OINOS -- as requested

From: Edward Hobbs (EHOBBS@wellesley.edu)
Date: Wed Apr 15 1998 - 19:48:56 EDT


Forasmuch as Carl Conrad has encouraged me to write a bit on the
OINOS question, and several of you privately have followed him in
this, it good to me also, most excellent Oenophilus, to do so
(having followed this subject faithfully for 45 years now).
However, I must decline one aspect of Carl's recommendation of
me: In my California days (read: quarter-century), I did not
personally grow and bottle wine. While I did often pick wine-
grapes (a hot, back-breaking task) for others, my role in wine-
production was being a partner-owner of a winery (the greatest
red-wine winery in this hemisphere, Ridge). [This was until a
decade ago, when the other partners, pressed by a change in the
tax-code, voted to sell to Japanese billionaire Otsuka--now,
alas! I can no longer boast of that relationship]. But I was
deeply involved in the process, wrote a syndicated column on wine
for years, have served for a dozen years as Wine Consultant for a
fine restaurant, and sometimes consider Wine as my real
profession, with teaching being a sideline! Many New Testament
scholars have enjoyed wines from my cellar, usually in my home,
but on occasion even at the national SBL meetings when I could
bring some of it from home. Those are my credentials for posting
on this topic!

Carl's account of the terminology is right on target. The source
usually accepted for the root WOIN- is Hittite (Indo-European,
not Semitic), which seems also to be the original home of the
grape-species from which fine wine is made (Vitis Vinifera).
(The Noah-story, with wine beginning near Mount Ararat in
Armenia, is an indirect confirmation of this, even if it is
legendary. An Armenian saint, Jacob [James to us], is the patron
saint of wine and wine-making in that tradition.) Even the
Semitic YAYIN is derived apparently from the Hittite word.

Carl's description of the process needs a little refining. Wine
cannot be made "strong," in the sense of more alcoholic, without
using the modern "fortification" process, i.e., halting
fermentation by the addition of brandy (as with port and sherry).
The _purpose_ of fortification is to prevent all the sugar from
fermenting (by killing the yeasts with high alcohol), thus having
a sweet wine. The process of making wine--letting the yeasts
ferment the sugar in the grape-juice--naturally limits the amount
of alcohol, since even if the sugar content is very high
(producing alcohol and carbon dioxide when fermented), when the
alcohol reaches 14% or 15% the alcohol kills the yeast.

Hence, "strong wine" was never over 14-15% alcohol--in fact,
rarely over 13%.

The main reason for mixing the wine with water was usually that
by the time it was a few months old, quite a bit of oxidation had
taken place (the corked bottle is a relatively modern invention,
and wineskins did not seal out all the air), and it was simply
more drinkable with water added.

"New wine" was not grape juice; it was wine made recently, before
it had a chance to deteriorate (though it might improve if placed
in a wooden barrel for a few months). We still have such wine--
and it is still called "new wine" (vin nouveau), best known in
the wine from Beaujolais, "Beaujolais nouveau", bottled six weeks
after fermentation and shipped immediately to the market.

Unfermented grape juice is an extremely short-term product.
Unless it is refrigerated (Frigidaire being another recent
invention) or pasteurized (also a post-Louis-Pasteur invention),
it will turn to wine of itself, and then quickly to vinegar
unless it is cared for properly (kept from the acetobacter).

It would be virtually impossible to have grape juice in the
spring, at Passover-time. By then it would long since have
changed into wine or vinegar.

I don't know if Greek had a word for grape juice as such; Carl
may be able to tell us that. It would surely not be a common
thing in any case, since it would exist for only a short time,
and besides: who would waste this juice which is wine-six-weeks-
from-now by drinking it up NOW?

Craig Rolinger is right to cite John 2 -- the wedding at Cana
clearly implies that what happens when people drink OINOS at a
wedding is that they become drunk. Unfermented grape juice isn't
likely to cause that.

Edward Hobbs

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