Wine Making Is An Age Old Art, A Modern Science and A World-Wide Business

By: Donald Saunders

Wine making has been carried out in one way or another for many thousands of years with pottery jars found in Persia (modern day Iran) dating as far back as 5,500 BC showing evidence of grapes use for winemaking. Additionally, jars from Jiahu in China dated to between 6000 and 7000 BC have also been found containing wine made from wild grapes.

However whether we are talking about ancient or modern wine production, many of the same conditions apply and similar techniques are used as the chemistry of the humble grape is an everlasting quality.

With a few exceptions the grapes used in wine production grow only only between latitudes 30-50 degrees North and 30-45 degrees South of the equator. Unlike many other crops, grapes do not require a particularly fertile soil and it is interesting to note that a thinner soil frequently produces a small crop but also frequently produces grapes of a higher quality.

Surprisingly, soils that are rich in nitrogen and other nutrients (conditions that are normally highly beneficial for the majority of plants) can produce grapes that are not suitable for winemaking. Such grapes are often very good for eating, but lack the required quantities of minerals, sugars and acids for winemaking.

Without doubt, the best wines come from soils that would be considered poor quality for other agricultural purposes. For example, the stellar wines from Bordeaux are made from grapes grown in gravelly soil, on a base of chalk or clay. The crop here is sparse, but the quality of the grapes is high. In this instance the pebbly soil permits good drainage, which is vital as vines have to have adequate but not excessive water, but the conditions force the roots to reach deep into the earth where they are able to absorb a variety of complex minerals.

Vineyards are also frequently found along river valleys, with slopes providing abundant sunshine. Vines in these cases are frequently of the European species vitis vinifera, from which a number of well known wines are made, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot.

Viticulture, the name applied to the practice of grape growing for winemaking, is one of the most complex agricultural undertakings today. A master vintner (today, sometimes known as an oenologist), must be an expert in a wide range of subjects including fermentation, soil chemistry, climatology and various other ancient arts and modern sciences.

In addition to categorization by variety, wines are also classified by vinification methods (sparkling, still, fortified, rose, blush), by region (Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux etc.), by vintage as well as by several other methods.

Once the grower, chemist and manufacturer have finished their job, the businessman then takes the stage and today wine is very big business. Wine sales in the US alone run to something like 600 million gallons, representing over $20 billion in consumer spending. Perhaps not surprisingly France leads the world when it comes to exports with 22% of world export volume, with Italy coming in a close second.

At the end of the day however, no matter how big a business wine producing has become, it is still very much a matter of balancing art, science and business and winemaking is most certainly not a business venture to be entered into by anybody of a timid disposition.

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