How Much Is That In Bottles?

When I was a child one of my favorite books was a volume of puzzles entitled "How To Lie With Statistics." The lesson to be learned from the book is that, even with "facts" in hand, often one can give a story spin to have it provide whatever result you want. Ever since, I've been a bit skeptical about figures that purport to show the largest, the greatest, the highest rated, the most inexpensive... I'm sure you get the idea.

And so, it is with some curiosity that each year I view the statistics released by the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), a global profiler of wine production. When it comes to wine the only numbers I usually care about is a simple calculation: can I afford this wine? How much will it cost me to have a glass or a bottle of this or that wine? And yet, the numbers are fascinating even if you are not a wine geek. Wine is an industry and like all industries it thrives on statistics, so I did raise an eyebrow, if not a glass, when a bunch of world wine stats were released at the end of October.

For context, let's first go back to 2014 when there was great celebration in France as the country finally reclaimed the title of "World Largest Wine Producer" (or, more accurately, "Producer of More Wine Than Anyone Else"). For the past two years (2012 and 2013), Italy had enjoyed this distinction, which really galled the Gauls who see themselves as the cradle of wine. Of course, any historian (or wine lover whose memory is still intact) will tell you that the cradle of wine is likely in the Middle East and over the millennia a number of other countries (notably Greece) have had a huge impact on spreading wine around the world. But I digress.

In 2014 the French were ecstatic, but for 2015, the figures show that Italy is back in a big way, producing more wine than ever and definitely more wine than the French. Even though the year is not over, the grapes have been harvested and OIV says it can calculate production. The stats figures show Italy bumped its production by 10 percent in 2015, and worldwide, wine production is up two percent. OIV says France will produce 47.4 million hectoliters in 2015, up just one percent from the country's production last year. Italy will produce a whopping 48.9 million hectoliters this year and Spain is on track to produce 36.7 million hectoliters putting it solidly in third place. Seriously though, how much is that, really?  Since most of us don't purchase our wine in hectoliter increments (a hectoliter is 100 liters) the numbers might be easier to grasp by keeping in mind that:

  • 1 standard wine bottle = .75 liters
  • 1 case of wine (12 bottles) = 9 liters
  • 1 hectoliter = 133 bottles, plus a good-sized glass of wine 
  • 48.9 million hectoliters = 6.52  Billion bottles, give or take a glass or two
Global Wine Production has been nearly steady since 1999 (chart courtesy of OIV)

Global Wine Production has been nearly steady since 1999 (chart courtesy of OIV)

6.52 billion bottles - this number boggles the mind, a boggling that goes even further when we remember this is just Italy. France will kick in 6.3 billion bottles, Spain adds almost 5 billion bottles and even the United States, far down the top ten list of wine producers, will contribute almost 3 billion bottles.

As hard to image as these statistics are, the rankings are very interesting not so much for the sheer volume of wine produced but for some of the insights into who is producing it. France and Italy are always vying for the top spot and Spain is almost always a strong third. What you may not expect is that others in the top rankings include Portugal, Romania and Bulgaria. Bulgaria had a dismal harvest in 2014, but in 2015 the country did extremely well and just needs the marketing savvy to capitalize on its growth. Portugal, Australia and New Zealand are all clamoring in the ranks as well. The wine quality is there - it's a question of marketing ability that will determine who gets it to market.

And that brings me to one more statistic worth passing on, in part because it got so little notice when it was announced about the same time as the production figures, and that is the consumption rankings. We know who is producing wine, so who is drinking it? The Americans of course - the U.S. this year climbed over France to gain the top spot in per capita wine consumption. I'm glad to know I've done my part as an avid wine consumer. Just remember, each time you consume a bottle of wine, you are depleting the global supply by .00000000272 percent. At that rate, why not have a second bottle?