views updated May 17 2018



NAICS: 31-2130 Wineries

SIC: 2084 Wines, Brandies, and Brandy Spirits

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 31-213001, 31-21300111, 31-213002, 31-21300221, 31-213003, 31-21300331, 31-213004, 31-21300441, 31-213005, 31-21300551, 31-213006, 31-21300661, 31-213007, 31-21300771, 31-213008, 31-21300881, 31-21300891, 31-213008A1, and 31-213008B1


Wine, one of the oldest products enjoyed by humankind, has been a part of civilization dating back to before the Bronze Age. In the United States, however, the passage of the Prohibition Act of 1919, also known as the Volstead Act, nearly destroyed the industry. While a few wineries survived by making medicinal and sacramental wines, production dropped 94 percent between 1919 and 1925. Even after the repeal of Prohibition, recovery of the industry was slow. Before 1920 there were more than 2,500 commercial wineries in the United States. Fewer than 100 survived Prohibition, and by 1960, the number of commercial wineries had grown to only 271.

In the early 2000s, adult Americans are drinking less wine per capita than are adults in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Italy. Wine consumption is up substantially in the United States, however, and the wine industry has become a major contributor to the economy. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that wine shipments totaled $10.5 billion in 2005. The California Association of Winegrape Growers reported that in 2006 grape production in the United States accounted for 9.6 percent of world grape production, behind Italy, France, and Spain, and for 6.3 percent of world wine production, behind Italy, France, Spain, and Argentina.

California dominates the industry in the United States, making 90 percent of the wine produced in the country. Exports of California wine increased from a value of $641 million and a total of 282 million liters in 2003 to $672 million and 382 million liters in 2005. However, major wineries are found in other states, and small wineries are beginning to proliferate throughout the country. According to WineAmerica, the national association of American wineries, there were wineries in all 50 states in 2006. Approximately 45 percent of the nation's 4,280 wineries are located in California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, with each state having more than 100 wineries.

The number of wineries quadrupled from 919 in 1980 to 3,726 in 2004. In 2005, 460 new wineries applied for licenses. In 2006 there were an estimated 90,000 wine labels registered in the United States. In fact, the wine industry encompasses both large and small businesses. The top 30 U.S. companies produce more than 90 percent of U.S. wine. According to the Small Business Administration, however, 98 percent of the wineries in the United States in 2002 were considered small, meaning companies that employ fewer than 500 people.

The industry is tightly regulated, both by the federal government and by a network of state laws, with some allowing wine sales in a variety of places, including grocery stores and discount retailers, and others permitting wine sales only in state-owned liquor stores. A customer must be at least 21 years of age to purchase wine in all 50 states, but the legal age is 18 in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam.

The basics of wine making

The production of fine wines is a complex process; some call it an art. In the most basic terms, wine is made in the following manner:

  • Wine production starts once grapes have been harvested. After harvesting, grapes are crushed. In making white wines the skins and seeds are removed. For red wines, the seeds and skins are left in the juice.
  • The juice is transferred into stainless steel tanks and cultured yeast typically is added for the fermenting process. Wine fermentation occurs when yeast consumes the sugars in the grape juice and converts them into approximately half-alcohol and half-carbon dioxide gas by weight.
  • Following the fermentation process the wine is poured into barrels typically made of oak, for aging. During aging the winemaker carefully monitors the wine. Wines are "racked" during this period, which means they are pumped from one barrel to another and the solids at the bottom of the barrel are removed.
  • After its initial aging, wine is bottled and the aging process continues at a slower pace.

Wine has long had a special place in many cultures. Chemical tests on ancient pottery jars show evidence of wine production before the Bronze Age, c. 3500–2900 BC. One of the oldest written accounts is in the Old Testament, which says that Noah planted a vineyard and made wine. Early production of wine occurred around the Caspian Sea and in Mesopotamia. Egyptians, who developed the first arbors and pruning methods, were enjoying wine c. 2700–2500 BC. The consumption of wine was spread to Europe by the Greeks, while the Romans made major contributions to grape growing, including improved classification of grape types, recognition of preferred soils, and pruning, irrigation, and fertilization methods.

Monastic wineries helped to establish and nourish the vineyards that brought France to dominance in wine production, and the need for sacramental wines preserved the industry through the Dark Ages. Dom Perignon, a sixteenth-century Benedictine monk, is credited with inventing the process of making champagne.

In the United States, wine production followed very different tracks on the East and West Coasts. On the East Coast, settlers tried to grow European grape varieties, but all attempts failed because of climate and natural pests, especially powdery mildew, a fungal disease, and a root louse called phylloxera vastatrix. This root louse was so destructive that when native American vines were planted in botanical gardens in England, it achieved a foothold in Europe and devastated nearly all the vineyards there in the years between 1865 and 1885. The European wine industry was saved by the grafting of European vines onto rootstocks from America that were immune to the root louse.

By the end of the eighteenth century, Americans living on the East Coast began domesticating native grapes. The Concord grape, introduced in 1852, became the predominant variety east of the Rocky Mountains.

In 1833 the West Coast was introduced to wine production when imported European grapevines arrived in California. In the 1850s and 1860s, Agoston Harazsthy, a Hungarian merchant and promoter who was partially financed by a state grant, made several trips to Europe and brought back cuttings from 165 of the finest vineyards. The vines flourished in California. Catholic missionaries also contributed to the production of wine in California. They established missions along the coast and planted vineyards in each. Father Junipero Serra, who founded nine of these missions, is known as the Father of California Wine. His grapes, descended from earlier plantings from Mexico, became known as Mission grapes.

Concerns about the effects of wine consumption, including alcohol abuse and alcoholism, led to support for prohibition. Indiana adopted the first temperance law in 1816, which forbade the sale of liquor on Sunday. A number of towns and counties went completely "dry" in the years that followed, and in 1851 Maine adopted a statewide prohibition of the manufacture and sale of liquor. By the outbreak of World War I, 33 states were dry. The Volstead National Prohibition Act in 1919 and the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution in 1920 banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of beverages containing more than 0.5 percent alcohol. The experiment was not successful, however, and in part because of crimes such as bootlegging by gangsters and others, the Prohibition Act was repealed in 1933 by the nineteenth amendment.

In spite of the repeal, recovery of the wine industry was slow. Some states stayed dry, and others established state liquor stores as monopolies with limited selection and no marketing. A maze of confusing and contradictory laws from one geographic area to another and a lingering anti-alcohol sentiment discouraged the acceptance of wine consumption. After repeal, the first group of wines to gain popularity was fortified dessert wines because they were taxed at a lower rate than were distilled spirits but still contained 20 percent alcohol. Table wine sales did not overtake fortified wine sales until 1968. In the early 2000s approximately 40 percent of U.S. adults drank wine occasionally, and approximately 14 percent drank it at least once per week, according to a study commissioned by the Wine Institute, an advocacy group for California wineries.


Wine has gained respectability and popularity with a substantial majority of the U.S. population, however, and the U.S. market for wine is growing. Sparkling wines such as champagne are viewed by many as enhancements to weddings and other celebrations, and table wines are seen as enhancements to fine dining.

The Census Bureau reported that the value of wine shipped in 2005 in the United States totaled $10.5 billion, compared to the 1992 figure of $4.3 billion. The Census also reported that Americans drank 2.3 gallons of wine per capita in 2004. The Wine Market Council, an independent, non-profit, wine industry trade association, reported that the consumption of table wine in the United States exceeded 250 million cases for the first time in 2006.

The retail value (as opposed to the wholesale shipped value) of California wine in 2005 was estimated at $16.5 billion, excluding exports and winery direct sales, an 8.6 percent increase over 2002.

An annual study in 2007 by the organizers of the Vin-Expo trade fair in Bordeaux, France, predicts that in the succeeding five years, the United States will surpass France to become the world's largest wine market. Although U.S. per-capita consumption is expected to remain low compared to that of France and Italy, the total market for domestic and imported wines is expected to increase from $19.2 billion in 2005 to $22.8 billion by 2010. U.S. consumption is expected to grow from 607.6 million gallons in 2005 to 721.2 million gallons in 2012, while French consumption is expected to fall from 723.8 million gallons to 657.8 million gallons. Italian consumption is projected to be 718.5 million gallons by 2010, second only to the United States.

The study demonstrated that Chinese wine consumption grew 13.06 percent been 2004 and 2005 to 423.2 million liters or 564.26 million bottles. Wine consumption in China is expected to grow by an additional 35.44 percent by 2010. The fastest growth rate in the United States is expected to be for bottles that cost more than $5, with people generally drinking better-made and more expensive wines.

According to the Wine Market Council study, wine sales in the United States surged beginning in 1970 and declined during the 1980s. The decline was attributed to the nationwide increase of the drinking age to 21, health and fitness concerns, label warnings for sulfites and for pregnancy, and lowered legal state blood-alcohol levels in driving-under-the-influence laws.

Beginning in 1994 sales climbed steadily and continued to grow in early 2007. The council attributed the renewed growth to a number of factors. These factors include the reports that moderate wine consumption is good for health. Increased and improved marketing campaigns also contributed to the increase in sales. Another factor is that the large Millennial Generation (those born between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s) was beginning to consume wine at younger ages than had earlier generations.

The Wine Institute's economic impact report said that the U.S. wine market increased by 13.7 percent in volume and by more than 15 percent in dollar values between 2002 and 2006. The Institute believes that several factors drive this growth.

Wine is generally viewed favorably when consumed in moderation with a meal. Twenty-five percent of households had incomes in excess of $75,000 in 2006, and these relatively high-wage earners increasingly accepted wine as an affordable luxury. People are searching for special experiences as opposed to materials things. Some people see an environmental association between wine and the land.

The ACNielsen annual survey of the beverage alcohol market showed that overall wine dollar sales rose by 11 percent in the 52 weeks ending July 1, 2006, while case sales were up by 4 percent, another indication that consumers were buying wine at higher prices in 2006 than in 2005. Chardonnay was the top-selling variety, with 26 percent of the market in dollars and 10 percent in case volume. Merlot was second, and cabernet sauvignon third. The study also found that sales of single-serving 187-ml. bottles of wine were growing much faster than were overall wine sales, a trend accounted for by consumers' desire for convenience and versatility.

According to the 2007 survey one year later, sales continued to increase for most varieties of wine. Pinot noir (up 20.3 percent in dollars), pinot gris/grigio (up 17.9 percent), and Riesling (up 25.2 percent) increases were especially strong. Cabernet sauvignon, starting from a much higher base, was up by 11.1 percent. Average price per bottle increased by 4.1 percent. There were 423 new wine brands that sold at an average of $8.06 per 750-ml. bottle. Sales of wine contained in screw-capped bottles increased by 24.6 percent to 4 percent of all sales. Domestic sales increased by 7.2 percent and imports, 6.2 percent. Wines from North Carolina, Texas, and Washington State made especially large gains.

Both industry organizations and individual companies supported aggressive marketing campaigns. In one promotion, for example, E. & J. Gallo Winery and Safeway supermarkets collaborated on an affinity merchandising program for the November-December holiday season that brought meat and wine categories together and provided food-wine pairings. The program resulted in substantial dollar growth of the featured Gallo brands as well as a smaller increase for the entire wine category.

The 2006 Valassis Annual Coupons Report listed wineries as sending out the greatest number of coupons to prospective customers that year, the first time wine was included in the study. Ratings by popular wine magazines, although subjective, also affect the market for particular wines and offer an opportunity for additional promotions. In one case, Wine Spectator rated a 2004 cabernet sauvignon from an Argentine winery at 90, a rating promoted by K&L Wine Merchants, a large San Francisco retailer. Sales soared.

On the negative side, the industry remains concerned about barriers to exports and competition from imports. U.S. industry representatives say the industry faces protectionist tariffs, distribution restrictions, and price competition from foreign producers who receive government subsidies. According to the Department of Agriculture, U.S. wine exports declined by 17 percent in 2005 to $659 million from a record high of $795.5 million in 2004. The 2005 figure was still higher than the totals for 2000 through 2003. Major markets for U.S. wine exports include the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, wine imports in 2005 reached a record high of $3.79 billion.

The Wine Institute reported in early 2007, however, that U.S. exports in 2006 had risen to $876 million, indicating that the 2005 decrease was an aberration because of a number of factors. Figure 232 shows U.S. wine exports for the years 1996 through 2006.

Imports of wine to the U.S. market rose steadily from 1996 to 2006, according to the Wine Institute's 2006 report. Imports represented more than 27 percent of wine consumption in the United States in 2006, rising from 40 million cases in 1998 to 81 million cases in 2005. Italy continued to be the major supplier, followed by Australia and France. One brand, Yellow Tail, represented 36 percent of Australia's imports to the United States. Imports from New Zealand and South Africa increased rapidly, with South African wines equaling those imported from Spain for the first time. Attracted by the growing market for mid-priced and more expensive wines in the United States, foreign wine producers developed aggressive marketing campaigns.

The California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) challenged the practice of buying bulk inexpensive wine imports, blending them with California wines, and selling them as American wines. Much of the imported bulk was coming from Australia. In early 2007 CAWG also hired Weber Shandwick, one of the world's largest consumer marketing agencies, and Cronin Com-munications, a California firm well-known in the food and beverage industry, to launch a campaign to promote California wines. In early 2007 the group had raised $300,000 toward the $500,000 goal for the campaign from voluntary contributions, and was considering the possibility of a mandatory assessment.


The top 30 wine companies by U.S. case sales represent more than 90 percent of the U.S. wine market, according to Wine Business Monthly's survey of 2006 producers. While the number of large wineries declined because of consolidation at the time of the survey, the total number of wineries had increased, with nearly 300 new wineries opening in the United States in 2006.

E. & J. Gallo

Owned by the Gallo family, this industry leader was ranked number one in 2006 with annual U.S. case sales of 62 million. In more than 70 years of operation, Gallo has built a network of wineries located throughout California, more than 3,000 acres of vineyards in the state's Napa and Sonoma valleys, operations throughout Europe and the Americas, and a worldwide distribution system. Gallo employs more than 4,600 people and markets its wines in the United States and in more than 90 foreign countries. In 2005 the company reported sales of $2.7 billion and a one-year growth rate of 10 percent.

In addition to the Gallo brand, the company sells table wines under the Turning Leaf, Redwood Creek, Bridlewood Estate, Frei Brothers Reserve, Louis M. Martini, MacMurray Ranch, Marcelina Vineyards, Mirassou, Napa Valley Vineyards, and Turning Leaf Sonoma Reserve labels, among others. Less expensive wines, marketed as Carlo Rossi, Livingston Cellars, Peter Vella, and Wild Vines, are often sold as jug or boxed wines. Gallo also markets imported wines under such names as Bella Sera, Black Swan, DaVinci, and Whitehaven. Gallo sells wines to restaurants and hotels under the names Burlwood, Copperidge, Liberty Creek, and William Wycliff Vineyards. Gallo also sells sparkling wines and distilled spirits, including E & J Brandy, and the fortified Thunderbird brand.

Constellation Brands

This company is the second-largest winery in the United States, with sales of 57 million cases in 2006. It markets itself as the largest maker of wine by volume in the world. Constellation offers such volume brands as Almaden, Banrock Station, Inglenook, and Vendage, as well as such premium wine brands as Estancia, Ravenswood, and Simi. Three of the most successful new brands in 2005 were Twin Fin and 3 Blind Moose from California and Monkey Bay from New Zealand. In all, the company markets more than 250 alcohol brands in nearly 150 countries. It operates more than 50 production facilities and has 10,000 employees worldwide.

Constellation reports annual sales of $5 billion, but for the three months that ended Nov. 30, 2006, the company had an even higher rate of $1.5 billion for the quarter. The Sands family controls approximately 88 percent of voting stock.

The Wine Group

The third-largest winery in the United States, with 42 million cases sold in 2006, was founded in 1981 through a management buyout of the wine assets of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., including Franzia Brothers, Mogen David, and Tribuno. The Wine Group's Franzia is among the best-selling U.S. boxed wines. The company also offers bargain-priced wines Corbett Canyon and Mogen David Kosher, as well as Lejon and Tribuno vermouth. Other Wine Group brands include Concannon, Casara (an Italian wine), Fish Eye, Foxhorn, and Glen Ellen. It has launched wine-producing ventures in Chile, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, and signed a September 2006 strategic partnership agreement with the GCF Groupe in France to promote its products in the European Market. The Wine Group earned the "Winery of the Year Award" at the 2005 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in recognition of management excellence.

Bronco Wine Company

Based in Ceres, California, this company is ranked fourth with 22 million cases sold in 2006. It produces wines under the ForestVille, Estrella, Charles Shaw, Montpellier, Silver Ridge, Rutherford Vintners, FoxHollow, and Napa Ridge brands, among others. Bronco is known for its promotion of its Charles Shaw wine as Two-Buck Chuck, which has sold millions of cases for $1.99 per bottle at Trader Joe's stores. Bronco controls 30,000 acres of California vineyards and processes approximately 300,000 tons of grapes, but much of its 22 million gallons is sold in bulk to other wine companies.

The Bronco Wine Company was formed in 1973 after Coca-Cola bought the Franzia family wine business. The founder was Fred T. Franzia, a nephew of Ernest Gallo, along with his brother and cousin. In 1993, Fred Franzia and the company were indicted on federal conspiracy charges for misrepresenting cheaper grapes as premium zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. Bronco pleaded no contest and paid a $2.5 million fine. Franzia pleaded guilty, paid a $500,000 fine, and agreed to stay away from grape purchasing for five years in lieu of serving time in prison. Franzia also has had legal battles with other California winemakers over the company's use of Napa and other such appellations on its labels. Franzia sued the state over a 2000 law that tightened federal-labeling laws, lost, appealed to federal court, and lost again.

Foster's Wine Estates

Shipping 16 million cases in 2006, this company ranks as fifth largest in the United States. The company, formerly Beringer Blass Wine Estates, is a subsidiary of Australia's Foster's Group, which produces and markets beer, wine, spirits, cider, and non-alcohol brands. The Foster's Group bought the company in 2000 from the Texas Pacific Group and combined it with its Mildara Blass holding. Foster's produces premium wines from its vineyards in Australia, California, Chile, and Italy. Company brands include Black Opal, Blue Marlin, Chateau St. Jean, Greg Norman Estates, and Lindemans. Its North American brands are Beringer, Etude, Stag's Leap, and Chateau Souverain.


Grapes are the main ingredient in wine, and U.S. wine grape growers face heavy competition from abroad. Wine Business Monthly reported that the status of the grape market in 2005 and 2006 was weak, particularly because of a 2005 bumper crop both in California and in Australia, which shipped large quantities of bulk wine to California. As a result, many California grapes were left on the vines.

