Wine latitudes

When you stroll down the wine walls at your wine or grocery store, it’s easy to think wine is made everywhere. It is not.

Gus Clemens on Wine

Vitis vinifera, the grape variety that makes virtually all quality wine, grows best in two relatively narrow bands that circle Earth between latitudes 30 and 50 degrees in the northern and southern hemispheres.

The northern hemisphere is by far the larger producer because the band covers much more land. Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Greece, Israel, the United States, Canada and China have at least part of their territory in this grape growing sweet spot.

The southern hemisphere has fewer vineyards because so much of the band is over oceans. Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand land in the grape growing band.

Those two bands produce by far the most wine in the world, and not just wine—the bands also produce most of the world’s non-oil wealth and most of the world’s gross domestic product.

World wine statistics typically are given in millions of hectoliters (Mhl); one hectoliter is 26.4172 U.S. gallons. Here are 2016 statistics from the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), with Mhl listed first, then the percentage of world wine production:

• Italy: 50.9 Mhl (19% of world wine production)
• France: 43.5 Mhl (16.3%)
• Spain: 39.3 Mhl (14.7%)
• U.S.: 23.9 Mhl (8.9%)
• Australia: 13 Mhl (4.9%)
• China: 11.4 Mhl (4.3%)
• South Africa: 10.5 Mhl (3.9%)
• Chile: 10.1 Mhl (3.8%)
• Argentina: 9.4 Mhl (3.5%)
• Germany: 9 Mhl (3.4%)

Those figures are for a single year, and numbers shift according to weather. Italy and France trade places often—most recently in 2014. Argentina and Chile 2016 numbers are 20-30 percent less than the previous year because of weather conditions (they were #5 and #6 in the world in 2015), but this gives you a general picture of world wine production.

Italy, France, and Spain made half the wine in the world in 2016. Throw in the U.S., and those four countries made 59 percent of the world’s wine. Add all 10 countries together and you get 83 percent.

Last round: The more wine I drink, the better I get at pronouncing the name of the wine I am drinking.