The consumption of wine is so tied to the cultural side of human experience, that it has become part of the fabric of our existence. And yes, here at Martin Oaks Crematory and Cemetery, we have seen how wine has developed into a staple of deathcare.
Contrary to popular belief, the origin of wine does not trace back to France — more likely, the first vineyard was in a cave in Armenia that dates back to 4000 BC.
The history of wine crosses all of civilization. Greeks worshipped Dionysus or Bacchus, King Tut had wine stored in his tomb, Noah planted a vineyard, and Romans made it part of a variety of life cycle events.
Having mentioned Noah, it is important to understand the religious tie wine has to our various belief systems, especially those which involve the passing of a loved one. Catholics offer funeral masses which include wine consumption; traditional Greek rites sometimes have included pouring wine over a coffin and similarly Chinese rites can feature wine.
In our own country, colonial funerals often incorporated wine (imported wine among the upper class) in some fashion — particularly at wakes. Passover, likewise, has wine as an aspect of the occasion. It is hard to detect many cultural celebrations that don’t have some relationship with wine.
Caution, of course, is always made to use wine in a ceremonial manner, not for the purposes of intoxication. To quote Ecclesiasts: “eat thy bread with joy and drink thy wine with a merry heart…wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make men drunk.”
Wine is, obviously, a huge business here and abroad. In 2016, wine sales in the United States totaled about 60 billion dollars. Almost 40 percent of that total came from domestic sales, the remaining 20 billion from imports.
Amazingly, there are almost 600,000 locations in this country that sell wine — the growth of these outlets over time has been staggering. Approximately 120 million Americans consume wine (57% are female, 43% male); leading varieties remain the perennial favorites, chardonnay and cabernet; state that produce the most wine are California, Washington and Oregon (given weather conditions on the west coast, no surprise).
So how does the United States stack up against other countries in the world in terms of pure consumption? On a per capita basis, we are well down the list. There are several surveys out there, but the consensus seems to be more than 50 other nations are ahead of us. Number one would be Vatican City, followed by Andorra (a small European country bordered by Spain and France), Croatia, Slovenia, France, Portugal and Switzerland.
Just as a point of contrast, beer sales in the united states in 2016 was $108 billion — that is an incredible number, but, according to some reports, it is off about 1%, while wine sales are up by just about the same percentage.
In terms of the future, one can only speculate about wine production — the horrible wildfire situation in the west this year, as well as rotten wine growing weather in Spain, Italy and France have created some serious question marks.
Some experts are forecasting that we may be in for a worldwide shortage of wine, which, naturally, will push up pricing. Those experts cite the approximately 14% shortfall in product compared to 2016; they also point to smoke damage to grapes in California which may or may not be impactful.
As mentioned, Spain, Italy and France had problems with weather — unusual hail storms, dry conditions and the like. Since these countries are the top three wine producers in the world, it is very likely imports will be down.
The California situation is uncertain (California produces about one quarter of the wine supply).
Many of the vines effected by the disaster are as much as 30 years old — how they tolerate it is yet to be seen. New plantings take as many as three years to sustain a good return.
Another variable to consider is surplus supply. It is estimated that there could be as much as 2 billion liters on hold, a number that will also play into this equation. There are a lot variables, but it is probably a safe bet that the price of wine will experience something of spike.
Considering the importance wine has in our history, this is a difficult moment in time — but it will pass. The traditions, the ceremonial nature of the drink, will continue.