A marketing report for the Wine Institute said the growth of wine sales through the 1990s created a vast expansion in California wine-grape planting, which hit its peak in 1998. By 2002 prices began to drop, and most vineyards stopped planting and, in some cases, removed vines. Demand continued to grow, however, and the market was coming into balance, a trend delayed by the heavy harvests in 2005 and 2006.

The report explained that there is a lag between harvesting and bottling. California red wines usually age in barrels for up to three years, while white wines usually age for one year. This explains a decrease in 2005 production, when California produced 2.7 billion 750-ml.-bottle equivalents of wine, compared with 3.12 billion bottle equivalents in 2002, a 15.6 percent decline. Wine production in 2005 reflected the smaller 2002 harvest for red wine and the 2004 harvest for whites.

In late 2006 CAWG noted that wine imports were expected to increase to 30 percent of the U.S. market by the end of the year. By 2007 the situation had eased somewhat for grape sales, helped by smaller crops, particularly in Australia. In February 2007, halfway through the harvest, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation estimated that the harvest would be one-third smaller than it was in 2006.

Demand and reliance on exports are also affected by shifts in popularity of various varieties. In the mid-1990s, few pinot grigio or Shiraz grapes were planted in the United States, but wines from these grapes became very popular, and wineries imported the grapes. Ten years later, the growers had planted abundant amounts of pinot grigio and Shiraz grapes, but pinot noir and Riesling grapes were in short supply and were being imported.

California dominates the U.S. wine industry, and most wine grapes are grown there. In the United States in 2005 there were approximately 935,000 acres of grapes under cultivation and of that number, 800,000 of them were cultivated in California, according to WineAmerica. The 2005 grape crop was valued at $3.46 billion, with California producing $3.12 billion of that amount.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the 2005 crush of red wine grapes in California was 2.027 million metric tons, up 36 percent from the 2004 crush of 1.486 million metric tons. The 2005 crush of white wine grapes was 1.379 metric tons, up 34 percent from the 2004 crush of 1.03 metric tons. Other grape varieties produced in California in 2005 included 423,000 metric tons of grapes for raisins and 96,000 metric tons of table grapes.

The 2005 California Grape Acreage Report noted that wine-bearing acreage increased 0.9 percent from 473,000 acres to 477,000 acres, but non-bearing acreage increased 12.5 percent from 40,000 acres to 45,000 acres, a statistical affirmation of reports from grape growers that vines were being pulled up in an effort to reduce the supply and improve prices. Each acre of grapes is estimated to produce between $15,000 and $75,000 of gross sales value as bottled wine. Despite the huge crop, wine grape prices actually increased in 2005, an indication of the continuing expansion of demand. Average per-ton prices for the 2005 wine crop were $574.69 for red, up 1 percent from 2004, and $459.38 for white, up 4 percent from 2004.

Washington State wine-grape growing and wine production were expanding rapidly. In 2005 the grape harvest totaled 110,000 tons, up three percent from 2004. Growers received an average of $930 per ton for all varieties in 2005, an increase of $5 over 2004. Chardonnay was the top variety at 26,000 tons. Merlot ranked second at 20,500 tons. Washington wineries produced 67.5 million liters of wine in 2005, up from only 7.5 million liters in 1981. There were only 19 wineries in 1981 but more than 400 in 2006, making Washington the second-largest wine-producing region in the United States for premium wines. Oregon wine grape production in 2005 was 25,000 tons. In New York, 46,000 tons of grapes were crushed for wine that year.

In a positive development in the U.S. grape industry, CAWG and the Wine Institute are promoting and many farmers are adopting the concept of sustainability, the employment of wine-growing and winemaking practices to "conserve natural resources, protect the environment, and enhance relationships with employees, neighbors, and local communities." The program, which includes a workbook and educational workshops for participating growers, is supported by a $280,000 grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Thousands of growers and vintners have participated to learn about sustainable practices, and more than 1,000 have self-assessed their vineyards and winery operations.

Other materials that must be purchased by wineries include bottles, boxes and bags in boxes, barrels, corks and other bottle stoppers, and wine labels. The 2006 economic impact report estimated that California wineries spent $467 million on glass. A February 2007 Wachovia Capital Markets report on the container and packaging industry said that wine bottles represent 5 percent of the North American glass-container market. The report added that beer and wine bottles showed the only growth in the glass packaging industry.

A recent development is the increasing popularity of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles for 187-ml. single-serving bottles. These bottles cost more than glass, particularly since plastic is made of petroleum and prices for this commodity are high. PET bottles have a number of advantages, however, including the fact that the bottles are lighter and cost less to ship. PET bottles also allow people to enjoy wine in places where glass is not allowed such as in music and sports venues. The bottles also are being promoted for service to airline passengers.

The economic impact report says that in 2006 wineries spent $10.4 million on corks, capsules, and screw tops. More than 15 billion cork stoppers are produced each year for the wine industry, and these corks comprise almost 70 percent of the value of the market for natural cork, which comes from the bark of cork oak trees that have grown near the western Mediterranean Sea for thousands of years. The majority of cork comes from Portugal and Spain.

Approximately five percent of wine in bottles with traditional corks is corked, a term that refers to off-odors and taints from contaminated cork. There is a move to replace traditional corks with plastic stoppers to avoid this problem, but it is difficult to get corkscrews into the plastic and to replace the stoppers in half-empty bottles. Nomacork, a North Carolina company that is one of the two leading producers of synthetic corks, reported in 2004 that it had 20 percent of the U.S. cork market. The company expects to have at least 6 percent of the world market by the end of the year. Nomacork said that with distribution in more than 35 countries, it has more than 30 percent of the synthetic closure market.

In March 2007 the editorial team reported that synthetic corks are expected to reach 6 billion units by 2010. In 2006 synthetic corks represented 12.6 percent of an industry that purchased 19.6 billion bottle closures. Screw caps also are increasing in popularity, with an 80 percent increase in sales from 2003 to 2007, according to the just-drinks team.


An estimated 98 to 99 percent of wine in the United States is sold through the traditional three-tier system of producer-wholesaler-retailer, governed by a number of legal limitations that vary from state to state. The wholesale section, however, has experienced dramatic consolidation. In 1991 the top twenty U.S. wine and spirits wholesalers and distributors earned $7.5 billion in sales. From 1990 to 2000, the number of wine wholesalers and distributors declined by more than 50 percent, largely through mergers and acquisitions. By 2005 the top five U.S. wine wholesalers and distributors earned $14.5 billion in sales or 43 percent of the total wine and spirits market.

The largest wholesaler is Southern Wines & Spirits of America, which has operations in more than 20 states. The company also owns Premier Wine & Spirits of New York, and has large stakes in Pacific Wine & Spirits and Romano Bros. Beverage in Illinois. At the same time, retail consolidation occurred in the form of discount and big-box stores, which handle an increasing share of the wine market and have the power to reduce wholesalers' profit margins by pressing for price and promotion concessions. The changes have been especially hard for the growing number of small wineries, who find it difficult to gain access to the national market. This forces them to spend more on sales and marketing or to hire independent marketing services and brokers.

The Wine Institute reported that California wineries garnered $870 million in winery direct sales in 2006, compared to $350-$400 million in 2004. These direct sales are an increasingly important channel for California's small wineries. Direct sales include sales to consumers in winery tasting rooms, wine clubs, and on winery mailing lists. The principal channel for these sales, at about 60 percent of the total, is the winery tasting room. E-commerce or Internet sales constitute the smallest segment, generally in the range of 3 to 5 percent of total direct sales.

In May 2006 Wine Business Monthly, in its annual report on tasting rooms around the country, stated that 68 percent of all sales from small wineries—those producing fewer than 5,000 cases per year—are made through tasting rooms. For larger wineries—those producing more than 500,000 cases of wine per year—only 23 percent of sales were made through tasting rooms. Approximately 10 percent of wineries maximized sales with multiple tasting rooms in locations other than their own wineries. Some smaller wineries also joined vintner collectives, with sales locations in areas of high tourist activity.

West Coast survey respondents reported that wine sales generated 86 percent of the revenue in their tasting rooms, with wine accessories, food, wineglasses, and clothing making up the rest. The wine sale percentage for tasting rooms in locations other than the Western states was slightly lower. E-commerce received a boost in 2005 when the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot discriminate in favor of their in-state wineries by allowing them to make shipments to in-state consumers while prohibiting sales from out-of-state wineries. Under this ruling, wineries could begin marketing their products across the country online. Those opposing the ruling expressed concern over the potential increase in alcohol sales to minors. In response, the Wine Institute said in August 2006 that in the 33 states then allowing direct wine shipments, procedural safeguards were in place. Common-carrier drivers, for example, were required to obtain the signature of a person 21 years or older before delivering wine. After the decision, some states opened up their markets while others stalled, either ignoring the requirement or adding so much paperwork and so many permit fees that most small wineries decided it was not worth the effort to try to sell to consumers in those states.

New ventures developed to take advantage of online marketing. Folio Fine Wine Partners, a wine importer founded by the Mondavi family, introduced the online service called WineDriver. This service allows consumers to look up a folio wine they are seeking and find the name of distributors in their state. They can then give this information to a retailer who can obtain the wine for them from an in-state distributor. In addition to helping consumers, this approach allows retailers to sell a wider variety of wines without having to keep them on the shelves.

The REThink Wine Trade System, created by the Inertia Beverage Group, a consulting firm that manages and tracks wineries'online sales, was introduced in several states by 2007. In this system, a restaurant or retailer can place an order directly on a winery Web site. These orders are then routed through designated wholesalers, who handle billing and tax payments. Online orders are increasing, according to Inertia. In a report covering the first half of 2006, Inertia said clients had increased their online sales by 423 percent over the same period one year earlier. Data were based on online sales by more than 250 clients. Expensive bottles were the most popular, with 53 percent of the wines priced at $30 to $50 per bottle.

Self-distribution is another issue that has been affected by the Supreme Court decision on online sales. In Washington State, for example, Costco sued over a state law that allowed local wineries to self-distribute their wines to retail outlets, but forbade out-of-state wineries to sell to those same outlets. Costco won, and Washington passed a law in 2006 allowing unlimited self-distribution by wineries that obtain licenses. Results have been mixed in other states, with many capping the amount of wine that a winery can deliver directly to retailers in a single year.

The Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007 lists outlets for liquor sales, but does not provide details of sales of wine or specifically list online sales. Data for 2004 showed that $30.1 billion of the $61.4 billion in packaged alcoholic beverages were sold at liquor stores, $18.5 billion at food stores, and $12.8 billion at all other outlets, including tasting rooms and online. For alcoholic drinks, $55.8 billion of the $81.6 billion total was sold at eating and drinking establishments, $19.6 billion at hotels and motels, and $6.2 billion at all other.


Consumers must be 21 years of age or older to purchase wine in all 50 states. In that sense, all adults can be viewed as potential wine buyers. However, only 40 percent of U.S. adults drink wine even occasionally and only about 14 percent drink wine at least once a week. Per capita U.S. wine consumption is thirty-eighth in the world, but the United States is one of the few markets in which demand for wine is growing.

Wine associations and companies have conducted research to better understand this market and to find ways to expand it. The Wine Market Council commissioned Merrill Research to conduct its first consumer survey in 1994. Studies were repeated in 1997, 2000, and 2003. Beginning in 2005 the survey was conducted annually. In addition, the council met with a number of focus groups with core and marginal wine consumers segmented by age and gender.

One conclusion reached from these surveys is that there is a strong demographic element in the wine market. A wine-consumption boom occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s when the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1945 and the early 1960s) matured with tastes and choices quite different from earlier generations, including a preference for wine, particularly white wine. The market then sagged from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, with Generation X adults (those born between 1965 and 1980) coming of age and having little interest in wine until they reached their thirties. The Generation X population, moreover, was smaller, with 77 million baby boomers in 2006 and only 44 million gen-Xers.

The Millennial Generation, numbers 70 million, and for a variety of reasons, is developing a taste for wine at a younger age, driving total wine consumption steadily higher. Women in this age group tend to prefer wine over beer, and since women make the majority of wine purchases, their interest has led to more wine consumption in social situations.

Another major survey was conducted by Constellation Wines Inc., which holds a 20 percent share of the U.S. market. Constellation surveyed premium wine customers via the Internet, and 3,500 replied, answering more than 100 questions about their wine consumption as well as about the attitudes and lifestyle factors that affect their wine purchases. Constellation concluded that these customers fall into six segments.

In this survey, Enthusiasts (12%), are defined as passionate about the entire wine experience. Image Seekers (20%), need to feel sophisticated and trendy and will go for the more expensive bottle if not sure. Savvy Shoppers (15%), are alert to sales and look for a great wine and a great value. Traditionalists (16%), buy the tried-and-true, preferring wines from a well-known winery that has existed for a long time. Satisfied Sippers (14%), want a sensible choice they can feel comfortable serving to family and friends. They are happy with the wine they have always bought and tend to order the house white zinfandel in restaurants. Overwhelmed, 23 percent of survey respondents report being confused by the variety and seek help from good shelf descriptions and/or retail and wait staff.

A 2003 study by Scarborough Research looked at the demographic characteristics of wine buyers from the top 50 markets. In these markets, 43 percent of American adults 21-years-old and older recently had purchased a bottle of wine, compared to 39 percent of the adult population in general. Among those studied, the wine purchas-ers were 34 percent more likely than the average consumer to have a household income of $75,000 or more and 28 percent more likely than average to have a college degree or higher educational attainment. Nearly 75 percent of the wine purchasers owned their own homes. Ten percent of the consumers were African American, and ten percent were Hispanic. Forty percent of the wine purchasers had attended a professional sports event during the previous year, while 13 percent had attended a symphony concert or opera. Among these wine buyers, 55 percent had purchased a bottle of red wine in the preceding three months, 49 percent a bottle of white, 25 percent a blush or rosé, and 19 percent champagne.


The dollar value of beer sold in the United States is higher than is the value of wine, but wine is catching up. A study conducted for the Wine Market Council found that tradeoff drinkers—those who have switched from beer to wine as their preferred alcoholic beverage—make up 14 percent of the total number of wine drinkers.

These trade-off drinkers tend to be young. The study showed that 62 percent are millennials or gen-Xers, while 30 percent are baby boomers, and that 54 percent of tradeoff drinkers prefer red wine compared to 40 percent of other wine drinkers.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics illustrate the growing market share enjoyed by wine. In 1992, breweries shipped $17.34 billion worth of beer, while wineries shipped only $4.3 billion, less than a quarter as much. By 2002 beer had increased to just $17.86 billion while wine had more than doubled to $9.4 billion. In 2005 the figure for beer was $20.79 billion, while wine reached $10.45 billion, more than half as much.

Similarly, the Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007 shows that while per-capita beer consumption declined, wine consumption increased slightly, although it is still considerably smaller in volume than is beer. In 1990 the average American drank 23.9 gallons of beer and 2.0 gallons of wine. In 2004 beer consumption had dropped to 21.6 gallons per capita, and wine consumption had increased to 2.3 gallons per capita.

Over the same period, the market for distilled liquors gained steadily in terms of dollars. Shipments totaled $3.39 billion in 1992, $4.06 billion in 2002, and $5.38 in 2005. Per capita consumption of distilled liquors dropped from 1.5 gallons in 1990 to 1.3 gallons in 2000 and then rose to 1.4 gallons in 2004.

One market that has benefited from the increasing popularity of wine is wine accessories. While retail sales of items such as wine charms, high-end corkscrews, ice buckets, and thermometers to confirm that the wine is the correct temperature for drinking have not reached the levels common in Europe, they are growing steadily. As Americans learn more about wine and drink more expensive varieties, they purchase accessories to enhance the wine-drinking experience.


In its economic impact report for the Wine Institute and CAWG, MKF Research noted that less than $15 million was spent in California for wine industry research and education in 2006. While much of the research was funneled through the University of California, the wine industry itself contributed $10.8 million of the money spent on viticulture (grape growing) and enology (winemaking) research.

As an illustration of the perceived importance of such expenditures, Australia announced in 2005 that it was increasing the levy the industry pays for research and development from $A3 (Australian dollars) per ton of wine grapes crushed to $A5. The government noted that shipments were up, but said the level of research and development must increase for long-term improvement of Australia's wine and its competitiveness in the global market. While land-grant universities in other grape-growing states conduct research on viticulture and enology, much of the wine-related research in the United States is centered at the University of California, Davis, particularly in the Kearney Agricultural Center.

Research programs at the Kearney Center include the use of growth regulators and other means to improve the yield of wine grapes; development of sustainable weed-control practices; pest management, particularly through natural, cultural, biological, and selective pesticide techniques; and vineyard irrigation management.

The University of California, Davis expects to open the $85 million Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science in 2008. The institute houses the University of California, Davis departments of viticulture and enology and food science and technology. Ground was broken in 2005 for the first building of the institute, a 129,000-square-foot building. Its three wings wrap around a courtyard that faces westward toward a teaching vineyard and open space. A teaching and research winery and a brewing and food science laboratory are branches of the complex. The institute is being financed by a number of gifts including $25 million from Robert Mondavi and $33.6 million in state funds approved by voters as part of a statewide bond measure.

The American Society of Enology and Viticulture, with its headquarters in Davis, California, was founded in 1950, originally with members coming from the University of California and California winemakers. The Society now has 2,400 members, 100 industrial affiliates, and three chapters in addition to Davis—the eastern, Pacific Northwest, and Japanese chapters. The Society publishes the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, a quarterly that is offered online and in print, as well as symposia proceedings and other publications. The society also sponsors an annual meeting with technical sessions and research forums, the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, co-hosted with CAWG, and a quarterly newsletter.

Industry groups and individual companies sponsor market research as part of their R&D efforts. CAWG and the Wine Institute offer programs designed to help member companies in these endeavors, such as the Sustainable Winegrowing Program. CAWG also offers a program on vineyards and wildlife management and leads the Pest Management Alliance, a partnership with the Department of Pesticide Regulation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This initiative promotes reduced-risk pest management, with field days, seminars, and workshops.


Industry analysts believe that wine sales will continue to grow in the United States, supported by both ends of the age spectrum. It also anticipates that consumers will continue to buy more expensive wines and take advantage of new marketing made possible by the Internet to explore more brands and varieties of wine. In fact, direct sales will be responsible for an even bigger proportion of wine sales, particularly from small wineries. In addition, more small wineries will be established, encouraged by the variety of direct sales techniques. Some of the smaller ventures are taking advantage of "custom crush" facilities, which offer winemaking services that allow them to establish a winery without the capital investment typically required to crush their own grapes.

Vintners are also expected to try new products, messages, and packages to make wine less pretentious and more approachable in an effort to attract new consumers. Aggressive pricing on California wines is expected because of the record-breaking 2005 and large 2006 grape crops. White wines made from these large crops came to market in 2006 and 2007 while most red wines from these years will arrive in the market in 2008 and 2009.

