Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade

By Tim Unwin | Go to book overview

7

WINE IN THE AGE OF DISCOVERY

Outside Europe, wine followed in the wake of Europeans. Great feats were accomplished in acclimatizing the vine in Mexico, Peru, Chile (reached in 1541) and in Argentina, after the second foundation of Buenos Aires in 1580. In Peru vineyards rapidly prospered in the hot and fever-ridden valleys because of their proximity to Lima, an exceptionally wealthy town. They prospered still more in Chile where the soil and climate were propitious; vines were already growing among the cuadras, the blocks of the first houses of the growing town of Santiago.

(Braudel, 1981:232)

In a little over a century, between the Portuguese expedition to Madeira in 1419 and Magellan's circumnavigation of the world in 1519-21, the entire scale of European life changed. New horizons were opened up, and new possibilities were created for the individual appropriation of profit. The Portuguese and Spanish explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries revealed vast 'new' lands across the Atlantic, as well as new routes to the east, bypassing the traditional Islamic monopoly of the vital luxury trade with India. In the wake of these voyages of discovery, the practice of viticulture and the consumption of wine were eventually taken to the furthest corners of the world.

However, the period between 1500 and 1750 witnessed more than just the discovery of new lands by the Europeans; it also saw a range of technical and social innovations which were to transform the structure of the economy. Four key changes can be identified. For the first time in history, population in the eighteenth century began to increase apparently unconstrained by disease and famine. In contrast to the plagues and demographic declines of the sixth and fourteenth centuries, new economic and social structures emerged during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which laid the way for subsequent rapid population increases. Secondly, there was a considerable expansion of the productive economy, with changes in agrarian practice and organisation enabling higher

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