“What, what, what? The Geography of Wine? That’s a class?
Indeed, my friends. This is an awesome college-level class here at this awesome University of Virginia Tech, here in the good old United States of America and indeed it is an accredited course on wine. Now, I’ve been teaching this class for almost a couple decades, and I’ve heard it all from everybody, especially a lot of parents who say, “What’s going on here? What? My little Sally or little Jimmy is taking a course on an alcoholic beverage at college? I’m actually paying for this? How is this going to benefit them? How is this going to teach them anything? You got to be joking, they already know how to drink.”
Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge, if they’re over 21. “This can’t possibly be an academic endeavor.” Au contraire mon frère, mon parents, wine is such a complex commodity that affects so many aspects of human history and human life, even in today’s world that you can look at it in a variety of ways even very academic way. And so, while we for this course are going to learn more about the nuts and bolts about the wine production process, and the lingo of wine, and the geography of wine in terms of different wines from different places, you could indeed look at this particular agricultural commodity in a variety of academic ways and write whole research papers on them.
And lots of scholars do from all over planet earth, not just here at Virginia Tech or just the United States of America. Before I get into exactly what we’re going to do for this course, how could you study wine academically, from a scholarly standpoint? Well, because we’re here at the Department of Geography I’ll start with, what are the most geographic concepts? And that is diffusion. Wine is made from these things called grapes. I bet you’ve heard of those. And grapes are grown all over planet earth and most temperate regions, we’ll talk about that.
You could look at form a very biological environmental standpoint, where is this one commodity grown at? And why is it grown there? And what are the special needs of this particular agricultural commodity that influence where it can be grown, and influence how successfully it can be grown? You can just do that. But the other fascinating thing already from my standpoint about wine grapes is that they’re one very specific subspecies of grapes. And so we know from genetic evidence in archaeological evidence that this particular subspecies of this particular plant is from the exact point on planet earth about 10,000 years ago. And it has in that interim period from 10,000 BC to now moved all across the planet. That’s something we call diffusion. And this diffusion of this one subspecies of grapes is still going on in today’s world. We can look via historical geography, anthropology, even archaeology. We can tell parts of this tale and understand the movement of this particular plant over the surface of the earth. I love that story in and of itself, and we can talk about some of that during this class if you like. How else could we study wine academically? Wine is an economic activity of huge monetary value. Huge. Grapes themselves are the most grown fruit on planet earth. I know, more on that later. You think it was bananas, you’re wrong. It’s grapes and not all grapes are used for wine, but wine is one of the biggest, most produced agricultural products on planet earth as well.
Absolute tons of this stuff is made and has been made historically. From Mesopotamia, right on up to Greco Roman economies, wine has been a major moneymaker and an intriguing commodity that’s been traded between societies, in between countries for a dollar, dollar bill. Economically it’s quite important, from ancient times right on up to California, Argentina, Italy, China even is producing tons of wine now and people are making a lot of money. Millions and millions of dollars are invested in the wine industry every year. Billions and billions of dollars are made from the wine industry every year. It’s perhaps the most lucrative agricultural commodity on planet earth.
I’m saying that just off the cuff. Maybe people make more off of cocaine. I don’t know. I doubt they make that much off potatoes. In fact, I’m sure they don’t. It’s quite an important agricultural commodity in and of its own self and it’s worth a lot of money. In fact, if you were to look at the economy of wine over the millennium, it’s been on an upward growth curve the entire time. More wine is being made now than it was last year. And you can pretty much say that for the last 3000 years.
You want someplace to invest, invest in wine. The growth is still going up. And that’s because a lot of people drink a lot of this stuff, and those numbers are growing too. You can look at per capita consumption across the planet. That is, which societies, or which countries are drinking the most wine. And you might guess right off the top of your head, “Oh, it’s Europe.” Europe’s famous for wine and, and lots of Europeans drink wine. They just wake up in the morning and chug a bottle of red wine. Well, maybe back in the good old days, not so much now, but Europeans do consume a lot of wine per capita.
This graph is showing you that the French and the Italians are still neck and neck somewhere between 50, 51, 52 liters of wine per person per year. That’s about a liter a week per person. And of course, when you’re looking at averages, that’s not counting the babies, which aren’t drinking anything. There’s a whole lot of folks in France and Italy that are probably drinking way more than 50 liters per year, in order to get those numbers up and account for the babies who only drink two or three liters each per capita per year. When we look at this kind of trend, yes, European countries we assume, drink a lot of wine and therefore it’s very important for their economies.
But things are changing, friends. China is getting into this game. The United States for the first time actually took over a total wine consumption. The number one slot for total wine consumption now belongs to the United States of America. Now, that’s not per capita. But wine consumption in the United States has been going gangbusters for 20 or 30 years now. The number of vineyards, the number of wine-producing States is increased. Every state in the United States now has at least two or three different wineries in it. And consumption in the United States is rising across the board as well. I believe it was just a few years ago, that the total sales on wine for the first time ever in American history surpassed the sales of beer.