The legislative interests of the Wine Institute and CAWG indicate other issues that will continue to be important. With many states operating on restricted budgets, there is widespread interest in increased taxation on wine and spirits. Many of the proposals would direct the funds toward special programs such as alcohol-abuse treatment. California imposed a number of new fees and is considering more.

The wine industry has a major interest in proposals for immigration reform, favoring guest worker and other programs that will allow it to maintain a steady supply of immigrant labor for grape cultivation and harvesting.

The Wine Institute is monitoring farm legislation, working to ensure federal funding for research, conservation, promotion, disease/pest eradication, and export assistance. Other legislation of interest involves labeling, with proposals to include information on wine labels about potential allergens and about nutrition.


Given the fact that only 40 percent of Americans drink wine, the industry is looking for ways to attract new customers. Marketing organizations such as the Wine Market Council target national and major metropolitan electronic and print media, concentrating on the lifestyle, business, food, fashion, and entertainment reporters and editors. Food and wine pairings, holiday entertainment tips, and even wine-related New Year's resolutions have been offered to the media to convince those who do not drink wine that it is an important part of entertaining and gracious living.

Substantial efforts also are under way by industry groups to convince writers and reporters for wine and travel publications to write about California grape growing and wine in an effort to divert consumers away from imported wines. With demographic information showing that the large millennial group of young adults is adopting wine drinking at an earlier age than have previous generations, efforts also are being made to appeal to this group with less traditional brand names, labels, and wines. The Wine Group, for example, created an entire division to focus on the millennials. Underdog Wine Merchants, as it is called, was formed as an autonomous organization within the company. The brand portfolio includes what the company terms millennial brands such as Pinot Evil from France, Killer Juice from the Central Coast, Silver Birch from New Zealand, and Devil's Marbles from Australia.

The industry also is marketing more to the rapidly growing Hispanic population, based on research showing that only 25 percent of Hispanics over the age of 21 drink wine. Hispanics made up 14 percent of the U.S. population in 2005 but consumed only 10 percent of the wine sold in the United States that year.

Wineries, aware that more women than men choose wine as their preferred beverage and that the majority of wine purchases in the United States are made by women, are creating brand names designed to appeal to women. Beringer Blass Wine Estates, for example, launched White Lie Early Season Chardonnay, which has fewer calories and less alcohol than does a typical Chardonnay.

Constellation conducted a massive survey of 3,500 premium wine drinkers. This survey is the basis for the company's premium wine business strategy. Constellation sales and marketing staff analyze the wine lists of na-tional restaurant groups and the wine assortments of key national retailers, and then use this information to target specific wine recommendations in line with the identified needs of the premium wine market segments identified in the survey. Decisions about promotional calendars, store signage, and store assortments are also based on this market information.


Allied Grape Growers,

American Society for Enology and Viticulture,

California Association of Winegrape Growers,


The Wine Institute,

Wine Market Council,


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Monastersky, Richard, "Whence Wine? Blending Chemistry and Archaeology, a Researcher Tracks the Origins of Grape Fermentation." The Chronicle of Higher Education. 15 August 2003.

Parker, Vicki Lee, "Zebulon, N.C.-Based Wine Cork Maker May Continue International Expansion." News & Observer. 10 April 2004.

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see also Beer, Distilled Spirits

Wine: Overview

views updated May 29 2018

Wine: Overview

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting grape juice. Although the juice of other fruit, berries, and vegetables can be fermented to create alcohol, fruit wines are generally qualified by the name of the produce used, such as gooseberry wine and blueberry wine. The word "wine" when used alone refers to an alcoholic beverage made from grapes. Wines come in various colors (red, white, rosé) and many types, which include dry and sweet, still and sparkling, and wines fortified with grape spirit (brandy). There are also many wine-based drinks, such as wine coolers and sangria.

Grape Varieties

Although wine can be made from any kind of grape, not all grape varieties are suitable for making good quality winewine with acceptable taste and capable of lasting in good condition for several years. Most of the world's wine is made from one species, Vitis vinifera (meaning "a wine-bearing vine"), which is native to Europe and the Middle East. Most of the grapes used for making commercial wine are members of this species, and they include such common varieties as Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah/Shiraz.

Other grapes also used for making wine include varieties such as Concord, Alexander, and Catawba, which are members of the Vitis labrusca species that is indigenous to North America. Additional varieties have been created by breeding two varieties of the same species (called crosses) and by breeding two varieties of different species (called hybrids). Thus the Dornfelder variety was bred from two Vitis vinifera varieties and is a cross, while Baco Noir, bred from a variety of Vitis vinifera and a Vitis riparia, is a hybrid.

The many reasons for breeding new varieties include creating grapes with particular flavor profiles, grapes that ripen early (important in regions with short growing seasons), or vines that are tolerant of colder climates. In addition to crosses and hybrids, vines generate clonal variations spontaneously, with each clone having slightly different growing, taste, or other characteristics.

Many hundreds of grape varieties can successfully be used for making wine, and the list seems even longer because some varieties can have different names in different places. For example, the grape known as Syrah in France is called Shiraz in Australia, while the Malbec variety has many alternative names, including Cot, Pressac, and Auxerrois. Some variations in name simply reflect language (Pinot Gris is known in Italy as Pinot Grigio) while others reflect the origins of the grape (Burgundy's Pinot Noir is known in Germany as Spätburgunder).

It is likely that wine was originally made (in the Neolithic period, 7,000 years ago) from wild grapes, and that when farmers began to cultivate vines for wine, they selected grapes that seemed particularly suitable. The selected grapes would have had a high ratio of pulp to seeds and might have given better flavors than other grapes.

Characteristics of the Grape

Grapes contain or bear everything that is needed to produce wine; each grape is effectively a microwinery. The most important parts of the grape are the pulp, which contains water, sugar, fruit acids, and pectin, and the skin, which contains color pigments, flavors, and tannins. The skin also carries wild yeasts that occur naturally in the vineyard. The other parts of the grape, which are less often important for winemaking, are the stem (which contains tannins) and the seeds or pips (which contain tannins and bitter oils).

Tannins are compounds that occur naturally in grapes and other products and that give a drying feel when they come into contact with the mouth. Swishing cold, strong black tea, which is high in tannins, will make the mouth and gums feel as if they are contracting with dryness. Tannins are preserving agents (used to tan skin and turn it into leather), and in wine they are a natural preservative that allows a wine to age without degrading. Young wines meant for long-term cellaring can be high in tannins and, over time, the feel of tannins softens.

Although the winemaking process is very important, such that the same grapes made into wine by two different winemakers can taste significantly different, the grape variety is the single most important factor. Like other fruit, varieties of grapes differ from one another in a many ways. Some have thick skins and some have thin, which can be important for their relative ability to withstand disease and for the degree of flavor and tannins they have. Some varieties develop a higher ratio of acid to sugar (just as more acidic Granny Smith apples differ from the sweeter Red Delicious variety). Some grapes (such as Cabernet Sauvignon) naturally have more tannins than others (such as Gamay). The sum of each grape variety's characteristics is the primary influence on the character and flavor of the finished wine it makes.


A second set of influences on wine is the environment in which the grapes grow: especially the soil and climate. The total environment is sometimes referred to as the terroir, a term that includes the composition of the soil (topsoil, bedrock) and its nutrient, drainage and heat-retention properties; climate (annual temperature, hours of sunshine, precipitation, frosts, winds); geographical features (such as forests, mountains, rivers, bodies of water) that influence climatic patterns; the slope of the vineyards (on steep or gentle slopes or on plains); and aspect (angle to the sun, direction of slope).

Slope can be important because the most interesting and complex grapes seem to grow on vines that are stressed, which is to say that they must struggle for water and nutrients. The best soils for vineyards are not the rich, fertile humus suitable for other produce, but often hard, stony or sandy soils that are well drained (which is why slopes are often ideal). Vines can also be stressed by planting them closer together so that each has to compete with others.

Terroir has become an article of faith for many producers, who argue that the flavors and other qualities of a wine express the terroir in which the grapes were grown. Some producers (particularly in regions like Burgundy) insist that wines made from vines grown a few feet apart taste distinctly different. Some ardent advocates of terroir include in it not only the physical and environmental character of a specific site, but also the tradition of vine growing and the soul of centuries of winemakers.


Cultivation practices (viticulture) are also very important in that they can modify the environment. Density of plantings and types of trellising can have an impact on the exposure of vines to nutrients and sunshine. Canopy management, the removal of some foliage, can increase the ripening potential of grapes. Irrigation (which is not universally permitted) can make up for shortages in natural water supply, while excess water can be dealt with by burying drainage tiles to increase the flow of water away from vine roots. Some viticulturalists even modify the soil by digging in rocks (which absorb heat during the day and radiate it at night) and spreading dark soil, which attracts more heat than lighter-colored soils.


An important influence on grape character is yield, which is often expressed as the number of tons of grapes harvested per acre of vines or the number of hectoliters (one hectoliter is 100 liters) of wine per hectare (about 2.4 acres) of vines. In general terms, the lower the yield, the more flavorful and complex the wines. Yields are often reduced by "green harvesting," which involves picking (and throwing away) a proportion of the bunches of grapes on each vine before they begin to ripen. This allows the smaller number of bunches remaining to benefit from all the nutrients the vine absorbs. Some national and regional wine laws (see below) set maximum yields on vines.

The same principle underlies the value attributed to "old vines," a quality that is sometimes shown on labels. As vines age, they begin to bear fewer bunches so that, without human intervention (like green harvesting), their fruit tends to be of higher quality. There is, however, no regulated definition of what constitutes an old vine, and, depending on varietal and producer, it can mean a vine from fifteen to eighty and more years old.

Pests and Diseases

Finally, viticulturalists have to decide on what methods to use to deal with vineyard pests and diseases. Pesticides and other chemicals (notably sulfur) are widely used to control insect infestation and vine diseases but, for environmental and financial reasons, their use is declining in many regions. Some producers have adopted organic practices and, depending on wine or agricultural law, can label their wines organic.


Clearly terroir and cultivation practices interact with grape variety in that some varieties do best in specific climatic and other growing conditions. Riesling, for example, does best in cool climates that preserve the acidity so highly valued in Riesling wines, even if the alcohol level is often below 12 percent. Zinfandel, on the other hand, thrives in warm regions where it produces wines high in alcohol (often 14 percent and higher) with rich, ripe fruit flavors and relatively low acidity.

All these characteristics have an important bearing on the quality of the grapes grown in any specific region. In general terms, warmer regions (like South Africa and many regions in California) produce riper grapes with higher sugar content that have the potential of producing deep-colored, high-alcohol wines (13% and higher). Cool climate regions with shorter growing seasons (like Germany and northern France) tend to produce paler, more acidic wines that are lower in alcohol (12.5% and less). Vines on south-facing slopes in the Northern Hemisphere benefit from more sun, but there are some places (in Greece, for example) where vines are grown on north-facing slopes so as to moderate the effect of the sun's heat.

Terroir is not constant. Although soil characteristics change very slowly over time (unless there is human intervention), climate experiences annual variations that range from modest to dramatic. One summer in a given region might be dry and hot, the next cool and wet. There might be a late frost, a summer hailstorm, and an early winter or Indian summer. These variations can affect and make diseases of the vines more or less likely. Hot, humid conditions can lead to molds and mildews. Weather conditions can lead to lower or higher yields and can affect the ability of grapes to ripen and develop the desired levels and balance of sugars, acids, tannins, and other properties.

Annual weather variation is the reason that so much attention is paid to vintage. The vintage of a wine is the year the grapes were harvested, and knowledge of the weather conditions in a region in a given year will reveal much about the potential quality of the wine made in that region that year. Some years stand out for the quality of the wine produced, whether it is good or bad. For example, 1997 is considered to be an excellent year for Tuscan wines (including Chianti) but a poor year for most of the districts in Bordeaux. But weather conditions that might be negative for one grape variety can be less so for another. So in a region like Bordeaux, where three principal red grape varieties are grown, and where the red wine is a blend of up to five different varieties, producers can consider the quality of each variety when deciding on the blend.


Decisions about vine variety, vineyard location, and cultivation practices are made so as to maximize the quality of the fruit at the point that it is judged optimal for harvesting. Harvesting itself involves myriad decisions. Grapes can be harvested by hand or by machine, by bunch or by individual berry. Some vineyards are entirely harvested in one go, while others are harvested in several runs (tris ) over a period of days, with only the ripest bunches or grapes being picked each time. Most harvesting is done during the day, but some producers practice night harvesting, when the cooler temperatures allow grapes to be picked and transported to the winery in temperatures that help preserve their freshness.

It is a cliché among winemakers that "wine is made in the vineyard." This means that good quality wine can be made from only good quality fruit, and that what goes on in the vineyard is more important to wine quality than what happens in the winery. Yet just as the quality of the grapes results from scores of decisions related to grape variety, vineyard site, and cultivation practices, so the winemaker makes scores of decisions that affect the quality and character of the finished wine. It takes an able winemaker to make high-quality wine from even the best quality grapes.


Wine is made by crushing the grapes so that the yeasts on the skin (or cultured yeasts introduced by the winemaker) come into contact with the sugars in the pulp. This initiates fermentation, the process by which the yeasts consume the sugar and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation is the central part of winemaking but it is preceded and followed by several other stages, and the methods of carrying them out influence the taste and character of the finished wine.

The grapes are first crushed or pressed so as to extract the juice. Old methods of treading grapes by foot or pressing them in manually operated screw presses have virtually disappeared, and most commercial wines are made from grapes crushed in mechanical presses. Many producers prefer pneumatic bladder presses, which crush the grapes gently and do not release the bitter oils in the pips.

If white wine is being made from black or other dark-skinned grapes (nearly all of which have pale-colored pulp), the must (unfermented grape juice) is quickly drawn off the skins and other solids so that the color pigments they contain do not dye it. For red wine (which can be made only from dark-colored grapes), the must is left in contact with the skins so as to draw color from them. Winemakers who want to make very dark wines (which are increasingly popular) sometimes use enzymes to extract all possible color from the skins so as to dye the juice deep red.

Naturally occurring yeasts can be used for fermentation, but because they tend to be unpredictable (in terms of when they start fermentation and the speed of fermentation), many producers use more reliable and predictable cultured yeasts. Length of fermentation can affect the flavor of wine, as can the temperature. Fermentation is a naturally hot process, and some wines are "cool fermented," meaning that the fermentation tanks or barrels are artificially cooled during fermentation. Cool fermentation tends to preserve the fresh, fruity flavors in wine.

Most fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats, but some wines are fermented in oak barrels. This adds additional flavor to the wine although it does not, as many people expect, make the finished wine taste "oakier" than wines that are simply aged in oak barrels. Whether in vat or barrel, the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation is allowed to dissipate into the air.

Fermentation is generally complete when the yeasts have consumed all the sugar, resulting in a wine that is "dry" because it contains no residual sugar. But fermentation can also terminate when the alcohol level in the wine reaches a level that kills the yeasts, generally at an alcohol level of about 16 percent. Any sugar not fermented by that stage remains in the wine, giving it a degree of sweetness depending on the percentage of residual sugar. In some specific wines, fermentation is deliberately terminated before all the sugar is fermented. For example, Port and some other sweet, fortified wines are made by adding grape spirits (brandy) during fermentation. This raises the alcohol level and kills the yeasts before they ferment all the sugar in the must, resulting in a wine that is sweet and has a higher alcohol level than it would have achieved without the added spirits.

Wines can also undergo secondary fermentation. The most common is malolactic fermentation (MLF) in which the harsher malic acid in the wine is turned into softer lactic acid. This is commonly used for white wines and produces the softer feel of the wine in the mouth that is sometimes described as "buttery." Some red wines also undergo malolactic fermentation.

Champagne and sparkling wines made in the "Champagne method" or traditional method undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle. Sugar and yeast are added to a base wine in the bottle so that fermentation re-starts, but the bottle is capped so that the carbon dioxide produced during the process is trapped inside rather than dissipating. Unable to escape, the gas is dissolved into the liquid. Later, the dead yeast cells are removed and the bottle is topped up and corked, all without releasing the gas. It finally escapes, in the form of bubbles, when the cork is removed.

The sugar level of the grapes at the time of harvest determines the potential alcohol level of the finished wine. Several different scales are used to measure the concentration of grape sugars (the must weighty). A widely used (American) scale is Brix, and in approximate terms, grapes make wine with a percentage of alcohol roughly half the Brix level. More precisely, grapes with 23.7 Brix will make wine with a potential alcohol of 12.5 percent. Other scales for measuring must weight are degrees Oechsle (used most widely in Germany) and Baumé.

In many wine regions, producers can supplement low levels of sugar in their grapes by adding sugar or concentrated (and naturally sweet) grape juice, called Süssreserve in Germany. The addition of sugar is often known as chaptalization after Chaptal, one of Napoleon's ministers who advocated (but did not invent) the technique, but it is increasingly called enrichment. Wine laws generally regulate the degree of permitted enrichment. In Burgundy, sugar may be added to raise potential alcohol by about two percent.

In addition to sugar, producers can (depending on wine law) add acid and tannins to make up for deficits in the grapes. Just as sugar is added to compensate for low sugar concentrations in cool climate regions, acidification is practiced in warm climate regions where grapes ripen well and have high levels of sugar but have low acidity. Without some correction the wines would be unbalanced. Wine laws forbid both enrichment and acidification of the same wine.


Beyond sugar, acid, and tannin, additives are not permitted and the only nongrape flavoring comes from wood. This is generally added during the aging process in oak barrels, but in one specific case, the production of Retsina wine in Greece, pine resin is added to the must during fermentation. It gives the Retsina an aroma and taste reminiscent of turpentine or pine.

Following fermentation, wine is generally racked (drawn off any remaining solid matter) and aged. Some wines, however, are left on the lees, the dead yeast cells that fall to the bottom of vat or barrel when fermentation is complete. Perhaps the best known of these sur lie ("on the lees," or sediment) wines, which often have a yeasty note to their flavors, is Muscadet sur lie from the Atlantic coastal region of the Loire Valley in France.

Depending on the wine and the prevailing wine law, aging before bottling can be a short process of a few weeks or as long as several years. In general, white wines are aged for shorter periods than reds, although some reds get little aging and are bottled very soon after fermentation is complete. This is the case with primeur or nouveau wines that are put on the market within months of the harvest. The best known is Beaujolais Nouveau, a light, fruity wine from southern Burgundy that is released throughout the world on the third Thursday of November each year, only two months after the grapes are picked. It now has many imitators from other wine regions throughout the world.

