Wine Agriculture - From Farm Juice to Liquid Art

Wine is fermented grape juice, a natural farm product reflecting a specific place and time.

Beer doesn’t have vintages, or appellations of origin. Nor do spirits. Wine has both, since each year is different and each vineyard unique. In fact, today there are  269 American Viticultural Areas throughout 34 states, and even within them each site varies by soil, slope, and sunshine.

Wine is defined by its “terroir” and shaped by the decisions of grape growers and winemakers. It is farm juice transformed into liquid art, and along the way employs millions of people and fuels the economy from vine to glass. It also preserves agricultural land and transforms it into a beautiful landscape attracting millions of visitors.

Growing grapes is capital intensive, labor intensive, and risky. Unlike row crops which can be rotated each year, planting a grape vine is a commitment to the future. It doesn’t even bear fruit (i.e., cash) for several years, demands nearly year-round tending, and is subject to the vagaries of nature—late frosts, droughts, wildfires, and more. It’s an agricultural gamble fueled by passion.

The raw materials for beer and spirits can be farmed almost entirely by machine, stored almost anywhere, and sourced almost anytime. Grapes demand human labor, ripen just once a year, and must be harvested when they’re ready—not necessarily when it’s convenient. Harvest is just the culmination of a year of pruning, tying, and tending in various ways throughout most of the year.

The human connection means thousands of American jobs in Agriculture: 55,902 in independent vineyards, 44,079 in suppliers of agricultural products, and 9,194 in local communities—109,175 in total in 2022.

The American wine industry is focused intensively on sustainability—economic, environmental, and social—as responsible citizens and stewards of the Earth. For decades individual wineries, trade associations and educational institutions have developed programs to protect and enhance farmland, water, and other parts of the environment we need and cherish.

The importance of grapes and wine on the American economy is clear from some government facts and statistics:

–Grapes are the highest value fruit crop in the U.S., and represent 36% of the value of non-citrus fruit crops

–There are nearly one million acres of grapes planted for wine, juice, and fresh fruit

–The overall value of all grapes recently exceeded $6.5 billion

–Total U.S. grapes harvested in 2021 were 6.05 million tons, including 5.75 million tons in California

–California produced 3.6 million tons of wine grapes in 2022

–The U.S. produced more than 900 million gallons of wine in 2017, 85% from California

–The U.S. produces 12% of the world’s wine, and is #1 in total wine consumption

Wine country tourism also fuels the agricultural economy, with nearly 50 million tourists and $17 billion in tourist expenditures in 2022, supporting 155,035 jobs and filling local tax coffers in all 50 states. There are very few  products where the consumers want to visit the place where it all originated—to stroll through the vineyards, see a wine cellar, and meet the people who created the wine.

That humble grape juice is liquid gold.