Now, per unit volume, people still drink more beer than wine. But hardly anyone was drinking wine 50 years ago in America. And now it’s a standard staple. And the numbers have now put as a totally the United States and the number one top slot for the biggest total consumer of wine on planet earth. And the changes aren’t stopping there. China will soon be the number one total wine drinker on planet earth and maybe … Probably never for capita because they got a billion and some people.
But the point I was trying to make here is, you could just study economically what’s going on in the business of wine? You could study that from a production standpoint, who’s producing it and how much money they make, and who’s consuming it? How much money are they spending? And economists do this all the time. The wine itself is now so important on planet earth that people trade its futures. That is, you can buy wine that’s not even produced yet infamous vineyards of France, and then people speculate on Wall Street and trade futures of wine. And wine is so important to some societies, namely places like France, and Italy, and Spain. That if there’s a drought that year, or a really bad rain that year or something bad happens in the country that year that affects the wine production, that’s a serious economic kid for the country as a whole. Wine is quite important economically. Now you might be able to say that about a lot of things, but this is a very big industry worth a whole lot of money. And that brings us to the next way you could study wine academically which is, all of this wine has to be produced somewhere. All of these vineyards and wine operations are located in someplace, and that makes wine a great shaper of land use and landscape.
You all know vineyards look like but think about the stories I’m already now telling you about the production going through the roof worldwide, consumption going through the roof worldwide. We have somewhere on the order of 20, 21, 22 million acres of vineyard around planet earth. 20 million acres dedicated to one crop. That’s phenomenal. That’s big and it does shape the landscape of the major wine-producing areas where this stuff is located. Eight or nine billion gallons of wine produced now every year, and these numbers fluctuate, but we’re still looking at an upward trend that’s not really going anywhere. We have not quite plateaued yet for production.
More places and more countries are trying to get into the wine game than ever before and it modifies the landscape. A lot of us really think it’s an appealing landscape, so appealing in fact that we go visit these landscapes, what’s called tourism. We go to Napa Valley, we go to the War Valley, we go to Tuscany, Italy. And we drive around these places and hang out because it’s beautiful vineyards in small villages and even brilliant gigantic vineyards in big towns and cities across America. Agricultural tourism is something that happens with wine and not really anything else.
No one goes on carrot tourism or potato tourism. It’s as an agricultural commodity, but it’s affecting the economy and the landscape and land use in ways that have many more repercussions and ripples out into the world than simply just something you pick off of a bush and eat. How else can we study wine academically? Well, I’ve been talking mostly about the physical stuff so far and some money stuff, but wine actually is also cultural activity, of great defining value to producing areas and consuming areas. Because as I’ve stressed 10 times now, it’s, in essence, an agricultural product, which is just fruit. Just a fruit.
However, it’s a fruit that’s made into an alcoholic beverage. And agriculture in and of itself is part of the culture. Agri culture. When you’re thinking about different parts of the planet, what’s different about Spanish culture, or Burgundy culture, or Southern Chinese culture versus Northern Chinese culture, places defining themselves and defining their culture, agriculture that is what they grow and what they eat becomes one of the foundation stones of what makes cultures different. Now there’s religions and languages and lots of other things, but the food is almost always a part of it too.
In fact, we look at local areas and the foods that are grown just there, and the dishes that they make out of the local foods grown just there, we call that cuisine. And that’s another major foundation stone of culture. When you start to put wine into the agricultural lineup of what’s grown into place, you’re adding that as part of their local cuisine. And as we’ll talk about throughout this course I hope, that local wines pair with local foods, and that’s what defines the cuisines of lots of different parts of your amp world. Wine is a major part of identifying and defining culture itself, especially for wine-producing areas. Does that make sense so far?
It’s become so important to cultures and particularly the styles of wine that are made in different places that the commodity itself becomes synonymous with the geographic area from which it’s from. Meaning there’s Napa Valley and I was like, “Who Napa Valley. I got that.” Or a better example would be Burgundy France, or Bordeaux France, or Tuscany Italy, or Chianti which is a sub-region of Tuscany, Italy. And Chianti like, “Well yeah, Chianti. I’ve had Chianti wine.” That’s a place man. But it’s a place that makes this particular style of wine and it’s part of their local cuisine, and the cuisine matches with the wine and then pair together, it’s Chianti. It’s the name of the wine. It’s the name of a place.
