wine due to restricted oxygen levels, but the typically warmer temperatures in the room accelerated spoilage. More lavish Roman homes had a “cella vinaria”, or a large room dedicated to wine storage. However, because it was usually on the ground level, its preservative qualities left something to be desired. The first underground cellars were Roman catacombs or underground tombs. Out of necessity, some Romans used the storage space underground and in doing so accidentally unlocked the key to wine preservation.

Middle Ages wine storage.

The first true wine cellars were discovered almost by accident. Large Middle Age structures were typically made of stone, and they were quite heavy and susceptible to the shifting of the soil beneath them. To prevent shifting which could topple the otherwise robust structures, architects built elaborate underground support structures consisting of arches beneath the buildings. This created the perfect subterranean space for wine storage since temperatures were constant and there was no exposure to UV light. The spacious underground rooms were repurposed for the storage of grains, vegetables, and eventually, wines.

The French contribution to wine cellars.

The French were the first culture to purposefully dig caves and underground storage cellars for their wines. As early as the 1600s, French Champagne makers were repurposing old Roman mining caves for the storage of their effervescent wine. It wasn’t long after that the French begin to construct subterranean wine caves and cellars after recognizing the beneficial preservative qualities of underground wine storage. From France, the practice of storing wine in underground cellars spread across Europe and became standard practice until the modern era.

Modern wine cellars are a far cry from those developed by humankind over millennia, but they accomplish the same purpose of protecting wine from vibration, erratic fluctuating temperatures, damaging UV light and more. The history of wine cellars illustrates how important wine has been for generations to many different cultures and what lengths people went to in order to protect their wine. Custom wine cellars can provide the ultimate in preservation in an elegant, efficient manner. To learn more about wine cellars and for help with custom wine cellar designs, contact Heritage Vine Custom Wine Cellars at (877) 686-1558.

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