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In Vino Veritas

Wine Producing Is An Ancient Art, A Modern Day Science and A Global Business

Wine producing has been practiced in one way or another for thousands of years with pottery jars found in Persia dating as far back as 5,500 BC showing evidence of grapes use in 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 considering ancient or modern wine making, a number of the same conditions apply and similar techniques are used as the chemistry of the grape is a timeless quality.

With some exceptions the grapes used in wine making grow only only between latitudes 30-50 degrees North and 30-45 degrees South of the equator. As opposed to most other crops, grapes do not require an especially fertile soil and it is interesting to note that a thinner soil normally produces a small crop but also normally produces grapes of a higher quality.

Oddly enough, soils that are rich in nitrogen and other nutrients (conditions that are usually highly beneficial for most plants) can produce grapes that are not suitable for winemaking. Such grapes are however often very good for eating, but lack the desired amounts of minerals, sugars and acids for winemaking.

Undoubtedly, the best wines are produced on 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, overlying a base of clay or chalk. The crop here is small, but the quality of the grapes is high. In this case the pebbly earth permits good drainage, which is vital as vines require adequate but not too much water, but these conditions force the roots to grow deep into the earth where they are able to absorb a variety of complex minerals.

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

Viticulture, the name used for the practice of growing grapes for wine, is one of the most complex agricultural undertakings today. A master vintner (nowadays, sometimes referred to as an oenologist), has to be an expert in a wide range of topics 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, rosť, blush), by region (Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux etc.), by vintage as well as by a dozen other methods.

Once the farmer, chemist and manufacturer have finished their work, the businessman then takes over and today wine is very big business. Wine sales run in the billions of gallons, representing a good chunck in consumer spending. Perhaps not surprisingly France is the world leader when it comes to exports with 22% of export volume.

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