2,600-year-old inscription offers view of ancient Hebrew wine world without three-tier, wine scores, and restaurant markups
We tend to forget, given the foolishness that consumes the post-modern wine business, that wine is nothing new. I always tell my El Centro students that the French wine industry dates to the 12th century; one reason Henry II of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine was for her dowry, which included Bordeaux’s vineyards.
So I was both pleased and not surprised to see that Hebrew soldiers, stationed in a fortress in the ancient kingdom of Judah around 600 BC, included wine in a supply requisition. Researchers found the request on a pottery shard discovered in 1965, and used advances in imaging techniques to decipher what had not been legible for the past 52 years.
The supply request, addressed to a quartermaster, included information about paying for supplies, as well as making sure the soldiers had enough flour, oil, and wine. In other words, not that much different than one of today’s supermarkets ordering from its distributor.
The shard inscription, however, left several key questions unanswered:
• How did the wine trade survive without the three-tier system? Is this one explanation for the Babylonian conquest of Judah, which occurred around the time the inscription was written?
• How did the quartermaster determine wine quality? The deciphered inscription, just 17 words, doesn’t include wine scores or tasting notes. Again, was the failure to include these another key to Judah’s destruction?
• Also missing: any information about wine pricing and markups. Did the Judah military buy at wholesale, or was it forced to pay restaurant-style markups? If so, did the latter and its exorbitant costs bankrupt the military and lead to the country’s downfall?