This is the only agriculture commodity I know that’s so tied in with the local surrounding area that they become synonymous. There are some cheeses around Europe as well, like Roquefort from Roquefort, and Dijon Mustard is from Dijon. But wine really started that trend and continues to define areas and certainly the unique cultures of areas around planet earth. And that’s a whole great field of study itself. When you’re going to go to do any sort of anthropological, or cultural study, or even a history of any place in Europe, you do have to consider wine as, “Yes, what do they grow here? How do they do it here? What’s different about the wine here?” And that’s part of who they are.
How else can we study wide academically? Well, let’s back it off the culture and the hardcore stuff, and get more science. You could study wine and wine consumption from a health standpoint or an epidemiological standpoint. Medical geography is what I’d say as a geographer, and epidemiologists are folks that look at what’s going on in a society in terms of a diet, and health, and risk to their health and things of that nature, and try to backtrack diseases and figure out what’s going on. And people do this for wine too.
For alcoholic consumption in general, and right off the top of your head you might be like, “Oh, assuming like alcoholism, so you could study the effects of too much alcohol on people and what it does to them.” Sure you can do that and you can make some relations and ties and form some opinions. But when it comes to wine, actually people have studied more of the positive effects of wine consumption on diet and health, not so much the negative ones. Yes, people still need the negative ones. But wine has been found here in the last several decades to actually be quite a positive thing to diet and health around planet earth. And one of the reasons this came up was some researchers that were looking at how the French, in particular, have a really fatty diet. Lots of cheese, aforementioned cheese, lots of butter, lots of stuff that’s fatty. And somehow, and this is decades ago, they did this study back in the seventies I think. Somehow the French ate way more fat than the average American, but the rates of heart disease and heart attacks were way lower in France than they are in America. And people start looking and saying, “Well, what’s the major dietary difference then besides this fat intake?” Which one would think the more fatty stuff you ate, the higher the risk you’d have high cholesterol and having a heart attack.
And the answer finally came up, but it’s called the French paradox. And that is that even though they eat lots of fatty foods, the French also drink lots of red wine. I already said 30, 49, 50 or 52 liters per capita on average in France. And there must be something healthy about wine. That’s the paradox. They eat fattier stuff than Americans, drink more alcohol than the Americans, but they’re healthier overall than Americans. That’s the paradox. And that was in the ’70s. And people have been studying this for decades and lo and behold, decades later even the United States government has decided to come forth and say, “Yeah, remember when we used to say that alcohol is really bad for you all the time, even wine? Yeah, we were wrong. Actually, moderate alcohol consumption is probably not bad for you, and it might even be good. Moderate alcohol consumption.”
There are these things called reserve a trawl and some red wine, some certain chemicals that are actually really heart-healthy and really good for your circulatory system. But I’m getting too specific now. All I was trying to suggest is that you can study this one commodity wine via its impacts on health, and people have been doing that and they continue to do that to try to unravel the mysteries of why is red wines so good for you, in moderation of course. You could go again back up and look at whole societies and say, “How does health differ in societies that don’t drink wine at all, versus I would say Saudi Arabia versus all the societies that drink or a lot of wine like France?” Or, “How could we now study American health in the 21st century since Americans largely did not drink any wine at all 30 years ago? And now almost everybody drinks wine.”
People will probably also start doing studies of, “How is that affecting health trends in the United States as they’ve increased wine consumption just in the last 20, 30 years?” Hey, that’s the study someone should go do. Go do that, make a lot of money. But let me get back to the major crux here of this intro lecture. How else could we study wine academically? Religiously, wine has had a huge symbolic role in some of the major heavy hitters of world religions over the millennium. It’s one of the reasons why wine really has an elevated status as an agricultural commodity above all other agricultural commodities. Yes, carrots are fine, and yams are great, and bananas are adorable. But wine is special, wine is something way different. And when you start to look at things like Judaic tradition, that is the Jews have incorporated wine as part of rite and ritual for, I don’t know, a few thousand years at a minimum. Then you bring in these Christian folks. This guy named Jesus, maybe you’ve heard of him, go Google him, who said, “Hey this wine, that’s my blood. Drink that and partake of me.” That’s pretty big. And that becomes part of Christian rite and ritual for the last 2000 years. This is a commodity that is quite important in its symbolic role. Not even because you like drinking it, or not because it tastes good, not because it’s healthy.