Other wines sold young include the Heurigen (literally, "the season's") wines of Austria, spritzy wines that can officially be sold after November 11 of the vintage year. But there are also wines that are sold for consumption while they are still fermenting, like Austrian Sturm or German Federweiss ("white feather" from the cloudy appearance of the still-fermenting beverage in the glass).

Such young wines are the exception, however, and most wine undergoes a period of aging for at least a couple of months to give the flavors and other properties of the wine (like acids and tannins) an opportunity to integrate. Depending on the varietal and style, wine can be aged in an inert vessel (such as a concrete or stainless vat that imparts no additional flavor to the wine) or in a wooden container that might add flavors and tannins to the wine it contains. Some varietals, such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, are almost always made and aged in stainless steel. Others, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, are almost always aged in wood. Varieties like Chardonnay are aged in stainless steel or wood, depending on the style the winemaker is aiming for.

Most barrel-aged wine is kept in small 225-liter barrels called barriques, whose size ensures a high ratio of wood to wine. There are, however, barrels that hold tens of thousands of liters of wine. New barrels give the greatest flavor and tannins to wine, and barrels contribute less and less with each year of use until, after about five years, they become effectively inert. The insides of barrels are "toasted" by direct flame during construction and the degree of toasting (light, medium, heavy) influences the degree to which the wood can flavor the wine.

Although barrels have been made of various kinds of wood, the most favored is oak because of the flavors it contributes and because the tightness of the grain makes oak less porous than other wood. It thus holds the wine in and keeps the air out, although wine in barrels does experience loss through evaporation and absorption, and must be topped up now and again when aged over a long period. The two principal sources of oak are France and the United States, but there is increasing use of eastern European and Russian oak, too.

The flavors oak barrels give to wine vary according to the wine itself and to the provenance, age, and toasting of the barrel. In general, American barrels are said to give sweeter, vanilla notes to wine, while French barrels contribute more savory flavors. Both may contribute toasted notes to a wine's flavor profile.

Because of the cost of barrels, barrel aging is an expensive proposition, and producers of mass-produced wines have devised less expensive methods of giving oak flavor to their wine. One is to use oak chips, small particles of oak that are mixed into the wine and then filtered out. Some tasters believe that oak chips give the wine an oily texture. An alternative method is to age the wine in steel tanks and to suspend oak planks into it. This has some of the same effect as barrel aging, but it does not expose the wine to oak in the same ratio and nor does it bring the wine into contact with small amounts of air as barrel aging does.

Some aged wines are known as Reserve wines and in Spanish, Italian, and Greek wine law Reserve (Riserva or Reserva ) wines must be aged for specified minimum periods in oak and bottle. The word "Reserve" on the labels of most countries and regions has no regulated meaning, but is generally intended to signify a premium wine that had had a longer period of aging that its non-Reserve counterparts.

Fining and Filtering

Other processes in winemaking include fining and filtering. Fining involves clarifying and stabilizing wine by dropping into it substances like egg whites, fish bladders, or specific clay deposits. Particles adhere to these substances and fall to the bottom of the container. Solid particles may also be removed by filtering, usually by forcing the wine through paper filters. Some wines are not filtered because the process not only removes unwanted particles but can also remove some color and flavor compounds.


Before or after barrel aging, wines may be blended. A blend may combine wines of different varieties so as to make, for example, a Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot or a Semillon Chardonnay blend. (In any declared blend, the predominant variety is stated first.). Most of the world's great wines are blends of more than one variety. Red Bordeaux, for example, must be a blend of between two and five specific grapes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape can include up to thirteen varieties, and Australia's premier cult wine, Penfold's Grange, is almost all Shiraz with a little Cabernet Sauvignon. Blends are designed to create an integrated, harmonious wine that is greater than the sum of any of its constituent varieties.

Blending can also involve bringing together wines that have been aged differently. Many Chardonnays are blends of wines that have variously been aged in French and American oak, or that have been partly aged in stainless steel, partly in oak.

Aging can also take place in the bottle (bottle aging), and some Spanish and Italian wine laws regarding wines such as Rioja and Barolo require a minimum period of barrel and bottle aging before the wine can be released for sale. Most wines, however, are ready for sale as soon as they are bottled (or, in some cases, put into plastic bladders and sold as "box wine" in large formats).


Wine intended for long-term cellaring (vin de garde or "keeping wine") is kept in bottles. Depending on the wine, it may be cellared for decades and its components will continue to integrate over the long term. Bottles should be kept on their side so that the cork does not dry out, in an environment that is, ideally, dark and with a constant temperature between 50°57°F (10°14°C). Over time, tiny amounts of air do get through the cork, and it is believed that this is important to the aging process. Wines kept over the very long term (as in the libraries of wine producers) have their corks renewed about every twenty-five years.

There has been increasing concern about the rate at which corks are vulnerable to infection and contaminate the wine they are in contact with. Estimates of corked wine range from 5 to 10 percent. Producers are increasingly substituting corks (which are made from the bark of the cork tree) with synthetic stoppers and even screw caps. Such closures seem ideal for wines intended for consumption while young (the vast majority of wines), but it is thought that a wine with a synthetic stopper would not allow the air that seems crucial to proper aging.

Standard wine bottles hold three-quarters of a liter (75 cl or 750 ml) of wine, but common alternatives are half bottles (375 ml) and magnums (two-bottle size, or 1.5 liters). Magnums of premium wine generally cost a little more than twice the price of a single bottle, partly because it is believed that wine ages better in the magnum volume than in standard bottle format.

Bottle shape does not affect aging, but it can be an important part of a wine's branding or image. There are two major bottle types: the Burgundy bottle with long, sloping shoulders, and the Bordeaux with more square shoulders. Much German wine is sold in long, slender flutes, while wine from Germany's Franken region is bottled in a squat green bottle called a Bockbeutel. Beyond patterns such as these, individual producers sometimes develop bottles with distinctive shapes and colors to identify their brands.


Bottles are labeled so as to indicate their contents, but not all labels carry the same information because they reflect the prevailing wine law. The great majority of winemaking regions and countries have wine laws that govern such things as food safety (additives that may be used) and what must be shown on a wine label. Laws vary, sometimes radically, but almost all regulate what is broadly called appellation. The appellation is a wine-producing region whose geographical boundaries are legally defined such that only wine made from grapes grown in the region can use the name. Thus a sparkling wine can be called Champagne only if it is made from grapes from the Champagne region of France (and if it has been made according to the rest of the Champagne wine law).

The word "appellation" comes from the French practice of regulating the names of products according to where they are made. Thus a St. Emilion wine from the Bordeaux region must be made of grapes from St. Emilion, and Camembert cheese can only be made in Camembert. Through a series of agreements, European appellations have now obtained near-monopolies over their names, such that sparkling wines made outside Champagne cannot be called Champagne. Wines made in Australia, California, and New Zealand that used to be called Burgundy or Chablis (both French appellations) have been renamed. Sherry and Port (Spanish and Portuguese appellations respectively) will eventually follow.

Many European wines are labeled only by appellation. Examples are Burgundy, Rioja, and Chianti. But because the wine laws of each appellation specify the varieties of grapes that can be grown in the regions, the appellations are a kind of coded grape variety. Thus red Burgundy can be only Pinot Noir, white Burgundy can be only Chardonnay, Rioja is mostly made from the Tempranillo variety, and Chianti is mostly Sangiovese. In most of the non-European wine world, however (and parts of Europe), wine is labeled by variety (these are varietal wines) because wine laws do not limit the kinds of grapes that can be grown. Italy is a mixture of appellation and varietal labeling, as is Spain, but most German wine is labeled by variety.

Appellation regulations take different forms in different countries. Legally defined appellations in the United States are called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), while in Australia they are called Geographical Indications (GIs). In order to identify a wine by an AVA, such as Napa Valley, Willamette Valley or Bell Mountain, a wine must be made of grapes 75 percent from that AVA. Countries such as Australia and Canada (Ontario) require 85 percent grown in the stated wine region. In addition, wines laws require a varietal wine to be a minimum percentage of that variety. A California Chardonnay must be at least 75 percent Chardonnay and it can be up to 25 percent of the other varieties.

Vintage and Alcohol Level

Vintage years and alcohol levels stated on labels can be equally flexible. A New Zealand wine labeled 1999 needs only be 85 percent of that vintage (there could be 15 percent of 1998 or an earlier vintage). And the alcohol level needs be only within one percentage point either way of the stated level, so that a wine labeled 12.5 percent can have between 11.5 percent and 13.5 percent alcohol. Almost all wine laws allow this kind of flexibility.

Some wine laws also differentiate among different quality levels. In Europe there are three: a basic table wine (French vin de table, Italian vino di tavola ) made according to few restrictions; regional wines (like French vin de pays and Spanish viño de la tierra ) made with more restriction and meant to reflect the wines of a specific region; and quality wine (French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée and German Qualitätswein ), which is the highest rank of all. In reality these are only guidelines: some table wines are of higher quality than so-called quality wines, but do not qualify for the highest rank because they use grapes not permitted by wine law for that category.

Styles of Wines

There are many different styles of wine, allowing wine to satisfy a wide range of individual tastes and occasions, and permitting wine to accompany many styles of food. Most table wines are dry in the technical sense that they contain no residual sugar because all the sugar that was in the grapes (or added to the must) has been fermented out. Even so, wines can feel sweet in the mouth because of their fruit flavors, and many varietals like Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Zinfandel have a sweet fruit dimension to them. (Alcohol also tastes sweet, and a high alcohol level adds to the sweet sensation.)

Wine should be assessed in terms of the way all its component parts fit together. A white wine whose acidity and fruit flavors are balanced tastes better than one where there is an imbalance. Many inexpensive Chardonnays are so heavily oaked that it is difficult to detect the fruit. For many reds, it is a matter of achieving a good relationship among acidity, fruit, tannins, wood, and alcohol. Too high alcohol can ruin an otherwise good fruit-acid balance, as can too much oak.

But wines that are intended for long-term cellaring are often unbalanced when young, and the purpose of aging them is to allow time for them to integrate. Many new Bordeaux reds, for example, have such strong tannins that they are undrinkable for the first few years. But the great bulk of commercial wine is made for early drinking (within four or five years of vintage) and they are more likely to deteriorate rather than improve if kept much longer.

Food and Wine

Matching food and wine has preoccupied wine and food writers for centuries. Rules of thumb such as "white wine with fish, red wine with meat" used to be popular, but current thinking is much more flexible. In general there are two ways of thinking about the wine-food relationship. One is to match their flavors, so that dishes high in acid are accompanied by similar wines. Thus, tomato-based dishes (tomatoes being acidic) often pair well with many Italian wines that have high acidity. The second approach is to contrast food and wine. Thus a dish with a heavy, creamy sauce would not be paired with a heavy, buttery Chardonnay but with a substantial but leaner, even crisp wine whose acidity will cut through the fat in the dish and refresh the diner's palate.

Although there are no rigid rules for matching wine and food, useful principles are to match the weight of each and to consider the dominant flavors of the food. Just as some foods feel lighter or heavier in the mouth (compare sole and steak) so all wines fall on a spectrum of light to full bodied. Many young white wines (like Soave and Verdicchio) feel light, whereas older Semillons and Shirazes are full bodied. Matching the weight of the wine to the food creates a balance.

As for matching flavors, it is important to consider the dominant flavors in a dish. Roasted chicken with sage stuffing, barbecued chicken, chicken marsala, and chicken tandoori all have quite different flavors because of the herbs, spices and other ingredients used in their preparation, even though chicken is common to them all. Generally it is not the meat or fish that gives a dish its main flavors, and advice to match a particular wine to fish or chicken is not very useful. Instead, it is desirable to match wine to the strength, intensity, and quality of the ingredients that provide the main flavors.

Finding a perfect match of wine and food (called a marriage) is often a matter of trial and error, but there are some classic matches. They include Sauvignon Blanc with oysters or goat cheese, full-bodied red wine with simply prepared steak or full-flavored game, and Eiswein (ice wine) with strong blue cheese. Some foods are difficult to match with wine, including dishes whose flavors are heavily influenced by vinegar or citrus juice.

Advice on wine to accompany a meal at a restaurant should be available from the sommelier or server. A sommelier (who historically was employed by a king or noble to look after the pack-animalsthe bêtes de somme who carried the food and wine) should have full knowledge of the way a restaurant's dishes are prepared and should be familiar with all the wines on the wine list. He or she should know how hot or spicy a dish is and what the strongest flavors are.

A sommelier's tasks include developing a wine list appropriate for the restaurant's cuisine, and ensuring that the wine is properly kept and served. Once a diner has selected a bottle, it should be brought unopened to the table and presented to the diner to ensure that it is the correct one. The bottle should be opened and a small amount of the wine poured for the diner to taste. The purpose is to ensure that the wine is in good condition and not corked or flawed in any other way.

Drinking Wine

Flaws can generally be detected by smell alone, but it is a good idea to taste the wine, too, if only to check its temperature. White wines are often served too cold and reds too warm. There are no hard-and-fast rules about serving temperature, but white wines should not be so cold that they have no taste or so warm that they lose their feel of fresh acidity. And although it is a rule of thumb that red wine should be served at room temperature, many modern rooms are so warm that wine served at their temperature taste coarse and alcoholic. Although there is commonly a difference of about 15 degrees in the serving temperature of whites (wine straight from a refrigerator is about 3943°F [46°C]) and reds (rooms are commonly 68°F [20°C] and warmer), the difference between them should be much narrower. In broad terms, white wine can be served at ideal cellar temperature (about 53°F [12°C]), while most reds do well at about 6064°F (1618°C), a difference of only four to six degrees.

Although many people insist on opening wine an hour or two before serving so that it can breathe, experiments show that merely removing the cork makes little difference to the taste or quality of the wine. Exposing some wines to air can improve and soften them, but this is best done by decanting the wine beforehand or simply swirling it in the glass. Special care should be taken with very old wines, which can begin to degrade very soon after they are opened.

The size and shape of the glass can make a difference to the experience of a wine. There are now glasses designed for every varietal and style of wine by companies such as Riedel. For ordinary use, the most satisfactory glasses have a mouth smaller than the widest point of the bowl, so that the aromas are trapped. The stem should be long enough that the glass can be held comfortably by it; holding a wineglass by the bowl can warm the wine and dirty the bowl.

Health Benefits

Beyond the sheer pleasure that wine can give, it appears to have health benefits if consumed in moderation. Historically, wine has been attributed myriad therapeutic properties, but for much of the twentieth century the stress was on its toxic properties and its ability to inebriate consumers. The discovery of the "French Paradox" revived interest in the relationship between wine and health. The paradox is that, given their level of wine consumption, the French ought to have a higher rate of heart disease than they do. An explanation was that wine actually protected against coronary disease. The weight of current research supports that conclusion, but doctors stress that it applies only to moderate consumption: about one or two glasses a day by men, one glass by women. More than that neutralizes the health benefits.

There are many guidelines for the maximum enjoyment of wine but, in the end, each individual finds the relationship with wine that she or he is comfortable with. Individuals have different taste preferences and varying tolerance of tannins and acids. Food and wine pairings that repel some, delight others. The great thing is that wine, the result of the complex interplay of work by countless humans and a seemingly infinite combination of natural circumstances, comes in such a wide range of styles that there is a wine to please everyone, to match any dish, and to suit any occasion.

See also Fermentation ; Food Production, History of ; France ; Fruit ; Germany, Austria, Switzerland ; Harvesting ; Iberian Peninsula ; Italy ; Pleasure and Food .


Dominé, André. Wine. Cologne: Könemann, 2000.

Halliday, James, and Hugh Johnson. The Art and Science of Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 1997.

Immer, Andrea. Great Wine Made Simple. New York: Broadway Books, 2000.

MacNeill, Karen. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman, 2001.

Robinson, Jancis. The Oxford Companion to Wine. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Vine, Richard P. Wine Appreciation. 2d ed. New York: Wiley, 1997.

Rod Phillips

Wine from Classical Times to the Nineteenth Century

views updated May 21 2018

Wine from Classical Times to the Nineteenth Century

In the more than two thousand years between the Classical period and the nineteenth century, wine underwent changes in almost every respect. The geographical extent of viticulture (the cultivation of grapes), vine cultivation, wine making, trade, and the culture of wine consumption were all transformed as part of broader political, social, economic, and cultural transformations.

Wine-Making in Ancient Greece

The beginnings of wine-making in Greece by about 1000 b.c.e. were an important step in the history of wine. Until that point, wine had been a marginal product, made in relatively small volumes and consumed only by social elites. This had been the case in ancient societies like Mesopotamia and Egypt. In Greece, however, vineyards expanded rapidly from their initial sites near main population centers and markets to more distant islands like Thasos, Lesbos, and Chios, and by the third century b.c.e. there was a veritable wine industry in the region.

Wine was consumed at all levels of society and it became, along with oil and grain, one of the three main products of Mediterranean agriculture and commerce. Greek wine could be found in locations as diverse as France, Egypt, around the Black Sea, and in the Danube region. Moreover, the Greeks introduced viticulture to France (with limited plantings near modern Marseilles), southern Italy, and Sicily.

The extent of the Greek wine trade is evident in the many wrecked ships along the Mediterranean coast. One ship carried an astonishing ten thousand amphoras (sixto seven-gallon earthenware jars) that would have contained as much as 66,000 gallons of wine, or 400,000 standard modern bottles. It is estimated that 2.2 million gallons of Greek wine were shipped to France each year through the port that is now Marseilles.

The Greeks not only supplied foreign markets with wine, but they also consumed vast quantities domestically. Far from being an elite beverage, wine was consumed at all levels of society. This was an example of an egalitarian approach to drinking expressed by Euripides, who wrote that Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) had given "the simple gift of wine, the gladness of the grape" to "rich and poor" alike. Yet there were significant variations in the quantity and quality of wine consumed at different social levels. The affluent drank wine that was described as quite full-bodied and sweet. The poor drank a thin, low-alcohol, bitter solution made by soaking the skins, seeds, and stalks left over after the final pressing of the grapes.

Greek males of the upper social strata developed a specific institution for consuming wine: the symposium, meaning "drinking together." A dozen or more men, all wearing garlands on their heads, reclined on couches and drank diluted wine while conversing, being entertained by young men and women, and playing games that often involved wine. Symposia were idealized as occasions for elevated discussion and cultural activities, but often they were merely boisterous drinking sessions. Greek wine cups were often decorated with scenes of drunkenness and sexual activities at symposia.

Women were excluded from symposia (except as servers, entertainers, and prostitutes) and there is evidence in Greek writings of male anxiety about women drinking wine. Women were believed to become intoxicated more quickly than men and to behave immorally once in that state. These became persistent themes in Western culture, and they underpinned lower consumption rates of all forms of alcohol by women.

