Wine economics

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wines & Vines - Wine Industry News Headlines - Wine Scientists Focus On Sensors

Sensors - other than candles and thermometers - arrive in the cellar:
Wines & Vines - Wine Industry News Headlines - Wine Scientists Focus On Sensors

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Niersteiner Glöck and the sustainability of grapevine culture

Dan Sumner of UC Davis has asked me to provide some information about the "Niersteiner Glöck", a plot of land where grapes have been grown continuously for 1270 years. Perhaps grapevine monoculture is sustainable.

The Glöck (~ "Glocke" ~ church bell) is a vineyard of 2.1 ha size located at the foot of St. Kilian church at Nierstein in the Rheinhessen wine region of Germany. Nierstein is located on the west bank of the Rhine river, not far from Mainz (20 km) and Frankfurt airport (35 km). The elevation of the Glöck ranges from 90 to 130 m above sea level and its slope is between 5-15% towards the southeast; the soil is Loess on top of "Rotliegendes".

The Glöck produces excellent Riesling wines but is best known for being the vineyard in Germany that can be traced the farthest back in history. It is believed that wine has been grown continuously in this vineyard since the year 742. The belief is based on a document from that year that records the donation by the local ruler to the bishop of Würzbug of the church and the tithe consisting of fruit and wine that was attached to the church (Fuchß 1992). The donation was confirmed in documents from the years 822 and 993. The Glöck reappeared in historical records in the year 1141 under the name "Clegken",  and again in the 16th and 18th century. Today it is owned and operated by the Staatliche Weinbaudomäne Oppenheim which produces a "Grosses Gewächs" from it, i.e. the highest quality level recognized by the VDP.

The Glöck may not actually be the oldest vineyard in Germany. The Romans had introduced grapevine culture as early as 50 B.C. along the Rhine and Mosel valleys. After the Romans had left the area wine grape culture declined but was revived and encouraged by the Franks in the 8th century. It is therefore possible that some of the vineyards that were first planted in Roman times are still in use today but the Glöck is the oldest on record.

Location at Google Earth: 49°52'38.80" N; 8°20'16.59" O (East)



St. Kilian church and "Glöck" in the center, "Roter Hang" in the middle background, river Rhine to the right

More photos at:

Fuchß, P. 1992. Zur Geschichte der Niersteiner Glöck einer berühmten Weinlage am Rhein. Oppenheim: Eingenverlag der Landes- Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Landwirtschaft, Weinbau und Gartenbau, Oppenheim.
Deutsches Weininstitut. Niersteiner Glöck: Älteste Weinbergslage Deutschlands.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Monkeys in the vineyard: Pests or thieves?

The German-language SpiegelOnline has a little story on monkeys plundering vineyards in South Africa. The best part of the story are the pictures.
I sent the link to some friends and one, Jim Lapsley of UC Davis, responded with this email:

Many years ago my colleague Carole Meredith attended an OIV conference in South Africa and visited the vineyards. She was surprised to see vineyards protected by electric fences (and got a good picture of one) -- "to deter thieves?" she asked. "No," was the reply -- "for Baboons".
Because of cost and availability, the fence wasn't always charged. The vineyard manager described a troop of baboons coming to the fence, looking at it, and then one of the older baboons took a young one and pushed him against the fence to see if it was on! An example of tool use in non-human species!  Jim


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: Oceans of Wine

The blog "The Wine Economist" has a short review of a new book on the history of the Madeira wine industry and trade.


Diese Nachricht wurde Ihnen von RAEM via Google Reader gesendet.


via The Wine Economist von Mike Veseth am 06.09.09

David Hancock.  Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste. Yale University Press, 2009.

As the author of a book called Mountains of Debt I am predisposed to like a book called Oceans of Wine based on the title alone. In fact, it is a masterpiece. I wish I knew as much about anything as David Hancock clearly knows about the Madeira wine trade between 1640 and 1815. This serious social and economic history is filled with interesting facts, detailed analysis and thoughtful insights. What a delight!

America's First Wine

Madeira was America's wine in the 18th century, when we were a wine-drinking country but before a domestic industry had taken root. Wines from this small island found their way into shops, taverns and cellars throughout America, one element among many in what this book reveals to be a surprisingly complex network of trade connections that supported an unexpectedly cosmopolitan consumption culture.

