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Home Wine Basics All About Wine Grapes

All About Wine Grapes


For many thousands of years, man has been making wine. In Persia (Iran), pottery dating as far back as 5,500 BC indicate that our ancestors used grape to make wine. In China, Jiahu jars between 6,000 and 7,000 BC were unearthed and found to contain wine made from wild grapes. No matter when the wines are made, though, they require many of the same conditions, as well as wine making techniques.

With a few exceptions, wine grapes can be grown only in areas between 30 and 50 degrees latitude North and 30 to 45 degrees latitude south of the equator. Grapes are different from most crops in that they don't need fertile soil. In fact, the thinner the soil, the better the crop. For grapes, the fewer they are, the better their quality apparently.

Grapes grown in soil that has too much nitrogen and other nutrients are usually not suitable for wine making. They are okay for eating, but they do lack the desirable amounts of sugars, minerals and acids wine makers would want.

In fact, the best wines often come from grapes grown from poor quality soil, the kind of soil that's not suitable for other crops. For instance, Bordeaux wines are from grapes that grew in gravelly soil, atop a clay or chalk base. There are fewer grapes, but what grapes grow are high quality wine grapes.

Vineyards are typically situated in river valleys that have slopes that provide the crops with plenty of sunshine. The vines found in these vineyards are from vitis vinifera, a European species. Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are wines that are made from such grapes.


Viticulture is the term used to refer to the practice of growing wine grapes. Viticulture is considered among the most complex agricultural endeavors. A vintner (or oenologist) must be highly knowledgeable on soil chemistry, climatology, fermentation, and a host of other ancient and modern sciences.

Wine grapes are categorized according to either their vinification methods (e.g., still, sparkling, rosé, fortifiied, blush) or region (e.g., Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux), and vintage. There are other classification methods used.

Once the wine grapes have been grown and turned to wine, it's time for them to be sold. In 2002, Americans spent more than $20 billion on 595 million gallons of wine. Worldwide, France topped the export volume of wine at 22% of the world's wine export, with Italy close on its heels at 20%.