Wine Making Is An Ancient Art

Wine producing has been practiced in one form or another for many thousands of years now with jars discovered in Persia (modern day Iran) dating as far back as 5,500 BC displaying evidence of grapes use for winemaking. In addition, jars from Jiahu in China dated to between 6000 and 7000 BC have also been discovered containing wine from wild grapes.

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

With a few exceptions the grapes used in wine production grow only in bands delineated by the latitudes 30-50 degrees North and 30-45 degrees South of the equator. As opposed to the majority of other crops, grapes do not need a particularly fertile soil and it is interesting to note that a thinner soil often produces a small crop but also often produces higher quality grapes.

Strangely enough, 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 unsuitable for winemaking. Such grapes are however often fine for eating, but lack the desired amounts 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. The stellar wines from Bordeaux, for example, are made from grapes grown in gravelly soil, on a base of chalk or clay. The crop here is small, but the quality of the grapes produced is high. In this case the pebbly earth permits good drainage, which is vital as vines have to have adequate but not excessive water, but the conditions also force the roots to penetrate deep into the earth where they are able to absorb a range of complex minerals.

Vineyards are also most often found along river valleys, with slopes that provide plenty of sunshine. Vines in these circumstances are often of the European species vitis vinifera, from which various well known wines are made, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

Viticulture, the term used for 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), has got to be an expert in a wide range of topics including soil chemistry, fermentation, climatology and various other ancient arts and modern sciences.

As well as categorization by variety, wines are also classified by vinification methods (still, sparkling, ros�, fortified, blush), by region (Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux etc.), by vintage and by a dozen other methods.

Once the grower, chemist and manufacturer have completed their work, the businessman then takes the stage and wine today 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 is the world leader when it comes to exports with 22% of export volume, with Italy following close behind.

When all is said and done however, no matter how big a business wine producing is today, it is still very much a balance of art, science and business and winemaking is most certainly not a business venture to be entered into by the faint hearted.

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About The Author, Donald Saunders
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