Wine exports became a trade necessity when Madeira lost its comparative advantage in sugar production in the 17th Century and, unlikely as it may seem,  its wines soon dominated the Atlantic trade. Madeira could be found just about everywhere in America, from the cellars of wealthy families in big cities to humble country taverns and shops.

Although it would be nice to be able to say that its great success was the result of a unique terroir, in fact Madeira wine evolved into a highly manipulated manufactured product, blended, fortified, heated, agitated and tailored to the preferences of specific consumer markets. It was, in short, everything that wine snobs today hate and fear about wine, but it was treasured and enjoyed by the societies that created it. Give up romantic notions of wine's pure and glorious past all who enter here!

Atlantic Commodity Chains

The wine trade evolved, in Hancock's deft telling of the story, through complex formal and informal networks where information was successfully exchanged via "conversations" between buyer and seller and between and among network members at each stage of the complex production and distribution process.

If you think that the interactive, diffused global commodity chain of today is a new thing, you need to read this account of how the Madeira trade worked 300 years ago!

Hancock is not content to simply paint a landscape of Madeira trade. He uses each link in the commodity chain (from Madeira viticulture all the way to American country tavern) as an opportunity to drill down into detailed (and generously illustrated) essays on the economic and social institutions of the time. The result is a work of remarkable scope and depth — a noteworthy accomplishment.

Seriously Interesting

This is a great book of economic and social history told through the wine trade. It is a serious book of history that offers many lessons. Like Madeira itself, it will give much pleasure to many audiences, including historians, wine drinkers and economists. Bravo!

Note: Thanks for Francine Graf, my editor at CHOICE magazine, for suggesting this book.




Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cal-wines in the old days

Here is a delightful characterization of winemaking in early 20th century California. A friend found it in a 1914 article, "Utilization of Grapes for Non-intoxicating wines: The Processes employed" which appeared in Outwest magazine.

"The ways of the wine men, like the ways of the Chinese, are "peculiar." They make "pure California grape wine" out of decayed grape peelings, potato alcohol, dye stuff, sulphur, tartaric acid, saccharine matter, and other chemicals. They call this junk manipulation an "industry" and when their secrets leak out, they serenely deny everything with the abandon of a chicken thief when the feathers are sticking out of his pockets."

This is my translation into German:

"Die Wege der Winzer sind, wie die der Chinesen wundersam. Sie machen "reinen kalifornischen Trauben-Wein" aus vergammelten Traubenschalen, Kartoffelalkohol, Farbstoff, Schwefel, Weinsäure, Saccharin und anderen Chemikalien. Sie nennen die Herstellung dieses Mists ein "Gewerbe" und wenn ihre Geheimnisse ans Licht kommen, denn leugnen sie ungerührt alles mit der Unverfrorenheit eines Hühnerdiebs ab, bei dem die Federn aus den Taschen herausgucken."


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Electricity improved wine: News or old hat?

Last week a "news hog" was dricen through the media: Improving wine by means of an electric current. Among other media the New Scientist wrote:

How to make cheap wine taste like a fine vintage

"Researchers at the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou
treated wine with fields of different strengths for different periods of
time. ... The results were striking. With the gentlest treatment, the harsh,
astringent wine grew softer. ...."

Jim Lapsley of UC Davis commented the news with:

Dear All,

This is fairly old news, although interesting that the Chinese are trying it.
During wine aging various oxidative reactions occur (slowly), as well as increased tannin polymerization, which reduces the perception of astringency as the new (larger) molecules no longer fit in the tongue receptors that signal "bitter" and don't react with proteins in the same way.

Almost any method that will put energy into the system will speed these reactions. In the past heat has been tried, radio and micro waves, electricity in other forms, and radiation. (About 20 years ago University Extension and Food Science hosted a conference on food irradiation--"ion kissed"--and Manuel Lagunas-Solar irradiated some wine for the banquet. It did reduce tannin, but also gave a cooked taste to the wine).

All these methods will speed aging, but they also lead to excessive oxidation and loss of wine complexity and aroma.

I leave it to you economists: If a method that could increase the value of the wine more than the cost of the treatment existed, wouldn't it be in use?

Anyway, old news.