Although it was apparently a not uncommon occurrence in symposia, drunkenness was generally frowned upon in ancient Greece. Homer highlighted the dangers of drunkenness in the Odyssey, in which several characters meet their deaths in accidents caused by drunken men. Yet moderate consumption of wine was viewed as beneficial. Hippocrates, regarded as the founder of Western medicine, wrote extensively on the effects of different types of wine on the digestion. He criticized "dark and harsh" wines as difficult for the body to digest and expel, but praised "soft dark wines . . . they are flatulent and pass better by stool."

As for wine production, the Greeks paid serious attention to viticulture and wine-making. They adopted techniques of growing vines along trellises and up stakes to make the grapes more accessible during harvest. Vine-dressers, who were responsible for the vital pruning operations in the vineyard, became a recognized profession. It was the Romans, however, whose empire superseded that of the Greeks, and it was they who left the most coherent documentation on wine in the Classical period.

Wine-Making in Ancient Rome

A host of writers, including Cicero, Pliny, and Cato, described viticultural and wine-making practices in Rome and wrote extensively about the wines available to them in the last centuries b.c.e. In about 65 C.E., Columella described the principles of viticulture, including the recommended density of vines, the importance of selecting appropriate sites for vineyards, and the economics of vine-growing. For his part, Cato stressed the importance of sunlight to grape-ripening and outlined the basic principles of canopy management.

Roman writers also focused on wine-making and gave recipes for wines that would appeal to Roman tastes. Unlike modern wine-making methods, where additives are minimal, Roman wine was a grape-based concoction that might include sea-water, honey, and all kinds of herbs and spices. Additional flavors might be contributed by the pitch and resin sometimes used to seal the insides of earthenware jars, and sweetness could be added by boiling the grape juice in a lead vessel. Lead not only sweetened wine, but it also preserved it by killing some bacteria. (Lead's potential toxicity was recognized but was largely ignored until the seventeenth century.)

Roman wine writers paid attention to the quality of wines. They gave particular value to color, body, and sweetness, but they also noted wines that they believed had special medical properties. Athenaeus praised wines from Alexandria, which he thought were excellent, fragrant, not likely to go to the head, and which had diuretic effects. Strabo gave high marks to wines from Turkey and Aegean islands like Cos, Chios, and Lesbos. In the first century C.E., Pliny the Elder provided a catalogue of wines from various parts of the empire: ninety-one varieties of wine, fifty kinds of quality wine, and thirty-eight varieties of foreign wine. His list is notable for its stress on varieties rather than just provenance.

The engine of the Roman wine industry was Rome itself, which grew from 300,000 to over one million inhabitants between 300 b.c.e. and the beginning of the first century C.E. By that time, Romans were consuming an estimated 39.6 million gallons of wine a year, which was about seventeen fluid ounces a day for every inhabitant. Not only did the region around Rome provide this wine, but many other parts of the Italian peninsula shipped it as well.

The prominence of wine in the Roman diet was threatened when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E., burying the wine port of Pompeii and destroying many vineyards and two vintages of wine (one in warehouses, the other still on the vines). The immediate shortage of wine led to such a rush to plant new vineyards that there was a glut several years later. The Emperor Domitian tried unsuccessfully to limit the land under viticulture in Italy and to reduce vineyards in Rome's overseas provinces such as Gaul. The ostensible reason for the policy was that vineyards were taking over land needed for grain production, but it is thought that Domitian was as much concerned with protecting Roman wine producers from competition.

Despite any pressure there might have been from wine producers in Italy who wanted to protect their export business, the Romans extended viticulture throughout Europe as their empire expanded. By the first century C.E., most of the famous French wine regions (including Bordeaux, the Rhône, and Burgundy) had been planted, as had areas in England, Germany, Hungary, and other parts of southeastern Europe. The Romans were thus responsible for the beginnings of the European wine industry.

As was the case in Greece, Rome's wine culture was generally inclusive, and everyone from the elites to slaves consumed wine. Cato proposed that slaves in chains should receive about 1.3 gallons of wine a weeknot for pleasure but to give them strength to work. (The ration allotted to a sick slave was half that of a healthy, working slave.) Also as in Greece, in Rome there were vast differences in the quality of the wine consumed by different social groups.

In Rome there was also concern about wine consumption by women. One myth told of a husband who beat his wife to death with a stick for drinking wine, a punishment said to have been praised by Romulus, one of Rome's founders. For a brief time, Roman law allowed a man to divorce his wife for drinking wine, and women were associated with the cults centered on Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. The authorities concocted stories of wild, drunken orgies (Bacchanalia) in order to suppress the cults, which had become implicated in opposition to the government.

Drunkenness, whether on the part of women or men, was broadly condemned by Roman commentators. Cicero frequently labeled his opponents drunkards and alleged that his main rival, Mark Antony, started drinking early each morning. Others cautioned against excessive drinking for a variety of physical and mental reasons. Lucretius argued that wine could disturb the soul and weaken the body, while Seneca wrote that wine revealed and magnified character defects. Pliny the Elder praised quality wines, but he warned that many of the truths spoken under the influence of wine were better not expressed.

On the other hand, Classical medical opinion generally held that wine, alone or with other substances, had curative properties, particularly for gastric and urological ailments. Cato recommended certain flowers soaked in wine as effective for snakebite, constipation, gout, indigestion, and diarrhea.

If wine had achieved a privileged status at the center of the Roman Empire, some non-Roman populations on the margins of Roman control carved out their own relationship with the beverage. For Jews, wine was a powerful expression of divine power. When Moses sent out scouts to survey the Promised Land, they returned with a bunch of grapes so massive that it took two men to carry it. Grapes and wine were such important signs of the bounty provided by God to the Jews that the Old Testament frequently threatens that God will make the vines barren if Jews disobey God's word.

This intense symbolism of wine carried over to Christianity. The first miracle performed by Christ was to turn water to wine at the wedding at Cana. Wine became an integral part of Christian theology, ritual, and tradition. In the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist, wine represents the blood of Christ, and there are many representations of "Christ in the wine press," where Christ's blood, flowing from wounds inflicted during the crucifixion, mixes with the red juice flowing from the grapes as they are crushed.

Because the Eucharist required wine, Christianity and wine became so intimately connected that in the first centuries C.E., conversion from beer to wine became a sign of conversion from paganism to the new religion. Many religious houses had their own vineyards. Monasteries were centers of learning, not only in theology but also in the practical sciences, and for hundreds of years religious orders were at the forefront in developing new techniques in viticulture and wine-making.

Wine-Making in the Middle Ages

The invasion of the western region of the Roman Empire by tribes from central and eastern Europe from the fifth century C.E. did not affect European viticulture as dramatically as once thought. It is possible that some vineyards were abandoned, but overall it seems that Europe's new rulers were as interested in protecting viticulture as the Romans had been. What did suffer was the wine trade, as the single Roman Empire was broken up into smaller political units, each dominated by one of the invading tribes.

It is a mistake, then, to think of a Dark Ages of wine, and certainly misleading to suggest, as some scholars have done, that viticulture survived only because of the vineyards owned by the Christian Church and various religious houses. They were undoubtedly important and some were extensive: the Abbey of St.-Germain-des-Prés near Paris had 11.5 square miles of vineyards in 814 C.E. The Church also sponsored the expansion of vineyards in the important Rhine region and in Austria and Switzerland. Even so, many vineyards had secular owners, and viticulture and wine was not particularly threatened in this period. However, with a decline in trade, many regions began to cultivate their own grapes.

The real threat to wine (and alcoholic beverages generally) emerged not in Europe, but in the Middle East, the birthplace of wine. There the Islamic religion took hold in the seventh century, and within a hundred years it had extended its control across northern Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, and, for a short time, parts of southwestern France. The Prophet Muhammad forbade his followers the consumption of alcohol. Although he acknowledged that wine could make people happy and sociable, he believed that its threats to social order and morality were so great that alcohol should be banned. Wine production practically dried up in many parts of the Islamic empire, but in some parts (like Spain) it was generally tolerated and even acknowledged in so far as it was taxed by Muslim authorities.

Wine production and trade in Christian Europe began to boom around the year 1000 C.E. One reason was the creation of a large political unit in Europe under the Emperor Charlemagne. This not only encouraged commerce, but Charlemagne himself encouraged wine production. He is said to have given the hill of Corton (in Burgundy) to the Abbey of Saulieu; the wines from this estate are known as Corton-Charlemagne.

A further reason for the expansion of wine production from 1000 was the growth of population, cities, and trade that took place in Europe between 1000 and 1300. In northern Europe, northern Italy, and elsewhere, new urban middle classes of entrepreneurs and merchants emerged, all with a thirst for wine. Wine regions close to these new urban markets (like those in Tuscany and other regions of northern Italy) prospered. However, many of the new cities were in areas unsuitable for viticulture, and wine trade routes developed to serve them. Among the most important were the sea route from southwestern France (now the Bordeaux region) to England and the northern European ports, and the wine trade down the Rhine River from the vineyards of central and southern Germany to the North Sea and Baltic ports.

This boom period for the medieval wine industry ended with the Black Death that struck Europe from the mid-fourteenth century. The European population declined by as much as a third, and as markets contracted and vineyard workers died or fled the plague, many vineyards were abandoned. Production and trade began to recover as population and markets grew again in the sixteenth century. There were slight setbacks in this period, when religious reformers like Calvin and Luther accused the Church of Rome of being morally lax, including being tolerant of drunkenness. The Protestant religions tended to be hostile to social drinking, and it is interesting that the only European wine region to become Protestant was Switzerland.

Wine-Making Advancements and Expansion

During the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, there were many varied developments in viticulture and winemaking. Lead was abandoned as a means of sweetening wine, and adding sugar to raise the alcohol level of wine became a common practice. (It was later known as chaptalization, after Napoleon's minister of the interior, Chaptal, who recommended it to compensate for grapes that did not ripen fully.)

New styles of wine emerged, too. The technique of making sparkling wine evolved, and bottles and stoppers developed so that it could be conserved more reliably. Starting in the late seventeenth century there was increasing recognition of the individuality of wines from specific estates. The first wine to be marketed as an estate wine was Haut Brion from Bordeaux, which appeared on the London market in the 1660s.

Wine was, in this period, part of the daily diet in many parts of Europe. Reliable statistics on per capita consumption are hard to come by (because the information was not collected) but common estimates range from 17101 fluid ounces a day. The impact of these volumes depends on the alcohol content of the wine, which was often diluted with water.

Wine was also part of some people's income or entitlement. Artisans employed by the Duke of Lorraine received an allotment of wine as part of their daily wages, and wine was a standard element in military rations. In 1406, the six men who guarded the Château de Custines each received two liters of wine a day.

It was during this period, too, that Europeans extended viticulture beyond Europe itself. The first major advance was the invasion of Central and South America by Spain in the sixteenth century. Vines were planted in Mexico in the 1520s, and viticulture rapidly spread down the west coast of South America in the wake of the invading Spanish armies and Jesuit missionaries. As mission stations were established, vineyards were planted, and the connection was so strong that the grape commonly planted became known as the Mission variety. By the 1550s, major vineyards had been established in Peru, Chile, and Argentina. During the 1600s, the Dutch established vineyards in what is now South Africa, and in 1788 the first vines were planted in Australia.

Viticulture in North America was far less successful. Settlers tried to make wine from native grapes from the 1600s and later tried unsuccessfully to grow European varieties. A combination of climate and disease condemned most of these attempts to failure, and even though Franciscan missionaries established vineyards in California in the eighteenth century, it was not until the nineteenth century that wine was produced in America in meaningful volumes.

The nineteenth century was a turning point for wine, in many respects. From the 1860s onwards, vineyards throughout Europe and other parts of the world were devastated by a North American aphid called Phylloxera vastatrix. Unable to eradicate the pest, vine-growers began to graft their vines onto the roots of native American vines that were tolerant of the aphid. The Phylloxera disaster affected European wine production for several decades, but it gave a boost to production elsewhere. California vineyards, which had expanded after the end of the Gold Rush, grew rapidly as producers eyed the disaster in Europe and imagined California taking over the world wine market.

The advent of the railroad was a boon to production in many countries. It made eastern markets available to California wine and enabled producers in the south of France to get their inexpensive wine to France's northern industrial cities.

At this same time, a wave of anti-alcohol sentiment swept across many countries. Temperance and abstinence movements had varying success in having alcohol laws tightened, and some American states introduced Prohibition. These movements were reinforced by the discovery (some scholars refer to it as the construction) of alcoholism in the mid-nineteenth century, which seemed to confirm the dangers of drinking any alcohol, including wine.

During the two millennia that separated the Classical period from the end of the nineteenth century, wine had changed from being an elite beverage to one shared by all sectors of many societies. It had spread globally, and it had sensitively reflected broad shifts in economies, societies, and culture. There were also continuities. Voices across this long period spoke to the dangers of excessive drinking, and others praised the health benefits of wine. The experience of wine in this period confirms the importance of understanding wine in its historical and cultural contexts.

See also Beer ; Christianity ; Fermentation ; Fermented Beverages Other than Wine or Beer ; Grapes and Grape Juice ; Greece, Ancient ; Mesopotamia, Ancient ; Middle Ages, European ; Rome and the Roman Empire .


Brennan, Thomas, Burgundy to Champagne: The Wine Trade in Early Modern France. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Johnson, Hugh. The Story of Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 1989.

Phillips, Rod. A Short History of Wine. New York: Harper-Collins, 2001.

Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America from the Beginnings to Prohibition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Seward, Desmond. Monks and Wine. New York: Crown, 1979.

Unwin, Tim. Wine and the Vine: A Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade. London: Routledge, 1991.

Rod Phillips

Wine in the Modern World

views updated May 23 2018

Wine in the Modern World

At the start of the twentieth century wine was a beverage with a very limited range. Essentially it was made as a bulk product by peasants in southern Europe and was consumed by all classes in the country of origin. A small amount of premium wine found its way to the tables of the rich in the capital cities of Europe and the European diaspora. Some outposts of production existed in the United States and the colonies of Europe, but they were insignificant both qualitatively and quantitatively. The Bordeaux vintage of 1900 was highly regarded, but the production and consumption of that style of wine was marginal to the substantive function of the drink.

The Years of Decline

Despite the great opening vintage, the first decades of the century were not happy ones for wine producers. By 1900 phylloxera had completed its devastation of the European viticultural landscape, often leaving vineyards replanted with low-quality hybrid vines that brought viral disease in their wake. Algeria was widely planted and produced large amounts of cheap vin ordinaire (ordinary wine). Agricultural depression and the flight of the population to the cities exacerbated the situation; then came World War I. Meanwhile, for the producers of prestige wines a continual flood of impostors from poor-quality viticultural regions seeking to gain the premium offered by reputation devalued that reputation and reduced their profits.

The response was to define a system that, it was argued, would protect both the producer and the consumer. By defining the boundaries of a given region and allowing only wine from grapes grown there to carry the name of the region, producers could maintain a price premium, and consumers could have certainty about the nature (and by extension the quality) of what they were drinking. The first nationwide appellation system was developed in Portugal, but it was perfected in France from 1935 onward in the appellation controlée system with the legal enshrinement of the definitions of "quality wine" and "table wine."

This codification of a classification system helped producers in prestigious regions but did little for the bulk producers, still almost all agricultural peasantry with little capital to invest in the technical advances in the winery. In these regions a strange combination of corporatist government and anarcho-syndicalism produced wine cooperatives that were controlled by local small-scale grape growers and to which they could sell their produce. Cooperatives in turn could raise the necessary capital to invest in production facilities.

The Technological Revolution

The development of both the science of biochemistry and the technology of agricultural engineering started a revolution in wine production that expanded even more rapidly after World War II. Originating in the work of Louis Pasteur in the second half of the nineteenth century, enology and viticulture developed a rational, scientific base. It was no longer enough to continue practices merely because they had been adopted by one's forebears. Universities like Bordeaux and Montpellier in France and later the University of California at Davis and Adelaide in Australia began both to research wine and to teach those who would grow grapes and make wine. As the science developed, so did the wines. Control of yeast and bacteria meant that off-dry and medium-dry wines could be safely marketed. This allowed massive expansion of styles like German liebfraumilch, which dominated the white wine market in the United Kingdom until the 1980s. This technological change came late to wine, perhaps because it was an agricultural, often peasant-based product, but it became crucial as, with the development of the railways and the new markets of industrialized nations, wine had to travel some distance and had to remain stable enough to be drinkable.

Technical development involved three key areas. First was the understanding of the importance of anaerobic handling, the need to control oxygen contact both to preserve fruitiness in wine and to avoid bacterial spoilage. Second was the recognition of the significance of hygiene during wine making and handling, again to avoid spoilage. Underpinning both of these was an increased control of all stages of the process: temperature control, specially cultured yeasts, prepared bacteria to stimulate the malolactic fermentation, and the addition of enzymes that enhance the development of "natural" aromas in the wine (such as pectinase and apiosidase). A modern winery could be a tank farm with a central computerized control room that monitored what each batch of wine was doing.

Viticulture developed at the same time. Spurred originally by the need to combat phylloxera, then by the requirements of rapid new plantings in the Americas and Australasia, pest control, soil management, irrigation, and controlling the canopy of the vine to maximize sun exposure have been led by science. The result has been to raise the quality of the most basic wines, so even at the cheapest end of the market the consumer can expect to get a fruity, fault-free wine rather than one dominated by oxidative flavors and coarse tannins. The converse, some critics claim, has been to make wines more homogeneous. This, they argue, means that wines have lost their personalities, and wines from across the world increasingly resemble each other. Certain wine makers have reacted against such a clinical approach to let the wine develop in its own way. But even when producers indulge in so-called "dirty wine making" in pursuit of individuality, they do it from a position of knowledge, not faith, as their predecessors would have done.

A New World of Wine

At the start of the twentieth century the production of wine was firmly European. This was not so by the start of the twenty-first century. Although France, Italy, and Spain still dominated in quantitative terms, together producing over 50 percent of all the world's wine, their international reputations increasingly were challenged by the "new producing" countries, those of the New World. In the U.K. market, something of a yardstick, Australia became the second most popular country of origin after France.

This growing international reputation for the new producing countries reflected a rapid increase in their production. Consumption in the wine producing countries of Europe dropped dramatically, and at the same time national governments and the European Union pursued policies designed to reduce production, particularly in the bulk wine producing regions around the Mediterranean. In the new producing countries the reverse was true. From a low base, consumption rose, but production of wine grapes rose even more dramatically, driven not just by domestic demand but by the desire to penetrate new markets in northern Europe, North America, and eastern Asia.