You can study the diffusion and history of wine just in terms of how has it impacted major world religions, and how those major world religions in turn affected wine production and diffusion around planet earth. It’s a symbiotic relationship by the way. Also, there are of course are societies and religions, they don’t tolerate wine or alcohol in general. And I’m thinking of Islam. And so when you go to a place like today’s modern Turkey, or even the North African Coast, these are all places that historically 2000 years ago used to produce tons of wine, and they are environmentally suited to produce tons of wine. But because there’s a different religion there, Islam, which forbade the drinking of wine. These are societies that used to produce this economically important crop and commodity, and now they don’t. In today’s Turkey it’s fascinating because they’re a secular democracy, so they like to think that, “Yes, people can have free choice and do what they want to do, even though we’re mostly Islamic folks here.” And I’m saying this because there’s something called a sin tax on wine in Turkey. Turkey actually produces a lot of grapes. Most of them are made into raisins because the government for the last decade has been a Jekyll or Hyde on this topic wherein they say, “Yeah, yeah. You can produce wine because it’s an important economic commodity and it will make money for our country. However, we’re Islamic, and so we want to make sure that we get the religious street cred, that we don’t want to offend anybody. We’re going to punish all the winemakers as much as possible. We’re going to tax the living daylights out of all wine production in our country.” And on top of that, just recently, the Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, or is it President Recep Erdogan now? They just passed some other legislation, which banned the showing of wine in advertisements on TV. There can be no marketing. You can’t even have a picture of somebody drinking wine in a glass in a movie. They’ll blur it out. It’s a country because of religious concerns who says, “Yes, we could make a bunch of money on wine, and we’ll pretend like we’re going to let people do it, but we’re going to punish them as severely as possible and make sure nobody knows about it.” It’s [inaudible 00:21:31]. It’s one commodity.
You can understand the dynamics of what’s going on in a single country, at least this particular one. And thinking about it from an economic standpoint, again, what are you losing in a lot of these countries because you’re banning this production of this one particular commodity? And that really rolls into the last major academic way I’ll suggest you could study wine which is, knowing about wine and understanding wine really will help you understand history, and culture, and politics, of bygone errors but even up into today’s world. You could look at European history in particular. And there have been Wars that involved wine, trade embargoes that involved wine, treaties that involved wine, between saying Great Britain and France in particular.
Because those two countries have historically not liked each other much, and the British drink a lot of wine, and the French produce a lot of wine, it affected politics and it even affected new producing areas. And we can talk about this in more detail at other times during the semester, but because the British hated the French so badly at different historical points, they would put an embargo on French wine and say, “No, we’re not going to buy any French wine because we don’t like them.” But everybody in our country likes wine so we’re going to go produce some wine somewhere else. They try to produce wine in those 13 original colonies in order to bypass the French.
The British were also responsible for starting up the whole Port wine industry in a place called Portugal. It didn’t exist before the British invented it. Why did they invent it? Because they didn’t like France and they were all with them. You start looking through different parts of history and be like, “Huh, it’s a fascinating commodity really all the time,” depending on where you’re looking at, what time frame, and between what countries. And it’s not just a history thing, it’s even still important today. This is hilarious because it’s been a 30-year cycle.
I remember about 30 years ago Iran was sending its top diplomat to France for … I actually think it was the head of the country. I believe it was the President of Iran, was going to meet with the president of France. This is back in the ’80s. And Iran, religious reasons again, they don’t drink. And so when the Iranian President was coming over, the embassy said, “Oh, by the way, there can’t be any wine in the room for this state dinner. No one in the whole room can drink wine because you have to respect our culture, and our society, and our politicians, and our President.” You can’t offend him by having wine in the room. And the French said, “Oh, we do not think so. Because wine is part of our history and culture, and you need to respect our society and our President. And so there will be wine served” And they said, “Well, then we’re not coming.” The French said, “Fine, you’re not …” Over wine. Ahead of state visit got canceled. And I only remembered this story because now this is early 2016 when I’m talking to you right now. And relations between Iran and the West have just reopened back up if you know anything about that nuclear deal and stuff. And so another head of state visit just happened 30 days ago where the Iranian president was going to France to party. Well, party as much as Islamic people party without alcohol, and to talk trade deals and things of that nature. And they said the same thing. They said, “Well, the President is coming over, so you can’t have wine at these functions.” And this time the French capitulated and said, “Yeah, all right, that’s fine. There’ll be no wine at the main dinner.” And I can’t remember which French historic, I think it was the Versailles. I think at the Palace of Versailles they were supposed to host this dinner, and the French government said, “Oh yeah, by the way, Palace of Versailles, when the Iranian President comes, you got to have no alcohol in the room.” And the palace of Versailles said, “Uh-uh (negative) then forget you, I’m going home. We’re not going to host this dinner.” They had to change the venue to another place that wouldn’t serve wine. That was 30 days ago, and 30 years ago, and it’s about wine.
