Globalization of wine
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Globalization of wine is the expansion of wine varietals and brands across nations and to other continents, especially in modern times as a result of the advent of air travel and access to wine information via the internet.
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Wine has been traded internationally since ancient times. In the wake of the amphoras came professional winemakers, winemaking techniques, and cuttings of grapevines. Many grapes that are considered 'traditional' in Western Europe were in fact brought by ancient trade routes from the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region. The Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Armenians all brought grapes to new homes.
There was a second wave of migration to the New World, under the European empires of the 16th–19th centuries – by the early 18th century South Africa was exporting Constantia to Europe, made with muscat grapes that originated in Egypt. Subsequent immigrants have brought their native wines and grapes wherever they have gone – the Italian influence on Argentine and Californian winemaking is particularly noteworthy. Wines from Portugal and Madeira were fortified to survive journeys across the world, and left their mark on wines in the colonies that aped their style and were named after them.
The phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century also had a big influence, destroying traditional field blends of indigenous grapes in vineyards, which were often replaced by monocultures of fashionable grapes such as the Bordeaux varieties – grafted, of course, onto rootstocks from North America. Vignerons faced a stark choice, either adopt the new techniques, or choose another profession. Phylloxera was the stimulus for the development of a new infrastructure of government breeding programmes and exchange of plant material and techniques.
After the Second World War, a number of countries developed bland wines for the export market, with an emphasis on uniformity and branding, such as Mateus Rose and Blue Nun. These were welcomed by a mass market – and the multiple retailers who served them – and those same factors have helped similar brands to gain more power, although changes in fashion mean that the names have changed. The modern equivalents come from industrial irrigated vineyards in the New World, in regions such as Murray Darling in southern Australia and Worcester in South Africa. Such moves reflect changes in the general scale of food production in industrialised countries.
Another aspect of this is the rise of varietal labelling, which has made the big companies less tolerant of blends of obscure grapes, instead preferring to market 'big name' varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot noir, Syrah (Shiraz), Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Riesling.
Another growing trend has been the practice of the blending of bulk wine from other countries with local wine. In some cases, a wine marketed as a local product may be sourced entirely from elsewhere. Regulations on this practice vary widely, depending on the jurisdiction.
The Judgment of Paris in 1976 and subsequent wine competitions helped winemakers throughout the New World realize that they could make wines equal to the very best produced anywhere in the world as well educating some markets about the potential of wine outside Europe. This process was much easier in some countries like England, with little indigenous production and a centuries-old tradition of importing wine from around the world, than it was in other countries. Further competitions brought to international attention other great wines from around the world, some of which like Penfolds Grange had already been made for decades.
A major influence has been the wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. among consumers in the United States. His approval can make a massive difference to sales of a wine in the United States, and some winemakers in some parts of the world have been accused of chasing this market by changing their wines to suit his personal taste. This effect is the main subject of the documentary film Mondovino. His points system is influential, particularly among retailers as a substitute for staff training.
The development of the airliner has had a big effect on the wine business. This has made it much easier for individuals to directly supervise viticulture and winemaking in different countries across the globe, rather than exchanging ideas by mail as they have for centuries. This means that they can have much closer control of the wine, and has seen new technologies such as drip irrigation, new trellis systems and techniques, and other developments in viticulture spread rapidly. This all leads to a more homogeneous product, influenced more by the winemaker's background than the local terroir and history. On the other hand, that 'history' often included overoaking and dirty facilities that partly oxidised the wines, which are rapidly fixed by flying winemakers.
Many of the early flying winemakers were Australians who had been educated in modern techniques, and used the fact that their autumn was six months ahead of the Northern Hemisphere to 'moonlight' when things were quiet at home. They have had some dramatic success in improving the quality of Old World wines, particularly in the South of France and in the former Communist countries.
Some of the most influential flying winemakers now are: Frenchman Michel Rolland from Pomerol who advises over 100 wineries in 13 countries but has probably had most influence on the chateaux around his home, and Italian Alberto Antonini who has been involved with the Antinori and Frescobaldi families in Italy and similarly advises close to 100 wineries in 14 countries. Rolland is criticised by Mondovino as he favours a style similar to that liked by Parker.
Australian/Chinese winemaker Eddie McDougall hosts a television series titled The Flying Winemaker which exemplifies this very idea that winemakers in the modern industry travel and are no longer tied to the region of their birth, but travel to educate themselves on modern techniques.
Return to terroir
On the other hand, as New World winemaking has matured, winemakers have taken more notice of terroir, and matching grapes and winemaking styles to particular locations. Thus New World styles are starting to develop, such as Clare Valley Riesling, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and 'indigenous' varieties such as Pinotage are being proudly marketed as single-varietal wines rather than blended.
In Europe, there is renewed interest in heritage wines, particularly by the new democracies in Eastern Europe where wine can be a statement of national identity. A particularly good example is seen in Eger in Hungary, where the local Bull's Blood wine has seen a steady infusion of foreign grapes such as Blaufränkisch in the 18th century, the Bordeaux varieties after phylloxera struck, and Zweigelt under communism. This is now being reversed with substantial new planting of the traditional Kadarka variety.
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Wine grapes grow almost exclusively between thirty and fifty degrees north or south of the equator. The world's southernmost vineyards are in the Central Otago region of New Zealand's South Island near the 45th parallel south, and the northernmost are in Flen, Sweden, just north of the 59th parallel north.
- The Globalization of Wine, chapter 22 in: Taber, George M. Judgment of Paris: California vs. Paris and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. NY: Scribner, 2005.
- Rachman, Gideon. The Globe in a Glass. The Economist, 16-12-99 .(subscription required)