The amazing grape vine

Grape vines are amazing plants. They are gritty survivors. They grow on every continent except Antarctica. They are the highest and best use of agricultural land, especially when planted in wine grapes.

Worldwide, thousands of different grape vines grow on more than 18.7 million acres. About 70% of those acres grow grapes for wine. The remaining produce grapes for table grapes, raisins, grape juice, vinegar, and brandy.

There are thousands upon thousands of grape varieties, but almost all wine is made from one genus—vitis vinefera. There may be as many as 10,000 varieties of vitis vinifera, but only about 1,300 are used to make wine.

Acres planted in grape vines give the highest return in all of agriculture. Global wine production is around 7.2 billion gallons each year, worth more than $355 billion and expected to hit $429 billion by 2023. A single Napa acre can return $20-30,000, maybe more. An amazing part of this story is grapes do best in poor soils where other crops struggle or can’t exist. Highest economic return per acre on the poorest soil. What’s not to love about that?

Grape vines are feisty forest hustlers. In nature, they attach themselves to trees and grow toward sunlight. They have to fight for nutrients, so they send roots as deep as 20 feet so as not to compete with plants on the topsoil. Deep roots are why they survive brutal winters and live for centuries.

It also is why some of the world’s premier vineyards are on hillsides, often steep hillsides, where runoff means topsoil is thin and other crops impossible. Grapes vines can grow in, essentially, rock piles. Chateauneuf-du-Pape—one of the world’s premier areas—consists of rocks on the side of a hill. They do well in desert regions, including Chile’s Atacama desert, the driest place on Earth.

Grape vines embrace dramatic diurnal shifts. A significant measure of the quality of a vineyard is a temperature difference of 30-40 degrees between day and night. The Texas High Plains and vineyards in Argentina and Chile achieve this because of high altitudes. Napa and coastal regions in California and Washington-Oregon achieve this with cold Pacific winds and fog.

Next week we will look at the life cycle of this amazing gift from nature.

Last round: Does wine pair with laundry? Yes. I drink wine to forget about the laundry or to celebrate I finished the laundry.