When things don’t go according to plan, the results can be disastrous. But every now and then, unintended accidents lead to delightful consequences. Take wine as an example – it’s the ultimate poster child for failing forward! Let’s look at 4 of the happiest accidents to ever befall humanity.
The ancient discovery of fermentation was almost certainly a happy accident – perhaps one of the happiest of all. Ancient bakers began to notice that fermented grain rose into fluffier loaves of bread. A few adventurous trials later – and beer was born!
Some anthropologists and archaeologists even theorize that beer — not bread — was the original reason that humans took up agriculture. The social lubrication of low-proof alcohol may have softened the rigid social structures of ancient tribes and encouraged collaboration and innovation. Bread, some argue, was just a convenient byproduct of the quest to make tastier beer.
One particularly famous happy accident involves the legendary origins of Champagne. The Champenois were envious of the reputation that their Burgundian neighbours to the south had for their wines. However, due to the cooler climate, achieving ripe, full wines was a never-ending challenge. Not understanding what fermentation even was, the Champenois would bottle their wine unfinished. In the spring, when temperatures warmed, fermentation would resume, and as CO2 built up in the bottles, the corks would explode out, leading to Champagne to sometimes be called ‘le vin du diable’ or wine of the devil.
Contrary to popular thought, Dom Perignon first worked hard to try to make the wine safe and still. But after years of unsuccessful trials, royal tastes began to change and by the end of the 17th century, Dom Pérignon was asked to reverse everything he was doing and focus on making champagne even bubblier!
The process he developed, known as the French Method, incorporated the weather-induced “oops” moment that first created champagne, and it’s how champagne is still made today.
The white grapes used to make wines like chardonnay, riesling and sauvignon blanc evolved because of a lucky genetic coincidence more than 3,000 years ago, according to Australian scientists.
The new research, published in the latest issue of the Plant Journal, showed that the colour of grape skins is controlled by two genes, VvMYBA1 and VvMYBA2. The scientists found that either gene can regulate the colour by switching on production of a molecule called anthocyanin, which turns grape skin red.
In white grapes, both the genes are mutated, meaning both ways for producing a red colour are switched off.
“This was a lucky coincidence for all the white wine drinkers around the world,” Walker (one of the scientists) says. “Mutations in single genes happen at a fairly low frequency, but the grapes had to have mutations in two genes to turn from red to white and that’s just very, very rare.”
This evidence suggests that all the white grape varieties have a single genetic ancestor, she says.
“Perhaps someone walked out into a vineyard one day and saw these white grapes and wondered whether they’d make good wine.”
The oak wine barrel is one of the most recognizable symbols associated with wine. Yet the reason we began aging wine in oak barrels in the first place was not intentional, but the result of a happy accident. For millennia, the clay amphora was the storage medium of choice for transporting wine.
But as the Romans pushed north into Europe, and away from the Mediterranean, transporting the clay amphorae grew increasingly difficult.
When the Romans encountered the Gauls, they found a group of people who were using wooden barrels, often made of oak, to transport beer.
The Romans quickly realized they had found a solution to their amphora issue. The contact with the wood also made the wine softer and smoother, and with some wines, it also made it better tasting. Soon, merchants, wine producers, and armies alike, found that the longer the wine remained inside the barrels, the more qualities from the oak would be imparted into the wine, and thus began the practice of aging wine in oak.
So there you have it – the world of wine owes everything to a bit of luck, a dash of chemistry and a whole lot of accidental, chance discoveries. And here’s to each of us – with our innate ability to find the silver lining and create something beautiful out of each of life’s surprise turns.