Understanding the dynamics of history, and even relations in today’s world sometimes are affected by this simple agricultural commodity that you think is just something we drink. To finish the academic ways you can study wine, we can do as many of those as you like. But I’m most passionate about wine because of this thing called terroir. I know it’s early in the course. Let me go and introduce you to this term. Terroir, T-E-R-R-O-I-R. That’s what I most passionate about. And that is that it’s a French concept … Go figure it, that suggests that every parcel of planet earth is unique. It has unique bedrock, unique soils, unique weather, unique winds, unique temperature, unique precipitation. And the people who tend the agriculture, tend the vines in that particular parcel of planet earth, they tend them in certain ways that are unique. Maybe they train the vines up this way, maybe they harvest early, maybe they plant this particular type of grape. Maybe when they make the wine, they do it a little bit special and they blend in three different grapes that no one else does on planet earth. All of this combined together means that this unique parcel of wine production on planet earth is unique in the wines they produce from any other place on planet earth.
That means it’s this wine from this place is expressing this place’s terroir. And you can’t duplicate that anywhere else. The same could be true actually for other agricultural products and I think this is going to be a trend in the 21st century where you say, “Hey, the carrots grown over in this particular soil, they taste better than the carrots grown 10 miles away.” This unique expression of every part of planet earth, it’s been most encapsulated and defined for wine. It could be applied to other things, but with wine, it’s one of the reasons why there’s such a great variety of wine, such great richness, and diversity of wines. And even if everyone on planet earth just planted this one grape called Morello, I know you’ve heard of Morello. Even if every place on the planet earth only grew Morello, the terroir would make that Morello express itself slightly different all over planet earth and you’d still have a wide variety of different tasting wines. I love the concept of terroir. I think it’s going to be a hot thing in the 21st century and it epitomizes everything that’s great about wine. It’s unique every year, it’s unique in every place, it’s unique in every wine maker’s hands according to what they want to do with it. It’s the opposite of the homogenized world in which most of us have lived in our entire lives.
That is for almost all other products that you consume, you want them to be the same all the time. Go into the grocery store and look at everything in the grocery store. Almost everything you buy there, you expect an apple to taste like an apple, every time. You expect McDonald’s cheeseburger to taste exactly the same way, whether you get it in Mumbai or Napa Valley, California. You expect Apple juice to tastes like Apple juice no matter where you get it. Apple sauce like Apple sauce, cake mix as cake mix. Coca-Cola is supposed to taste exactly the same, no matter where you get that Coca-Cola anywhere on planet earth. Everything is supposed to be the same. And if it’s not the same, if the Coca-Cola tastes different than it’s supposed to taste, you’re like, “Oh, something’s wrong with this.” And you throw it away. “Oh, this McDonald’s hamburger doesn’t taste the same.” Throw it away. All products strive for that homogeneity, that sameness, that boringness, that predictable boringness, except for wine. If all the wines tasted the same, we wouldn’t care about it. We wouldn’t care nearly as much. It wouldn’t be unique. Terroir. Wine is the one agriculture commodity that we still look for that uniqueness. That’s what makes it special. That’s what makes some wines worth $1,000 and some wines worth five.
This exact unique product from this exact unique space. That’s another way that we can academically study wine. And that’s the one that we will likely do the most academic study of during the course of this course. But let me wrap this up now and just get back to making this fun again because we’re not going to do all of these academic things. You could. But we’re not going to do that. I want you to understand wine and appreciate wine and especially the terroir of wine, but that’s not why you started drinking wine. And I’m not even going to suggest that you started drinking wine. You probably started drinking beer.
Hopefully, you started drinking beer before you start doing straight shots of liquor. However, the question I want to pose to you now is, why do we drink at all? We don’t drink wine because of all the things I’ve just now talked about. Nobody consumes stuff because academically we’re told it’s good. Why is it that people drink alcohol, wine in specific for our class, but in general? And I usually in a live lecture format, will let you answer these things. Very quickly, yell some things out in your head or to your roommate next to you. “Why do you drink?” Okay, I heard all your answers. Got it. Humans drink for some very basic reasons. One is, it tastes good and hopefully, you’ve gotten into some wines that you like already.
But if it tastes really horrible, you don’t drink it very long. We drink wine because it tastes good. Maybe because it’s good for you. As I’ve suggested, there are some health benefits. It makes you feel good though. That’s the one that we can’t get away from. We like to think of ourselves as refined, intelligent, educated beings. And so it seems too simplistic to say we’re going to drink this fine beverage because it makes us feel good, but it does. At a very core level, the reason anybody’s drinking alcohol for the last 12,000 years is because man, it makes you feel good. And maybe it makes you feel smarter. You probably aren’t getting any smarter when you’re drinking, especially the more you drink, but you think you’re getting smarter. And it makes you relax and it brings your stress levels down, which is another health benefit that I forgot to mention, by the way, lower stress, lowers blood pressure when you have a few glasses of wine. It gets you into an altered state. You don’t think about that in today’s world too much, but if you alter your state too much and then drive a vehicle, you go to jail. You are in an altered state. And humans for centuries and millennium like that. 10,000 years ago you would have had an altered state and gotten inebriated and thought that you were being in touch with the gods, yet it’s quite a big impact on the human psyche 10,000 years ago. It’s a big deal.