The newer wine producing countries have been at the forefront of structural changes in the industry. In the early twenty-first century Australia had over 56,000 grape growers, each with an average holding of 1.25 hectares (3 acres), making the industry highly fragmented. In New Zealand, the most concentrated of all producing nations at that time, the largest company (Montana) was responsible for over 60 percent of all wine made. The California producer E. & J. Gallo made more wine in a year than the whole of Australia or the whole of the Bordeaux region. This does not mean that Europe does not have large companies. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the French-based Louis Vuitton MoëtHennessy produced more wine each year than any other company in the world. Nevertheless, Europe does have a more fragmented industry.

Wine production in the new producing countries tends to be dependent on access to capital rather than inheritance. This has had another consequence, for access to capital facilitates greater use of the equipment modern technology offers. The focus on control and hygiene mentioned above is particularly significantsome would say obsessively soin these countries. Again it is not true that wine producers in Europe disdain technology, as some in the erstwhile colonies would claim. Some Bordeaux châteaus have state-of-the-art equipment, and the champenois (people of Champagne) are world leaders in the production of sparkling wine. Crucially, however, fragmentation makes widespread access both to the technology and the attitudes that accompany it less likely.

Changing Market

As the geography of production has changed, so has the geography of consumption. Changes in income patterns, reflected in the development of consumer culture, as well as travel, both voluntarily with holidays and forced in migration or war service, have made wine more accessible to many. Technology allows better wine to be made cheaper, and the blurring of class difference means wine is perceived less as the drink of the elite in many countries. A nascent wine culture in East Asia has offered the world's producers yet more opportunity to sell their wares and, with that region's focus on the label as a status symbol, has generated a rapid escalation in price of the world's most prestigious wines.

Wine in Society

While the consumption of wine has spread widely, so too have the forces opposed to it multiplied. Historically, opposition to wine was limited to the religion of Islam. Before about 1800, moderate consumption of alcohol was almost universally accepted in western Europe, although the religious maintained that drinking to excess was wrong. However, two social movements combined to change that widespread tolerance. The social anomie of industrialization and the shift to the city resulted in widespread abuse by the poorer classes. At the same time a new religious conservatism, allied to socially concerned evangelicalism, saw in alcohol the work of the devil. Temperance is a misnomer. It means restraint rather than prohibition, but the temperance movements came to work for prohibition. The movements were most successful in the United States with the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1919. But the impact of temperance movements was felt in strict limits on alcohol use in places as diverse as New Zealand, Wales, Canada, and Scandinavia.

Formal prohibition failed, but its influence lived on in a neoprohibitionist approach, mainly in North America and to a certain extent in Scandinavia. Justifiable concern about the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol is confused with an absolute need to protect people from themselves and to deny them the possibility of moderate enjoyment of wine.

At the end of the twentieth century, however, another factor came in into play, the relationship between wine and health. While abuse of alcohol contributes to a range of diseases, most notably cirrhosis, science has rediscovered what doctors have known down the centuries, that moderate consumption of wine can have positive health effects. Scientists have also provided the objective evidence for this, for instance, showing the impact red wine can have on improving the balance the beneficial high-density lipoprotein component of cholesterol in the vascular system. This change in outlook was typified by the broadcasting of "The French Paradox" on television in the United States in 1991. Sales of red wine jumped dramatically overnight, followed by a prolonged battle between the wine industry and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms about the health labeling on bottles of wine.

The Twenty-first Century

What does the twenty-first century hold for the wine industry and the wine consumer? The pace of technological change is increasing. Disputes have developed over gene modification and the possibility of creating new varieties in the laboratory. Perhaps ultimately great wines will be recreated in test tubes. The mass production of 1961 Chateau Lafitte would horrify some but could please many.

The geography of production continues to change. The quality of wine produced in southern Europe has improved gradually, but many poor-quality sites have been abandoned because of a lack of markets for the wines. Meanwhile, as long as demand in the English-speaking and East Asian countries rises, the new producing countries will probably continue to raise their production. However, in the short term it is possible that they will suffer a glut of grapes for which no market exists. Then what happens when China begins to select appropriate sites for the production of high-quality wine?

Historically wines were sold on the basis of their geographic origins. Increasingly they are sold by the variety of grape used, and it seems likely that this trend will continue. Chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon currently dominate worldwide, but previously sherry and lambrusco reigned. The balance could yet shift to, for example, nebbiolo and manseng.

The current catchphrase is, people drink less but better. That probably hides the true shift in consumption, but it is a useful rule of thumb for how consumption changes. Critically in the late twentieth century, wine, like every other production industry, was taken over by marketing. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as part of the marketing manager's job is to ensure that consumers are satisfied with what they get. If that means more palatable wine, then consumers benefit. On the other hand, the tendency of marketing to "segment" its customers into large groups means that those who seek the unusual or the different may find it increasingly hard to find the grape variety or region of their choice in price-point driven supermarkets that command up to three-quarters of the retail market in many Western countries. The signs, however, indicate that the gradual shift back is to greater diversity.

See also Alcohol ; Beer ; Fermentation .


Berger, Nicholas, Kim Anderson, and Randy Stringer. Trends in the World Wine Market, 1961 to 1996: A Statistical Compendium. Adelaide, Australia: Centre for International Economic Studies, 1998.

Brook, Stephen, ed. A Century of Wine. London: Mitchell Beasley, 2000. Separate chapters provided by individual experts cover the development of the wine industry over the twentieth century.

Fuller, Robert C. Religion and Wine. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996. The relationship of wine and religion, including prohibition, in an American context.

Johnson, Hugh. The Story of Wine. London: Mitchell Beasley. 1989. A readable, popular introduction to the subject.

Loubère, Leo A. The Wine Revolution in France. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. A century of developments in the world's most important wine producing country.

Phillips, Rod. A Short History of Wine. New York: Ecco, 2000.

Robinson, Jancis. The Oxford Companion to Wine. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. An invaluable and comprehensive work on wine.

Unwin, Tim. Wine and the Vine. London: Routledge, 1996. The most comprehensive academic introduction to the history of wine and wine production.

Steve Charters


views updated May 23 2018



Wine is an alcoholic beverage produced through the partial or total fermentation of grapes. Other fruits and plants, such as berries, apples, cherries, dandelions, elder-berries, palm, and rice can also be fermented.

Grapes belong to the botanical family vitaceae, of which there are many species. The species that are most widely used in wine production are Vitis labrusca and, especially, Vitis vinifera, which has long been the most widely used wine grape throughout the world.

The theory that wine was discovered by accident is most likely correct because wine grapes contain all the necessary ingredients for wine, including pulp, juice, and seeds that possess all the acids, sugars, tannins, minerals, and vitamins that are found in wine. As a natural process, the frosty-looking skin of the grape, called "bloom," catches the airborne yeast and enzymes that ferment the juice of the grape into wine.

The cultivation of wine grapes for the production of wine is called "viticulture." Harvested during the fall, wine grapes may range in color from pale yellow to hearty green to ruby red.

Wine can be made in the home and in small-, medium- or large-sized wineries by using similar methods. Wine is made in a variety of flavors, with varying degrees of sweetness or dryness as well as alcoholic strength and quality. Generally, the strength, color, and flavor of the wine are controlled during the fermentation process.

Wine is characterized by color: white, pink or rose, and red, and it can range in alcohol content from 10 percent to 14 percent. Wine types can be divided into four broad categories: table wines, sparkling wines, fortified wines, and aromatic wines. Table wines include a range of red, white, and rose wines; sparkling wines include champagne and other "bubbly" wines; aromatic wines contain fruits, plants, and flowers; and fortified wines are table wines with brandy or other alcohol added.

The name of a wine almost invariably is derived from one of three sources: the name of the principal grape from which it was made, the geographical area from which it comes, orin the case of the traditionally finest winesfrom a particular vineyard or parcel of soil. The year in which a wine is made is only printed on bottles that have aged for two or more years; those aged less are not considered worthy of a date. Wine years are known as "vintages" or "vintage years." While certain wines are considered good or bad depending on the year they were produced, this can vary by locality.

In general, red wines are supposed to age from seven to ten years before being sold. Because white and rose wines are not enhanced by additional ageing, they are usually aged from only one to four years before being sold. And, since the quality of wine can depend on proper ageing, older wines are generally more expensive than younger ones. Other factors, however, can affect the quality of wine, and proper ageing does not always ensure quality. Other factors affecting quality include the grapes themselves, when the grapes are picked, proper care of the grapes, the fermentation process, as well as other aspects of wine production.

Most wineries bottle wine in different size bottles and have different product and graphic designs on their labels. The most common bottle sizes are the half bottle, the imperial pint, the standard bottle, and the gallon bottle or jug. Most red and rose wine bottles are colored to keep light from ageing the wine further after they are on the market.

While viticulture has remained much the same for centuries, new technology has helped increase the output and variety of wine.


Well documented in numerous Biblical references, evidence of wine can be traced back to Egypt as far as 5,000 b.c. Tomb wall paintings showing the use of wine as well as actual wine jars found in Egyptian tombs provide evidence of this fact. Because more northern climates and soil produce better wine, the growth of the wine industry can be traced from its emergence along the Nile River in Egypt and Persia northward into Europe and, eventually, to North America.

Though the wines of old were coarse and hard and had to be mixed with water, ancient Greek wine proved to be somewhat better than Egyptian wine. For this reason, Egyptians began importing it. Then Roman wines (from what would emerge to be Italy, Spain, and France) became notably superior. Eventually, French and German wines grew to be the most desirable, thereby shifting the center of wine production from the Mediterranean to central Europe. Some of the best wine in the world is still produced in southern France, particularly in the Bordeaux region, where wine has been made for more than 2,000 years.

The colonists brought wine production to the east coast of the New World by the mid-1600s. The earliest account of wine used in the New World may be when the Pilgrims fermented grapes to celebrate their first Thanksgiving in 1623. Settlers tried to grow imported grape cuttings they brought from Europe, but unfortunately the European cuttings had not developed immunities to the North American plant diseases that eventually killed them. By the middle of the nineteenth century (using the fruits of the abundant native Vitis labrusca grape plants) wineries were established in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina.

In 1697, European cuttings of Vitis vinifera grapes were successfully introduced to California by Franciscan priests at the Mission San Francisco Xavier. They soon became the dominant grape species in California wine making. A great boost to California wine making came from Colonel Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian nobleman, who introduced more high-quality European cuttings during the 1850s. His knowledge made him the founder of California's modern wine industry.

Today, California and New York state are by far the largest American producers of wine, and California is one of the largest wine producers in the world. Though many of its table wines are known for their quality, the enormous wineries of central and southern California produce gigantic quantities of neutral, bulk wines that they ship elsewhere to make specific wines, such as dessert wines, or to blend with other wines. They also make grape concentrates to fortify weaker wines and brandies that use large quantities of grapes.

Raw Materials

As mentioned above, the wine grape itself contains all the necessary ingredients for wine: pulp, juice, sugars, acids, tannins, and minerals. However, some manufacturers add yeast to increase strength and cane or beet sugar to increase alcoholic content. During fermentation, winemakers also usually add sulfur dioxide to control the growth of wild yeasts.

The Manufacturing

The process of wine production has remained much the same throughout the ages, but new sophisticated machinery and technology have helped streamline and increase the output of wine. Whether such advances have enhanced the quality of wine is, however, a subject of debate. These advances include a variety of mechanical harvesters, grape crushers, temperature-controlled tanks, and centrifuges.

The procedures involved in creating wine are often times dictated by the grape and the amount and type of wine being produced. Recipes for certain types of wine require the winemaker (the vintner) to monitor and regulate the amount of yeast, the fermentation process, and other steps of the process. While the manufacturing process is highly automated in medium- to large-sized wineries, small wineries still use hand operated presses and store wine in musty wine cellars.

A universal factor in the production of fine wine is timing. This includes picking grapes at the right time, removing the must at the right time, monitoring and regulating fermentation, and storing the wine long enough.

The wine-making process can be divided into four distinct steps: harvesting and crushing grapes; fermenting must; ageing the wine; and packaging.

Harvesting and crushing grapes

  • 1 Vineyardists inspect sample clusters of wine grapes with a refractometer to determine if the grapes are ready to be picked. The refractometer is a small, hand-held device (the size of a miniature telescope) that allows the vineyardist to accurately check the amount of sugar in the grapes.
  • 2 If the grapes are ready for picking, a mechanical harvester (usually a suction picker) gathers and funnels the grapes into a field hopper, or mobile storage container. Some mechanical harvesters have grape crushers mounted on the machinery, allowing vineyard workers to gather grapes and press them at the same time. The result is that vineyards can deliver newly crushed grapes, called must, to wineries, eliminating the need for crushing at the winery. This also prevents oxidization of the juice through tears or splits in the grapes' skins.

    Mechanical harvesters, or, in some cases, robots, are now used in most medium to large vineyards, thereby eliminating the need for hand-picking. First used in California vineyards in 1968, mechanical harvesters have significantly decreased the time it takes to gather grapes. The harvesters have also allowed grapes to be gathered at night when they are cool, fresh, and ripe.

  • 3 The field hoppers are transported to the winery where they are unloaded into a crusher-stemmer machine. Some crusher-stemmer machines are hydraulic while others are driven by air pressure.

    The grapes are crushed and the stems are removed, leaving liquid must that flows either into a stainless steel fermentation tank or a wooden vat (for fine wines).

Fermenting the must

  • 4 For white wine, all the grape skins are separated from the "must" by filters or centrifuges before the must undergoes fermentation. For red wine, the whole crushed grape, including the skin, goes into the fermentation tank or vat. (The pigment in the grape skins give red wine its color. The amount of time the skins are left in the tank or vat determines how dark or light the color will be. For rose, the skins only stay in the tank or vat for a short time before they are filtered out.)
  • 5 During the fermentation process, wild yeast are fed into the tank or vat to turn the sugar in the must into alcohol. To add strength, varying degrees of yeast may be added. In addition, cane or beet sugar may be added to increase the alcoholic content. Adding sugar is call chaptalization. Usually chaptalization is done because the grapes have not received enough sun prior to harvesting. The winemaker will use a handheld hydrometer to measure the sugar content in the tank or vat. The wine must ferments in the tank or vat for approximately seven to fourteen days, depending on the type of wine being produced.

Ageing the wine

  • 6 After crushing and fermentation, wine needs to be stored, filtered, and properly aged. In some instances, the wine must also be blended with other alcohol. Many wineries still store wine in damp, subterranean wine cellars to keep the wine cool, but larger wineries now store wine above ground in epoxylined and stainless steel tanks. The tanks are temperature-controlled by water that circulates inside the lining of the tank shell. Other similar tanks are used instead of the old redwood and concrete vats when wine is temporarily stored during the settling process.

    After fermentation, certain wines (mainly red wine) will be crushed again and pumped into another fermentation tank where the wine will ferment again for approximately three to seven days. This is done not only to extend the wine's shelf life but also to ensure clarity and color stability.

    The wine is then pumped into settling ("racking") tanks or vats. The wine will remain in the tank for one to two months. Typically, racking is done at 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 16 degrees Celsius) for red wine, and 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) for white wine.

  • 7 After the initial settling (racking) process, certain wines are pumped into another settling tank or vat where the wine remains for another two to three months. During settling the weighty unwanted debris (remaining stem pieces, etc.) settle to the bottom of the tank and are eliminated when the wine is pumped into another tank. The settling process creates smoother wine. Additional settling may be necessary for certain wines.
  • 8 After the settling process, the wine passes through a number of filters or centrifuges where the wine is stored at low temperatures or where clarifying substances trickle through the wine.
  • 9 After various filtering processes, the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks or wooden vats. White and rose wines may age for a year to four years, or far less than a year. Red wines may age for seven to ten years. Most large wineries age their wine in large temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks that are above ground, while smaller wineries may still store their wine in wooden barrels in damp wine cellars.
  • 10 The wine is then filtered one last time to remove unwanted sediment.

    The wine is now ready to be bottled, corked, sealed, crated, labeled, and shipped to distributors.


  • 11 Most medium- to large-sized wineries I now use automated bottling machines, and most moderately priced and expensive wine bottles have corks made of a special oak. The corks are covered with a peel-off aluminum foil or plastic seal. Cheaper wines have an aluminum screw-off cap or plastic stopper. The corks and screw caps keep the air from spoiling the wine. Wine is usually shipped in wooden crates, though cheaper wines may be packaged in cardboard.

Quality Control

All facets of wine production must be carefully controlled to create a quality wine. Such variables as the speed with which harvested grapes are crushed; the temperature and timing during both fermentation and ageing; the percent of sugar and acid in the harvested grapes; and the amount of sulfur dioxide added during fermentation all have a tremendous impact on the quality of the finished wine.

Where To Learn More


Adams, Leon. The Wines of America. McGraw Hill, 1978.

Anderson, Stanley F. Winemaking. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1989.

Churchill, Creighton. The World of Wines. Collier Books, 1980.

Farkas, J. The Technology & Biochemistry of Wine. Gordon & Breach Science Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Hazelton, Nika. American Wines. Grosset Good Life Books, 1976.

Johnson, Hugh. The Vintner's Art: How Great Wines are Made. Simon & Schuster Trade, 1992.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. Collier Books, 1984.

Ough, Cornelius S. Winemaking Basics. Haworth Press, Inc., 1992.

Rainbird, George. An Illustrated Guide to Wine. Harmony Books, 1983.

Zaneilli, Leo. Beer and Wine Making Illustrated Dictionary. A. S. Barnes & Company, 1978.


Asimov, Isaac. "The Legacy of Wine," The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. July, 1991, p. 81.

Merline, John W. "What's in Wine? (Calling All Consumers)," Consumers' Research Magazine. November 1986, p. 38.

Oliver, Laure. "Fermenting Wine the Natural Way," The Wine Spectator. October 31, 1992, p. 9.

Robinson, Jancis. "Spreading the Gospel of Oak," The Wine Spectator. August 31, 1991, p. 20.

Roby, Norm. "Getting Back to Nature," The Wine Spectator. October 15, 1990, p. 22.

Greg Ling


views updated Jun 11 2018


wine in 1789
the nineteenth century
recovery after phylloxera

Wine was one of the principal alcoholic beverages consumed in Europe during the long nineteenth century. Beer and wine had already been staple elements in the daily diet throughout Europe for centuries because they were safer to drink than the available water, which was often contaminated by human, animal, and industrial waste.

Several themes bear on the history of wine between 1789 and 1914. They include changes in production and consumption patterns, the effects of the temperance movements and phylloxera, and shifts in the cultural status of wine.

wine in 1789

At the end of the eighteenth century, wine was consumed by common people in areas where viticulture flourished, and where wine was inexpensive because it did not have to be transported to market or could be produced on a local or domestic scale. Thus, wine consumption was widespread in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and Greece, and those regions of central and eastern Europe where grapes were cultivated.

