To fathom a world without wine is an atrocious thought indeed. Thankfully, the leading nations of wine production collectively output 16.4 billion liters (164.5 Mhl) every year – enough to keep us swimming in wine. The following countries are the world’s five top producers.
5. Australia – 12.5 Mhl
While vineyards and chardonnay may not be the first image of the Outback that comes to mind, Australia is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world with a history of wine production stretching all the way back to its colonization in the late 1700s. Grape vines do not grow naturally in the Australian countryside. Instead, they were first brought in by ship through the Cape of Good Hope by order of Governor Arthur Phillip. Early production focused on fortified wines that saw protection from the extra alcohol content. In the 1960s, a wave of German and Italian immigrants brought new wine-making techniques that led to diversification of the Australian vineyard. Though all states are wine-producing, the cooler southern climates serve as Australia’s wine capitals.
4. United States – 22.5 Mhl
Grapes are the highest-value fruit crop in the United States with a collective value estimated at $5 billion. Muscadine grapes were brought to the United States by the second wave of Spanish and French settlers, though early efforts were quashed by the native root louse phyloxera. It was this same pest that thwarted Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to start vineyards in Virginia during the late 1700s. Later, generations of vineyards used imported Concord and Niagara grapes along with hybrids that were less susceptible to pests. Though early vineyards started on the East Coast, Sonoma and Napa Valley in California would eventually become established as the premiere American wine regions.
3. Spain – 37.8 Mhl
Wine making in Spain spans back 3,000 years at minimum with the first vineyard plantations of Sherry being planted by the Phoenicians. The conquest of Spain by the Moors ended the production of wine until their defeat in 1492 and continued to suffer further down the road under military dictatorship until the 1970s. During both of these periods, however, Spanish winemakers operated in secret and held onto traditional practices that survived to the modern period of the Spanish winemaking industry. The arrival of democracy to the Spaniards saw a boom in the production and export of wine that has placed them high among the top wine-producing nations.
2. France – 41.9 Mhl
It comes as no surprise that France makes the list of top wine-producing nations of the world. How else is one meant to enjoy a decadent cheese or scoffing at American tourists? Viticulture within the modern borders of France has been occurring for well over two millennia, since the founding of Masslia by the Phocaeans. Later on, the Roman Empire expanded the practice throughout Gaul in what eventually became the world-renowned winemaking centers of France: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, among others. The concept of terroir, which takes into account each individual environmental factor of a region upon the production of its wine, was first developed in France. To this day, France still lights the way for international standards of winemaking.
1. Italy – 48.8 Mhl
Winemaking exists on massive national scales as a result of the agricultural innovations of antiquity. The Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans were the empires responsible for the spread of these practices throughout the regions forming modern Europe. Italy, with its profound ties to the ancient empires, continues to be the world’s largest producer, consumer, and exporter of wine. There are more than 2,000 naturally-occurring grape varieties in Italy that lead to the most diverse array of vineyards in the world, producing over 2,400 different styles of wine. The end products are ranked by the government-founded classification of Denominazioen di orgine controlla (DOC), inspired by the French Appellation d'origine controlee (AOC). It’s perhaps fair to say that both nations take their winemaking seriously. The “Tre Venezie” comprises the Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia — Italy’s premiere wine-producing regions.