It’s probably a big deal in your life the first time you got really, really drunk and I’m not suggesting you ever do that again. But at some point, you probably have gotten really, really drunk, and you were probably praying to the porcelain throne at some point saying, “Oh God, help me. Oh, please, just get me out of this.” You were in touch with the gods as much as people were 10 or 12,000 years ago. It’s an almost religious out of body experience when you have too much. But back to the basics of alcohol consumption makes you feel good. It is a social lubricant. You put your guard down, you relax, your stress level lowers, your blood pressure lowers when you drink a couple of drinks. And this happens at a personal level within your body, but it happens in a group dynamic level as well.
What’s the first thing you do when you go into a party with a bunch of people you don’t know? It’s a little tense. You don’t know. It could be dangerous. I don’t know these people. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m awkward. I’m uncomfortable. I might want to hit on that girl, that guy, but I don’t … You have a drink and suddenly, hey, things are lubricated. It’s one of the reasons why we even do this thing called toasting. It’s a sign of equality. We’re all going to toast. We’re all drinking the same beverage. We’re all equals here. We drink, we relax, we chat.
You do this even with your family sometimes, because family can be more stressful than with strangers around the Thanksgiving day dinner. When crazy uncle Bob shows up and he’s already half cooked. People drink and eat together, and there’s merriment, and relaxation and it’s been a part of the human experience for a very long, long, long time. Now back to being the academic for a second, there are scholars out there right now which even suggest that striving for the buzz, striving for this social and personal lubricant that is alcohol, maybe one of the basis for civilization itself.
That people who were hunter-gatherers leading a fairly harsh life, when they stumbled across the recipe for alcohol, and it might very well have been wine. In fact, we’re pretty sure that the first alcoholic beverage was wine. Some say mead, but wine seems more practical to me. That when you consumed wine for the first time, you’re like, “Hey, wait a minute, this stuff’s good. I feel better, even it’s healthier for me.” And the people who in this tribe who were drinking might have outlived the tribe down the road who weren’t. Early hunter-gatherers might have been more prone to change their entire lifestyle to grow grapes and grain for the alcoholic beverages they could make from them, more so than they just really wanted to have a farm.
Farms really aren’t that exciting. Working dawn to dusk isn’t that exciting. Being a hunter-gatherer is. What would have initiated people to change their lifestyle that radically? Grain that they could have collected as a hunter-gatherer, grapes which they could’ve collected as a hunter-gatherer. Maybe, but the production of alcohol, which would have had an impact on your psyche, maybe even religiously, which would be the motivating factor for you to produce this stuff, to hang out in one place, to figure out the technology of how to produce this stuff, and be around whenever the grapes came to harvest in order to make this wine, which had all these great magical benefits. That actually might have influenced you much more to hang out in an area and become a sedentary farmer as opposed to a hunter-gatherer.
It’s just a theory, we’ll never know. But when I espouse this theory, and I didn’t come up with it, by the way, smarter archeologists and anthropologists did. But when I espoused this theory 20 years ago, I remember everybody would just die laughing. And even 10 years ago when you say this in a crowd of people, everybody is like, “That boy was such a coward. He thinks that people will settle down for alcohol.” And lo and behold, more and more historians, we’re not going to … Ancient historians are starting to embrace this as an idea that probably has more merit than anybody’s given it credit for.
However, we could talk more about that if you want to do a whole lecture just on the history of wine. And I’ll do anything you want because we can do anything you want to with this class. We can study wine. This particularly complex commodity of wine or we can study biologically, historically, archeologically, anthropologically, culturally, religiously, economically and of course geographically, which is what we’re going to do. What I found over the years though, and I’m going on year 18 or 19 of teaching this class, is that most of you want to understand wine linguistically, “What? Wine as a language.” Yeah. I’ve had students who’ve taken the course who don’t drink at all.
This is when I first understood wine as a language. And several Islamic women who took my course about a decade ago, and I remember seeing them and identifying them by their dress as Islamic women who came to class regularly. They loved the class. And I just had to catch them one day after class. And I said, “What are you guys doing here? Do you drink?” And they said, “Oh, no, no, of course not. We’re Islam we don’t drink.” I said, “Okay, what are you doing here?” And they said, “Well, we want to learn the language of wine.” “Language, really? How’s that?” They said, “Well, wine is the beverage of sophisticated, educated, mostly urban not just literate, but highly educated, successful, wealthy. It’s what business people drink at business luncheons.” And these ladies said, “We want to understand the language that’s happening around us. We may not drink but we don’t want to be clueless.” And I thought, “Wow, better.” Linguistically you can also study wine and I think that’s probably the best way to describe what we’re going to do here. I want you by the end of this course to be able to talk the talk of wine and walk the walk of wine if you’re prone to drinking this stuff, which I highly recommend because it’s fabulous. You will get what people are talking about when they’re doing this sniffing, and swirling, and chatting, and describing the wine and how it pairs with food, what it does this or doesn’t do that.