Elsewhere, beer, ale, and distilled spirits were more commonly consumed, but because wine had a social cachet, it was imported for consumption by those who could afford it. The middle and upper classes in northern Europe also consumed beer and spirits, but wine was a socially valued beverage and wine merchants did brisk business in England, the Netherlands and Belgium, Scandinavia, and Russia.

The English market, for example, soaked up huge volumes of wine from Bordeaux and Port (wine fortified with brandy) from Portugal. A 1793 guide to St. Petersburg noted that wealthy people there drank wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, and also Hungarian wines that were also popular because they are "strong, very alcoholic, and warm the blood" (Phillips, p. 202). Even where wine was available locally, as in northern Italy, wine was imported from France because it was reputed to be of higher quality.

It is impossible to provide useful figures on per capita consumption because total production is often unknown and drinking patterns are unclear. Enough wine was brought into Paris in the 1780s to enable each inhabitant—women, children, and men—to consume between three and six liters of wine a week. But adult men clearly drank more than women and children, and some tavern records suggest that men might have downed two liters of wine a day.

Although contemporary commentators condemned drunkenness, they accepted wine as a basic part of the daily diet. The political scientist Jean-Baptiste Moheau wrote in the 1780s that wine is "an excellent beverage for the poor, not only because it is a food but also because it is very good protection against physical decay" (Phillips, p. 203).

The popularity of wine in eighteenth-century France led to complaints that high taxes on it led to clandestine wine-shops and smuggling. Wine was regularly smuggled into Paris—sometimes through channels bored through the city walls—and taverns selling less expensive wine outside the walls (where the city tax was not levied) did a roaring trade on holidays.

In response to complaints about sales taxes, the Revolutionary government abolished the tax on wine in 1791 and, at midnight on 1 May, a convoy of hundreds of carts brought an estimated 2 million liters of wine into Paris for sale at the new, tax-free price. Even when a tax was re-imposed in 1798, wine was still cheaper than it had been before the Revolution.

the nineteenth century

The Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods promoted the wine industry in France, and annual production rose by a third between the late 1780s and the period from 1805 to 1812. The area under viticulture increased, especially in southern France, and governments subsidized the wine industry by purchasing vast volumes of wine for military rations and hospitals during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815).

During the nineteenth century, several developments favored the spread of wine consumption throughout Europe. One was an improvement in transportation brought about by railroads from the 1850s onward. Until then, the cheapest means of moving wine was by water (river or coastal shipping), but trains could carry bulk wine inexpensively, and the railroad extended the market reach of wine regions. From the 1860s, the wines of southern France (especially Languedoc) began to penetrate the large working-class markets in Paris and France's northern industrial cities.

There were also developments in elite wines, and regions like Bordeaux consolidated their reputations for producing premium wines. In 1855, at the request of Napoleon III, the seventy-nine most expensive wines from some of Bordeaux's most prestigious districts were classified into five categories (known as Crus or "Growths"). In the same period, in the Italian region of Tuscany, Baron Ricasoli set out the approved grape varieties for modern Chianti.

During the nineteenth century, too, modern Champagne was born. In the 1820s Veuve Clicquot introduced new techniques of production that were widely adopted and became known as the "Champagne Method," while in mid-century Champagne began to move from the sweet sparkling wine it had been, to the drier styles now most common.


While the European wine industry was growing, expanding its markets and developing expensive, premium wines, two threats emerged. The first was an unprecedented movement against the consumption of any more alcohol than was needed for basic dietary purposes. This temperance movement was a coordinated expression of the concern that had been articulated sporadically for centuries, as civic and church commentators warned against the social and personal consequences of excessive drinking. By the end of the nineteenth century, some temperance movements began to call for total abstinence and a ban on the production of beverage alcohol.

Anti-alcohol movements like these attracted less support in Europe, especially Continental Europe, than in North America and Australasia. In Europe, wine and beer were entrenched in diet and culture. And to the extent that sources of potable water needed to be available before alcohol could be removed from the diet, much of Europe lagged behind other parts of the Western world.

Although the anti-alcohol campaigns made some inroads in England, they were largely ineffective in continental Europe. In France, a number of temperance organizations focused their campaigns solely on spirits and went so far as to encourage wine-drinking on the ground that wine was healthy and an antidote to alcoholism.

A side effect of the anti-alcohol campaigns was a decline in the reputation of wine as having therapeutic qualities. For centuries wine had been prescribed for digestive and other problems, and it was believed to have general tonic effects. In 1870–1871, one hospital in Darmstadt, Germany, went through 4,633 bottles of white and 6,332 bottles of red wine from the Rhine region, sixty bottles of Champagne, a few dozen bottles of superior white and red Bordeaux, and about thirty dozen bottles of Port.

Yet in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, new drugs and painkillers (like aspirin), sedatives, and tranquilizers came onto the market. They were clinically tested and promised specific results, unlike wine, which was promoted as merely beneficial in a general sense.


The decline of wine as medicine had a long-term effect. A more serious and immediate threat to wine in nineteenth-century Europe was phylloxera, a vine-disease imported from North America that took hold in southern France in the 1860s and, during the following decades, devastated vineyards throughout almost the whole of Europe. For years—the timing varied from region to region—wine production fell and many consumers shifted to other beverages.

The phylloxera epidemic was a short-term blow to Europe's wine industry (a solution was put in place from the 1870s), but it had far-reaching effects. For one thing, it changed the map of European viticulture. In France, many marginal vineyards in the north were not replanted and the center of gravity shifted south, as the vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon (now with rail access to northern markets) expanded dramatically.

All Europe's wine industries were affected by phylloxera. Spanish wine benefited at first, as an influx of French winemakers left their dying vines in regions like Bordeaux and began to work in Spanish regions such as Rioja. But then, Spain's vines died in turn. Italy's wine-producers experienced a short sales boom as the French imported wine to make up their own shortfall. But phylloxera soon spread to Italy's vineyards, too.

When phylloxera reduced the wine supply, counterfeit and substitute wines (some made from raisins, others adulterated with all kinds of additives) flooded the European market. They damaged the reputation of established regions and led wine consumers to shift to beer and spirits, such as Scotch whisky in England and absinthe in France.

recovery after phylloxera

In an effort to recover its markets, the French wine industry enacted rules that became a model for wine laws in many countries in the twentieth century. The rules restricted the ingredients in wine and specified (for the first time) that it had to be made from fresh grapes. At the turn of the century, the French parliament declared wine to be a safe and healthy beverage.

France also adopted Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée laws to regulate the use of geographical names on wines. From 1908, wines could not be labeled "Champagne" unless they were made from grapes grown there. These laws were extended to other regions in the twentieth century and became the basis for wine laws throughout Europe.

Developments in France through much of the nineteenth century are so important not only because French wine was reputed to be the best in the world (winemakers came to France from across Europe and around the world to learn techniques), but also because France made more wine than any other country. In 1828, French wine production accounted for 40 percent of world output and France's 2 million hectares of land under vines was far greater than Italy's 400,000 hectares, Austria's 625,000, and Hungary's 550,000.

France was also the site of many of the technical advances in winemaking in the nineteenth century. The great French scientist Louis Pasteur devoted much of his time to research on wine, especially to understanding the process of fermentation. Ironically, the process of heating liquids to kill off bacteria (pasteurization) was used to produce unfermented grape juice that many temperance campaigners argued should replace wine in the Christian communion.

Despite the phylloxera episode and the efforts of anti-alcohol movements, wine retained its popularity among Europeans whether they drank cheap, ordinary wine or could afford the prestigious brands. Even when regular supplies of reliable fresh water became available, and even when the medical properties of wine were called into question, consumption rates remained high in many parts of Europe, especially Italy, Spain, and France.

Nonetheless, by 1900, production outpaced demand in some regions, prices fell, and some industries faced a crisis. In several French regions, producers and workers in wine-related jobs demonstrated in large numbers. Protests attracted 300,000 in Ni̊mes and 600,000 in Montpellier in 1907. In 1911, workers in Champagne destroyed hundreds of thousands of liters of Champagne during disturbances.

The outbreak of war in 1914 came to the aid of the French wine industry. Although the call-up of troops in August left wineries short-handed for what would prove a bumper harvest, the grapes were picked by older men, women, and children. The wineries of Languedoc donated 20 million liters to military hospitals, and soon the government was buying vast amounts of wine for soldiers' rations. The military wine ration was increased steadily as the war dragged on, and in 1917 French troops at the front consumed 1.2 billion liters of wine.

The long nineteenth century was bracketed by political upheavals that, in the short term at least, were good for the wine industry. In the one hundred years between, the industry and the status of wine in material, cultural, and medical terms went through a series of transformations that set the stage for wine's playing a different role in twentieth-century European society and culture.

See alsoAlcohol and Temperance; Diet and Nutrition; Phylloxera.


Guy, Kolleen M. When Champagne became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity. Baltimore, 2003.

Haine, W. Scott The World of the Paris Café: Sociability among the French Working Class, 1789–1914. Baltimore, 1996.

Loubère, Leo. The Red and the White: The History of Wine in France and Italy in the Nineteenth Century. Albany, N.Y., 1978.

Phillips, Rod. A Short History of Wine. New York, 2001.

Prestwich, Patricia E. Drink and the Politics of Social Reform: Antialcoholism in France since 1870. Palo Alto, Calif., 1988.

Rod Phillips

Wine and the French Meal

views updated Jun 08 2018

Wine and the French Meal

For the French, wine is not an alcohol but a beverage. Like most beverages, it is generally consumed at mealtimes and like bread, it is so much a part of most meals that many French people would not enjoy eating without drinking a little wine. Given its importance and the wide variety of French wines to choose from, they have devised a few simple rules for serving wine:

  • White with fish, red with meat
  • White before red
  • Serve wines in ascending order (the best wine last)
  • Drink wines of a region with foods from that region
  • Drink reds at room temperature and whites chilled

Of course, the French being typically French, there are exceptions to every rule.

White with fish, red with meat

For the most part, this rule is respected, especially concerning beef and lamb. But there are important regional differences. In Alsace, for instance, white wine is served with both fish and meat. This is no doubt because the region produces very little red wine and because Alsatian whites go so well with pork and pork sausages that the famous Alsatian Choucroute (sauerkraut with an assortment of salted and smoked pork products) is never served with red wine but with an Alsatian white wine (or beer). The full-bodied whites of Burgundy can also be served with poultry and go surprisingly well with pâtés of all kinds. In the Jura the distinctive sherry-flavored "yellow wine" (vin jaune) may be served with poultry or fish, especially when cooked with cream and morel mushrooms from the nearby mountains. In Bordeaux, oysters on the half shell are eaten with grilled link sausages, a delightful combination with which the wine of choice is a white Graves. Conversely, it is also in Bordeaux that one encounters the unusual practice of serving red wine with fish, most specifically lamprey eel, which is cooked in a red wine sauce.

White before red

This is true so long as the wine is dry, the case for most of the white wine produced in France. Sweet white wines or champagne, on the other hand, can be served at the end of the meal. Admittedly, this practice is dying out and, these days, one is more likely to be served a glass of sweet sauternes with a slice of foie gras as a starter than with dessert, and champagne is a favorite apéritif throughout the country.

Serve wines in ascending order (the best wine last)

Exponents of this idea argue that if the best wine is served first, all that follow will disappoint. Those who question this approach point out that cheese and dessert come in last place, hence the best wine would always be served with one of them. The problem is an obvious one: great wines are not always at their best with cheese (dessert wines are rarely served these days). Though certain wines can be exquisite with specific cheeses (Alsatian Riesling with Munster, red Burgundy with a pungent époisses ) certain subtleties in very fine wines can be lost if the cheese they are served with is too pungent. One solution is to follow a complex, mature wine that was served with the main dish with a young, full-bodied wine carefully chosen to enhance the taste of the cheeses. The wine in question is so different from the preceding one that the two cannot really be compared, leaving the impression of progressing from a delicate, suave taste to a "stronger" one.

Drink wines of a region with foods from that region

Although this rule applies marvelously well to the foods and wines of the lesser-known regions, oddly enough the great wine-producing regionsBordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagneare not associated with a wide range of regional specialties. Though Burgundy is rich in natural resources, notably beef, too often any dish with a red wine sauce is (mistakenly) considered to be bourguignon. Few French people can name even one dish that is specifically associated with either Bordeaux or Champagne. This is not to say that they do not exist; they are simply unknown to the public outside the region. Bordeaux, for example, claims to produce some of the finest lamb in all of France (agneau de Pauillac ) and every spring the Bordelais delight in grilling shad, fished in the Gironde estuary. Dishes one might encounter when traveling in Champagne often have no specific links to culinary traditions: add a splash of Champagne to virtually any dish and, voilà! you've made it champenois ! The true specialties from that region are simple farmhouse foodpoached salt pork and cabbage, tripe sausage, dandelion saladhardly what one might accompany with a glass of vintage bubbly.

Reds at room temperature, whites chilled

This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and frequently challenged practices in France. What exactly is "room temperature"? Essentially this means that wines should not appear to be cold when served. Too often, "room temperature" is interpreted to mean "warm," a terrible blunder. Though most of the best reds are still served "at room temperature" (6063°F/1617°C for Burgundies and 6466°F/18°19°C for Bordeaux) there is a growing tendency to serve young, fruity reds at "cellar temperature," cool but not cold (55°F/12°C). This is specifically the case of Beaujolais and the light reds from the Loire Valley.

Though white wines are generally brought to the table in an ice bucket, wine stewards in better restaurants often advise their clients to chill fine, full-bodied whites like those from Burgundy just long enough to bring them slightly below "cellar temperature" and feel cool to the tongue (about 4850°F/910°C). Only young, very dry white wines, light rosés, or sparkling wines should be drunk truly cold.

One of the most dramatic exceptions to this rule concerns the famous "yellow wine" from the Jura. This is the only white wine made in France that is served at room temperature.

Wine and Pleasure

Ideally, a wine should enhance the food it is served with and vice versa. This is why wine is rarely served with salads unless they are made without vinegar because vinegar ruins the taste of wine. Most people are familiar with a few "perfect marriages" (oysters with muscadet, lamb with Bordeaux, Sauternes with foie gras ) though several recent books have encouraged the exploration of more daring combinations like white wines with goat cheeses and pâtés, or light reds with certain fish like fresh grilled tuna or sardines. Nonetheless, the French have conservative tastes generally speaking, and are more likely to respect the rules given above then to break them (regional practices aside). Drinking wine is part of life, not an intellectual exercise, and what count most of all are the pleasures of the tablemany French people could not imagine even a simple meal without a glass of wine.

Although wine, whatever its origin, is indispensable to a French meal, one should never conclude that the French are wine "experts." Most people are familiar with only a limited array of wines and do not anguish over making choices. On festive occasions, however, wine takes on central importance and much time might be spent selecting and orchestrating the serving of several wines. Foreign wines are still an oddity; indeed, those who live in wine-producing regions are often perfectly content to drink only wines from their area.

The French are more interested in enjoying their wines than in analyzing them. This is not to say that they do not pay attention when selecting wine, or that they are not attentive when wine is served. But they are more concerned with serving wines to enhance the pleasure of a meal than in anything else. This customarily implies personal discretion and moderation: getting drunk is considered antisocial and severely frowned upon.

See also Dinner; Etiquette and Eating Habits; Meal; Table Talk; Wine .


Dumay, Raymond. Guide du vin [Guide to wine]. Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1992.

Senderens, Alain. Le vin et la table. [Wine and the table]. Paris: Le Livre De Poche, 2000

Mary HymanPhilip Hyman

Wine Authenticity

views updated Jun 11 2018

Wine Authenticity

Counterfeiting of wine has occurred for centuries, but since the 1990s both rumors of counterfeit wines and cases of fraud associated with wine increased drastically. Some believe that wine counterfeiting is a multi-million dollar industry associated with organized crime. Both the FBI and Scotland Yard have investigated cases of crime fraud. Industry experts estimate that about 5% of all wine sold is counterfeited.

A variety of testing methods can be used to ensure the authenticity of wine. Along with more traditional methods of inspection, chemical assays such as stable isotope analysis, chromatography , mineral content analysis, and DNA fingerprinting are being used by various wineries. A novel method that incorporates unique DNA codes into the label of wine bottles is also used to avoid counterfeiting.

Wine fraud occurs in many different forms. Often counterfeiters target the more expensive and older wines. Not only are sales of these wines financially profitable, but few people are familiar with the labels and other markings on these bottles so the fraud is harder to detect. Auctioneers and resellers sell expensive wines in large quantities, so the contents of a bottle or a case can be tampered with without anyone noticing for some time. One of the easiest scams involves replacing the contents of a case of expensive wine with bottles of less expensive wine. The cases are sold at auction houses without ever being opened and then stored for years in warehouses before being sold again. By the time someone decides to verify the contents, the counterfeiter is removed from the crime by both time and by layers of transaction.

Another common type of fraud involves replacing the contents of an expensive bottle of wine with a wine of a lesser quality. Using a two-pronged wine opener, corks can be removed and replaced with little damage. Capsules, which are the metal or plastic coverings sealing the corks in the bottle, can also be replicated and replaced. Recipes for duplicating expensive wines using inexpensive ingredients are known to experienced sommeliers (wine stewards) as well as counterfeiters. For example, blending a 1960 Pétrus with a Pomerol can mimic a 1961 Pétrus, which is one of the most expensive wines sold and usually costs more than ten times as much as the 1960. Other types of altering the contents of a wine bottle include adding sugar or other flavorings, and watering down the contents.

Blending was at the heart of a series of scandals in the Burgundy region of France in 2001. Several chateaux (vineyards) were blending burgundies with table wines from other regions of France, which is illegal. The winemakers involved confessed to making more than 10,000 cases of fraudulent wine during a ten-year period. Some of the wine was sold for as much as 300% profit.

Relabeling bottles of a less expensive wine with labels of a more expensive vintage is another common scam. In 2002 customs agents in China seized approximately 700 bottles of a wine that usually sells for $200 that had been relabeled as 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, which sells for more than $5,700. The gang of counterfeiters had been selling the bottles for approximately $1,100 each.

In 1998 a wine auctioneer in Australia noticed that the bar code on some bottles of 1990 Penfolds Grange on the auction block were printed in black while genuine bottles have the code printed in red. Further investigation revealed that the labels had been forged and there were at least ten discrepancies between the original and the fake. One of the discrepancies included the misspelling of the word "pour" for "poor." Penfolds Grange 1990 is one of Australia's top wines and was named Wine of the Year by The Wine Spectator magazine in 1995. In 2005 it sells for more than $400 a bottle.

In 2000 a large wine fraud ring was broken up in Tuscany. More than 20,000 bottles of fake Tenuta San Guido 1994 and 1995 Sassicaia were discovered. Sassicaia is one of Italy's top wine producers known for its Super Tuscan. When the storage cellars of the gang were raided, another six million bottles of fake Chianti were seized. The police were alerted when a customer became suspicious that the price for the wine was too low. The counterfeiters tried to convince the customer that the original sale of the wine had fallen through and so they needed to sell it at a special price. Twelve people were arrested in connection with the incident.

A variety of techniques are used to determine the authenticity of wine. Traditional techniques involve careful observation of the bottle, its labels and its contents. This requires familiarity with both the wine and experience detecting counterfeits. Novel techniques of authentication rely on biochemical methods including stable isotope analysis, chromatography, mineral content analysis, and DNA fingerprinting.

General observation of the parts of the wine bottle and experience with wines are fundamental to the detection of counterfeit wines. The type of glass used to make the bottle should be consistent with the time period. Glass making has changed throughout the years and the type and manufacture of glass used should reflect these changes. The capsule should be consistent in color and markings with other examples from the same vintage. The corks should also be inspected. Since 1970, corks have been printed with the correct vintage and brand. Prior to 1970, casks were often shipped to resellers, who corked bottles themselves, so they may have printed their own corks. Labels may show damage such as peeling and staining, especially in older wines stored in the proper humid conditions. When old wines have labels in perfect condition, it may be a sign of relabeling. Spelling errors and font changes are key indicators of fraud. Wines that are imported into the United States have strip labels that show the name of the importer. These should also be consistent with the wine.

As grapes grow, they incorporate atoms of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen from their environment into proteins and carbohydrates. Each of these elements exists in more than one form called stable isotopes. Stable isotopes have the same number of protons and electrons but different numbers of neutrons. For example, carbon has two stable isotopes: one of them has 12 neutrons in the nucleus and the other has 13. The stable isotopes of carbon are referred to as 12C and 13C, respectively. About 98.9% of all carbon is 12C, while 1.1% is 13C, however these ratios change depending on geographic region and weather conditions. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is used to measure the stable isotope ratios of hydrogen in the alcohol of wines. Isotopic ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) is used to measure the stable isotope ratios of carbon and oxygen.

Grapes grown in different regions during different years have different ratios of stable isotopes and these ratios remain constant when the grapes are processed into wine. The European Union houses a database containing the stable isotope ratios from all of its wine growing regions measured each year. Determination of stable isotope ratios from a bottle of wine can be compared to the values in the database in order to determine the origin of the grapes used to make the wine.

Chromatography is a technique that involves separating the components of a mixture, such as wine. An extremely sensitive form of chromatography, high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) can measure the relative quantities of the pigments, called anthocyanins, which give wine its red color. The ratio of two particular forms of anthocyanin is often used as an indicator of the type of grape used to make the wine. Evidence shows that the ratio of these two forms of anthocyanin is determined by the genetic composition of the grapes and therefore indicates the type of grape used to make the wine. However, some chemists believe that concentrations of anthocyanin in wine are affected by processing. They have found that length of fermentation, exposure to varying temperatures and the addition of enzymes, can affect the anthocyanin ratios.

When grapes grow, they incorporate small amounts of metals from the soil into their skin and pulp. These metals are called trace metals and they include aluminum, calcium, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, strontium, and zinc, among others. The concentration of these metals varies from location to location and so the concentrations of these metals incorporated into grapes varies depending on where they are grown.

In 2004 researchers from the University of Seville, Spain, developed a method to identify the trace metal composition of sparkling wines. They used atomic spectrophotometers to determine the elemental composition of the wine based on patterns of absorption of electromagnetic waves. Samples of cava from Spain and champagne from France were compared. The two wines are made using identical processes, but the regions from which the grapes originate differ. As a result, the trace mineral content also differs. For example, the ratio of strontium to zinc was always greater than 1 in cava and always less than 1 in champagne. The researchers showed that using the concentrations of 16 different trace minerals , they could identify the regional identity of the wine with perfect accuracy.

In the late 1990s a group of researchers from the University of California, Davis, developed a method to identify wine-grapes based on their genetic characteristics. They identified 17 different regions of DNA that varied greatly between different grape varieties. Collaborating with a research team from Montpellier, France, they assembled a database of genetic profiles for 300 different wine-grape varieties. In 2005, the database was expanded to include the more than 2,500 varieties of wine-grapes in existence.

Beginning in 2005 the research group in Montpellier began developing methods to perform DNA fingerprinting on wine. Using techniques similar to those used to study DNA from mummies , they believe that they will be able to extract and purify enough DNA from wine to compare it to the database of grape-wine genetic markers. Some scientists are skeptical of the technique however. Wine-grapes are heavily processed during the wine making process and the DNA may be too damaged to analyze.

In 2001 an Australian wine company, BRL Hardy, began labeling their wine with ink laced with DNA as a security measure against tampering. The technology was developed by a company called DNA Technologies for use in labeling souvenirs from the 2000 Sydney Olympics. DNA Technologies extracted DNA from one of BRL Hardy's 125-year-old grape vines. A segment of the vine DNA is then coated with a protective protein and imbedded into the neck label of the wine. Along with the DNA, optical taggants that emit unique spectral signatures in the presence of the proper excitation wavelengths are incorporated into the label. A handheld electronic scanner can then be used to test for the presence of the DNA label. BRL Hardy believes that the technology will discourage counterfeiting of its wines.

see also Analytical instrumentation; DNA fingerprint; DNA sequences, unique; Fluorescence; Soils.


views updated Jun 27 2018


In medieval times wine had been one of the most important items of European trade. Geographically restricted in its production, and yet demanded by the urban elites of northern Europe, wine barrels filled the holds of countless ships that plied their trade between the vineyards of western and southern Europe and the markets in the north of the continent. However, by the midfifteenth century this world was on the eve of dramatic change. The explosion of energy that led to European colonization of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, combined with the fundamental economic changes that took place in the seventeenth century, led not only to the opening up of new trade routes, but also to the production of entirely new kinds of wine. Grapes, if they are to be used successfully in wine making, generally need to be grown in areas where the annual isotherm lies between 10° and 20°C, equating approximately to land lying between 30 and 50 degrees north and south of the equator. Wherever European peoples encountered places with such climates, they invariably began cultivating grapes and turning them into wine. Such production, at least in the early days, did not suffice the demands of the emerging colonies, and this therefore generated substantial flows of wine from the "old world" to the "new," as well as the development of production in new areas such as the Atlantic islands destined for the Americas.


During the nineteenth century the French wine industry was devastated by the introduction of foreign fungi and insects. In 1850 the vineyards were widely infected by a powdery mildew known as oidium that severely tainted grape quality. Even greater destruction followed with the outbreak of phylloxera,a small insect that feeds on the roots of the grapevine. It first appeared in the Rhône Valley (1860) and then spread like a plague across a vast portion of Europe's vineyards over the next few decades, crippling wine production.

It is estimated that phylloxera caused approximately $2 billion in damage to Europe's wine industry, according to M. Lalande, president of the chamber of commerce of Bordeaux. The wine industry struggled for several years to determine where these outbreaks originated and to develop an answer to the problem. It was discovered that both oidium and phylloxera arrived in Europe from North American rooted vines that had been imported for experimentation by wine-makers. Eventually, oidium was controlled by spraying sulfur on the vineyards, and phylloxera was combated by grafting American rootstocks onto European vines to create a resistant hybrid strand.

Ryan Peacock


European soldiers, missionaries, and settlers found wild vines when they arrived in the Americas, and yet the grapes had not been used previously by the indigenous inhabitants to make wine. It was thus the extension of European cultural influences, including a taste for wine not only as an element of religious symbolism but also as an enjoyable sensual experience, that led to the rapid expansion of viticulture and the wine trade in the seventeenth century. By the 1520s wine was being made in what became Mexico; the 1530s saw vine cultivation and wine making spreading south into Peru, reaching Chile by the 1550s. To the north, vines were cultivated in Florida in the 1560s, and experiments to establish viticulture in the new British colonies such as Virginia had begun by the start of the seventeenth century. Economic factors soon came to the fore in helping the industry develop in Latin America during the seventeenth century, when the costs of transporting European wine to the west coast of the American continent, and the damage that occurred to barrels on the way, made this a hazardous enterprise.

Grape growing and wine making and trade followed European conquerors across the world's oceans. By the middle of the seventeenth century the Dutch East India Company had established a successful enterprise in the Cape Colony. With the arrival of distillation there in 1672 it was possible to turn much of the area's poor wine into brandy, which had the distinct advantage that it was much cheaper than wine to transport per volume of alcohol. Hence, a successful export-led trade emerged with Cape brandies, as well as a few high-quality wines, shipped back to Europe beginning in the eighteenth century. The English established their first vineyard in Australia in 1788, but it was not until the nineteenth century that viticulture and wine making became firmly established there, as indeed was also the case in New Zealand and California. Until then, these territories had to rely largely on supplies of wine from Europe to fulfill demand for the beverage.


Alongside the global spread of viticulture, important changes were also taking place in wine production and trade in Europe. The ebb and flow of the medieval wine trade had been driven by the fact that wine rapidly deteriorates when it comes into contact with air. It was only when glass bottles stoppered with corks began to be used during the latter part of the seventeenth century that a lasting solution to this problem was realized. Together with more careful selection of grapes for particular wines and enhancements in the methods of vinification during the seventeenth century, notably through improved cellar hygiene, enhanced fining and later use of the barrels, these technological changes led to the emergence of entirely new styles of wine, particularly the so-called New French Clarets from Bordeaux and the sparkling wines of Champagne. Wine producers had begun to realize that by investing in the production process, they were able to reap larger profits. But this potential profit was only made possible by the existence of a new kind of market and, thus, trade. The continent's social and political leaders set themselves apart from the masses by using new social symbols and distinctive kinds of behavior. With the general rise in alcohol consumption across Europe, it was to these new wines that the elite turned as one of their main means of social distinction. While some regions began to specialize in quality wine production, merchants began to turn elsewhere to furnish the burgeoning demand for the cheap, low-quality wines traded across urban Europe. The key agents of this change were the provincial wine brokers, particularly in France, who from a position of relative insignificance in the seventeenth century came to exercise widespread control over the wine trade by 1800. In southern Europe supplies still came largely from the immediate vicinity of towns, but increasingly the urban markets of northern Europe were fueled with wines from further afield.


By the middle of the nineteenth century European viti-culture was in crisis. Increased contacts with the Americas had led to the introduction of fungi and insects from across the Atlantic, notably oïdium (powdery mildew) and phylloxera (an aphid whose only host is the vine), against which European vine species had little natural resistance. These were to have a devastating impact on the continent's wine trade. In France, for example, total wine production fell from some 84.5 million hectoliters in 1875 to a low of 23.4 million in 1889. After years of debate and much experimentation, the solution to the phylloxera infestation was found to be grafting European Vitis vinifera vines onto resistant rootstocks of American vines. The adulteration of wines resulting from the collapse of the industry was one of the key factors that led to the emergence of controlled appellation systems in Europe during the early twentieth century.


The second half of the twentieth century saw another fundamental shift in the wine trade, as supermarkets took over a dominant position in the European marketplace. Consumption in the traditional wine-consuming countries, notably France, Spain, and Italy, plummeted, and the north European supermarket buyers, ever on the lookout for cheaper wines, began to scour the world for new sources of supply. In the 1970s and early 1980s they turned to the cheap wines of eastern Europe, but from the early 1990s the technical innovations in grape growing and wine making that enabled wines of good quality to be produced at reasonable prices in other parts of the world, most notably in Australia, began to transform the world's wine trade. By the end of the 1990s competitively priced wines from Chile, South Africa, and Argentina also had begun to make serious inroads into the global market. At the start of the twenty-first century, though, France, Italy, and Spain still dominate global production, making some 54 percent of the world's wine; they also continue to account for about 67 percent of total wine exports. The contemporary world wine market is nevertheless now much more internationalized and competitive than it was a mere twenty-five years ago.

SEE ALSO Agriculture; Australia and New Zealand; Climate; Disease and Pestilence; Famine; France;Peru;Porto;Portugal;Spain.


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Tim Unwin

Wine in the Ancient World

views updated May 23 2018

Wine in the Ancient World

The earliest evidence of wine dates to about 5000 b.c.e. in the Middle East, where archaeologists have discovered earthenware jars and other vessels containing grape seeds and stems. Others contain deposits of tartaric acid and calcium tartrate that are almost certainly the residue of grape liquid because grapes are rare among fruit in that they accumulate tartaric acid. Any grape juice not consumed very quickly would have soon fermented into wine in the warm temperatures of the region.

The earliest known wine jar (dated to 5000 b.c.e.) was found in the Zagros Mountains of modern western Iran. Excavations elsewhere in the region located 30-and 60-liter (7.92-and 15.85-gallon) earthenware jars, all with wine deposits, dating from 3500 to 3000 b.c.e. Similar evidence of wine-making at this time has been found at many locations in the Fertile Crescent (the region south of the Caspian and Black Seas and including parts of modern Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, and Iran).

Many scholars speculate that the first vintage was an accident, the result of fresh wild grapes being crushed accidentally and fermenting spontaneously. Over time, people began to crush the grapes deliberately and also began to select and cultivate varieties that produced better wine (such as grapes with a high pulp-to-pip ratio).

Many ancient accounts of the origin of wine stress its accidental character. One refers to the Persian king Jamsheed, who was so fond of grapes that he stored them in jars so as to have supplies out of season. When one lot fermented, he thought they had gone bad, and had the jar labeled "poison." When a woman from his harem, suffering headaches so bad that she wanted to die, drank the wine with the intention of killing herself, she fell asleep under the effect of alcohol. When she awoke, her headache was gone, and thus was born wine and its ancient reputation as a medicine.

Wine played a part in the diet and culture of all ancient societies from the Neolithic period onward. For the most part, it was a privileged beverage of the elites, while beer was the drink of the masses. A relief from seventh-century-b.c.e. Nineveh shows King Assurbanipal and his queen resting under a trellis of vines and drinking wine from cups. In Nimrud, a ration of wine was given to all six thousand members of the royal household. The basic male ration was 1.8 liters (3.81 pints) for ten men each day, while skilled laborers got twice that. The queen and her retinue received 54 liters (14.26 gallons) a day, but we do not know how many individuals shared it.

One reason for the special status of wine was its scarcity. Grain grew far more widely and easily than grapes, and beer (really liquid bread) could be made year-round as long as grain was available. But grapes grew only in certain localities and ripened only once a year, so that there was limited scope for wine-making. Moreover, each year's wine had to last a year, until the next vintage was ready for drinking. In regions where grapes did not grow, wine had to be imported, thus adding to its cost.

One of the earliest wine trade routes ran a thousand miles down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from the vine-clad mountains of northern Mesopotamia to southern Mesopotamian cities like Ur, Babylon, and Sumer. This trade route lasted for thousands of years, and it appears that many regions began by importing wine and then proceeded to cultivate grapes and make their own wine. There is clear but uneven evidence of viticulture and wine making from 5000 to 3000 b.c.e., but they probably spread in a number of directions from the Fertile Crescent, one track taking them to the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean and then south toward Egypt. The Middle Eastern climate around 3000 b.c.e. seems to have been wetter than today, allowing for cultivation is regions where it is no longer possible.

Egypt provides the most coherent image of an ancient wine culture. Hundreds of clay jars of wine (with a total volume of some 4,500 liters (118.78 gallons) were buried with one of the first Egyptian kings, Scorpion I (about 3150 b.c.e.). Analysis of the clay shows that the jars were made in the modern Israel-Palestine region.

Between 3000 and 2500 b.c.e., Egyptians began to grow their own grapes, mainly in the Nile Delta (where the earth was fertile and the heat was moderated by the Mediterranean), but also further south. The vines were owned by royalty and great officials and by priests, and a census taken about 1000 b.c.e. listed 513 vineyards owned by temples alone throughout the country.

Vines were often trained on trellises, irrigated, and fertilized with pigeon droppings. Wall paintings show the wine-making process in great detail. The grapes (almost always depicted as black) were trod by slaves in a vat and the juice was run off into fermenting jars. The must (unfermented juice) is usually colored red or black, which suggests there might have been some period of skin contact. The residual skins and other solids were squeezed in a sack to extract every drop of juice.

Fermentation took place in large clay jars that were sealed, apart from a small hole that allowed the carbon dioxide to escape. Each jar was identified with a clay seal, the forerunner of the label, that might give information on the year, the vineyard and the name of the winemaker.

The aroma, taste and texture of Egyptian wines are lost to us, but in any case the wine was often flavored with herbs and spices before being consumed. But they cannot have been very stable because the grapes were picked and crushed in August, were slowly crushed and pressed and then rapidly fermented, all in the summer heat. Moreover, the clay jars were slightly porous (unless they were coated with resin or oil), which would have led to a degree of oxidation. There was no premium on aging wine here, and there are records of wine going bad after twelve to eighteen months.

Wine cost about five times more than beer, the staple beverage of the Egyptian masses. It was consumed by powerful and wealthy individuals and by priests attached to temples that owned vineyards, who received wine as part of their salary. The elite status of wine is indicated by its prominence in the burial chambers of the kings. Thirty-six jars of wine were buried with the young King Tutankhamen.

Wine played an important role in Egyptian religion, as it did in religions in other parts of the ancient world, and it was poured as a libation or offering to the gods as prayers were said. Ramses III claimed to have presented 59,588 jars of wine to the god Ramon-Re. Some texts present wine as divine in origin: as the perspiration of Re, the sun god, or as the eyes of the god Horus. Wine was also used for medical purposes. Physicians prescribed it to increase the appetite, purge the body of worms, and treat asthma. It could also be applied externally to bring down swelling and to treat wounds.

By the time wine reached Egypt it had come to occupy a privileged place in the diet and culture of the elites. It is possible that viticulture was transferred from Egypt to Crete and from there to the European mainland. The ancient world thus established practices and attitudes that were adopted and adapted by later societies.

See also Ancient Kitchen, The ; Greece, Ancient ; Mesopotamia, Ancient ; Rome and the Roman Empire .


Lesko, Leonard H. King Tut's Wine Cellar. Berkeley, Calif.: B. C. Scribe Publications, 1978.

McGovern, Patrick, S. J. Fleming, and Solomon H. Katz, eds. The Origins and Ancient History of Wine. Luxembourg: Gordon and Breach, 1996.

Phillips, Rod. A Short History of Wine. New York: Harper-Collins, 2001.

Poo, Mu-chou. Wine and Wine-Offering in the Religion of Ancient Egypt. London: Kegan Paul International, 1995.

Unwin, Tim. Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade. London: Routledge, 1991.

Younger, William. Gods, Men and Wine. London: Michael Joseph, 1966.

Rod Phillips

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