You will get the lingo, and hopefully, you’ll be enjoying it as you’re imbibing it as well. Mostly with food, I’m also hoping with family and friends, that’s the way that wine has been consumed over the millennia. That’s the way I hope you consume it the rest of your life. Most of you have grown up drinking beverages with your peers and simply drinking to get drunk. Going off and partying with people your age and you don’t eat anything, you just sit and drink till you get drunk. That’s been the American way for a long time. That way is changing. More and more of you and our society, in general, is getting alcohol, particularly wine the way that most Europeans do, which is this is a part of your diet.
You have this with meals, you have it not just with your friends, but with your family over the dinner table. We’re moving in that direction. Having said that, let me wrap up this intro lecture with a few definitions. Let’s start our linguistic understanding of this commodity called wine. Three basic definitions that I need you to understand right from the get-go as you will be encountering them across the entire course and the rest of your lives. Three sets of three is what I call them, the three of threes.
he first set of three that you need to know is the main processes of wine creation. Number one is called viticulture, with a V-I-T. Viticulture is the art and practice of growing grapes. Viticulturist is the person out in the fields doing the real hardcore agriculturalist stuff. Planting the seeds, growing vines, harvesting of the fruit in the harvest season. That is a viticulturist. And they have a whole host of duties they do, and a whole lot of decisions they make in the vineyard, which affect the quality of the fruit each year. But the growing of grapes is viticulture.
Viniculture with a V-I-N. Viniculture is the actual producing of wine from those grapes. The art and craft of wine production. You take those grapes from the viticulturist, smash out the juice, and then you got to do a whole bunch of processing. And you have a whole bunch of decisions and a whole lot of creativity goes into how that finished wine is going to taste. Very often on planet earth, the viticulturist and the viticulturist are the same person. Many small scale and even medium scale wine production facilities, you just do it all. In some of the bigger ones though, you can have some separation. There are people who just grow grapes and grow really expensive grapes that are worth a lot of money when they’re turning into wine, but that’s all they do. And then they sell them to somebody else who makes them into wine.
There’s a variety of ways that viticulture and viniculture are interrelated. Oftentimes are the same group of people, but not always. But to the third tier of this first set of three maturation. Maturation is the aging of the wine. And you can do that for six days, six months or six years. And you can do it in a variety of different types of vessels, which will impart different flavors into the wine. The three tiers of wine production, three major definitions, viticulture growing the grapes, viniculture taking those grapes and turning them into wine, and maturation, taking that wine and letting it chill out or not in order to impart some other flavors and have it chemically changed a little bit. That’s the first set.
The second set of three, three sets of three. The second set is three main types of wine that you can produce after you do that first three. And these are pretty straight forward and simple. Table wine is probably … I don’t know, 96, 97, 98% of all wine produced on planet earth is table wine. You don’t need to know the percentage, it’s a lot. That’s all I need you to know. Table wine or still wine. And that is all of the wine you probably had or most of the wine you’ve had up to this point is still wine. That is, it’s Morello or Cabernet Sauvignon or Chianti. It’s a wine red or white, that is still. “What do you mean still?” I just need to get to the second definition in order for you to understand what the first one means. Still means it’s flat, there are no bubbles. And that brings us to number two, which is sparkling wine. There you go. See you got this one already. And sparkling wine is any wine that’s got bubbles. It’s charged with CO2. It can be a little bit fizzy or full of fizzy and a cork fly off when you pop it up. Table wine is no CO2 in it, not charged with carbon dioxide. Sparkling wine is charged and has bubbles. Got it? The third type of wine, which you may not have much experience with yet, is fortified wine. And a fortified wine is a wine that has a higher alcohol percentage than a table or sparkling. And you fortify the wine, you’ve started with either a table wine or a sparkling wine. Usually, it’s a table wine, and then you’re going to dump in some raw alcohol.
You’re literally going to fortify it with raw alcohol, make it stronger, alcoholically speaking. And the ones you may have heard of before, things like Sherry, Port wine or Madeira. It’s a wine that’s been fortified and it’s usually something like 17, 18, 20, 22% alcohol. Got it? Table or still, sparkling, and fortified wine. And the last three of threes, general terms to know. And that is, I want you to know what a varietal wine means or just the term varietal wine. A varietal wine is a wine made from one particular variety of grape. “What’s that mean?” Some of you probably got this already because you’ve been drinking wines. Some wines are named for the place they’re from like Chianti or Bordeaux.
Some wines are named for the grape that’s in it. Chianti is a place. Morello is a grape. Chardonnay is a grape. Nebbiolo is a grape. Zinfandel is the grape. You probably have the most experience with these particular names because they’re a varietal wine. They’re wine made mostly from just one type of grape. Maybe you don’t care where it’s from. Say Chardonnay, you know what Chardonnay is? “It’s grape. I know what that tastes like. I’m going to buy that one.” It’s a varietal wine. If you see the name of a grape as the biggest word on the label, it’s a varietal of wine. It’s mostly that exact grape. It may be 80%, 90% or 100% Chardonnay, but it’s very high in one variety of grape. That’s a varietal wine.
The alternative to that is a blended wine, and I already mentioned a couple now. Bordeaux and Chianti are places, but they are blended wines. They use lots of different grapes. I think of it more like a chef in the kitchen who’s making a recipe and they’re like, “I’m going to use a little bit of this one. I’m going to use a little morello. I’m going to use little pinot noir. I’m going to put a little bit of zinfandel in here. I’m going to blend them together.” And that’s a blended wine. Varietal wine made from one grape, a blended wine made from many. Makes sense?
The last three … Oh, sorry. The last term in this set of three is a word called vintage and vintage is a date that’s on the bottle. Not always, but mostly you’ll see in date 1987, 2016. Anytime you see a number, the year posted on the label of a bottle of wine, it’s not telling you the year it was released. It’s not telling you the year it is right now. That number, that date, that year is very specific. It’s the vintage and that means that’s the year the grapes were harvested and that’s it. You may not buy that wine until 10 years after the harvest, but it will have the date of the harvest on the label. Got it? We’ll talk about why that is a little further down the road.
Now I’m giving you these three sets of three, and talked about different grapes now and why are there so many wines and so many … There are so many grapes, and so many wines, and so many places. It can become overwhelming, which is one of the reasons why not a lot of Americans have really gotten into wine until the last 10 or 20 years. They look at it and they’re like, “I don’t know what all these words are. I don’t know what all of these terms are. I don’t speak the language saying, “I don’t drink wine. I’ll drink my light beer from Morello.” Because that’s easy. It’s one thing. It tastes the same all the time.
Why are there so many different types of wine? Why is it so confusing? Let’s use some of the words we just learned. There are lots of different grapes, lots of different grape varieties, lots of different grape varieties, thousands. You only know probably 10 or 20 the most popular ones, but there are thousands of different grapes. And there are different ways to grow grapes in different areas, which makes them taste different, be named different. That’s viticulture. Differences in viticulture practice around planet earth make for different wines. There are different winemaking styles, to make different types of wines. Winemakers in China may do things differently, the winemakers in New Zealand do different things than winemakers in Virginia. And they can use certain types of grapes and certain types of barrels, and do certain types of processes that can be very different. Hey, that’s viniculture. There’s a great variety of vinicultural practices, who already we’re complicating things here. Lots of different grapes, lots of different ways to make wine, and there are different climates. Southern Spain is much different than Northern Germany. New Zealand is very different than Napa Valley. Different grapes and different people making wine in these different places, they’re going to produce things that even if they try, even if they try to make the exact same Morello in New Zealand as they do in Napa Valley, if two winemakers said, “We’re going to try to do everything exactly, in the field and in the water, we’re going to try to make the exact same wine.” They will not achieve that goal and that’s because of terroir.
Boom, through that other term in there to you as well. Even when you try different parts of the planet will produce different tasting grapes, and everything starts to get different and different and different, different, more differences all over the place. That’s why they’re tens of thousands of millions of different wines out there that you can buy right now from all over the planet, that have a great array of flavors and aromas even if it’s the same grape. That’s the fascinating fun part of the wine. You’ll never have the same wine twice. Even if a vineyard, a wine operation makes the same Morello from the same vineyard block, it has variation from one year to the next.
I forget, what’s that called again? Vintage. Every vintage is slightly different because the weather is different every year. You’ll never have the … You could try 20 wines a day. New wines. You could try a thousand new wines a day from now on until you’re dead. And you’ll still not even hit the tip of the iceberg of all this variety of wine that’s out there.
However, I’ve talked too long before we get to all of that and we’re going to look at viticulture, how you grow the grapes. We’re going to look at how you make that wine, and we’re going to look even further into different terroirs, and different named wine regions around the planet. But before we get to all that, which is going to be the whole semester, let’s look at the basics of the major components and the foundational cornerstone of all wines themselves. And that’s that magical mystical thing called alcohol. Now, alcohol, and beer, and wine, and liquor. It’s what makes them alcoholic beverages. Let’s take a [inaudible 00:51:38] time out for now, and then come back and look at just the production of alcohol. How it happens, and how does it manifest itself in so many different products around planet earth.
The above information was transcribed from the following video: