Bottle of Wine

By Dan Berger

The facts of the wine business are often self-evident, and are totally incorrect.

For instance, I am rarely asked any more how many bottles are in a case of wine. Decades ago, when wine was considered an esoteric beverage, most people were unaware that the usual answer was 12. So the question was more common than it is today.

But even then the answer 12 was only partially true.

Thought it was true and still is for most wines packed in the standard wine bottle size (750 milliliters, or about 25½ ounces), wine bottle sizes do vary. So, for instance, if you buy a case of magnums (1.5 liters), almost all of them contain only six bottles. 

Also, some wines are produced in half bottles, and in such cases a case is 24 bottles. And a few wineries make their wines in one-liter sizes, so a case may be related to the bottle capacity. 

Bottle of WineAnd that’s not all. Cain Cellars in Napa Valley years ago put just five bottles into a case of Cain Five, its red Meritage blend. And back in the 1980s when there was a wine glut, some wineries (including Fetzer Vineyards) put 15 bottles of wine into a box so the company wouldn’t have to offer any discounts, yet still give retailers a de facto discount.

So asking how many bottles are in a case of wine isn’t the most mundane thing you can ask. Here are a few facts that are only approximately correct:
–One bunch of grapes gives you about one glass of wine. This of course depends on how big the glass is, and how big the bunch of grapes is. Some grape clusters are very small and/or yield very little juice. Also, “a glass of wine” is not a well-defined measure. 

For instance, in most restaurants, the standard way of looking at a glass is that it is one-fourth of a bottle, or a bit over six ounces. But in some restaurants, you get a glass and if you measure it, it’s only five ounces. In such a case, the restaurant gets more than an extra glass from a bottle.

But few people carry around with them a measuring cup to determine what we are actually getting.

–A standard wine barrel holds roughly 25 cases of wine.

That’s true for wine barrels that are roughly 58 gallons, but not all barrels are made the same size. Some barrel makers make barrels that hold only 56 gallons, others make 60-gallon sizes. To sum it up, barrels differ in size.

–One barrel holds the juice from 30 grapevines. 

As noted above, this is a very rough approximation and differs based on grape variety.

–The standard vineyard size in California used to be 462 vines per acre.

This is so out of date that it’s laughable. It is based on an old 12-foot by 7-foot spacing grid. This has now been seen as outmoded.

Close-spacing of vines today is the norm with many vineyards. Indeed, Paul Sloan of Small Vines on the Sonoma Coast recently replaced some of his acreage to hold 3,600 vines on an acre! Domaine Drouhin in Oregon pioneered very tightly spaced vines.

–An acre of vines produces roughly five tons of fruit.

This old measure was an ideal for many years, a target that meant the winery could make a consistent amount of wine that had a good profit margin. But in the Napa Valley for the last two decades, the average of crop size of Cabernet Sauvignon has been well under 4 tons per acre, and a few sparsely producing plots are yielding 2 tons per acre or even less.

And with Pinot Noir, the best wines are often closer to 2 tons per acre of usable fruit.

–When a winery says it planted an acre of grapevines, chances are it did not.

In almost all vineyards, about 10% of the actual acreage must be used for tractor access lanes, and other non-productive uses (storage sheds, fencing, etc.) So vineyard acres usually are really only nine-tenths planted.

–A ton of grapes yields 160 gallons of juice.

Yes, it does for large wineries with modern equipment. But with some wineries and some grapes, such gallonages are inappropriate or lead to mediocre wine.

For instance, some white wine grape varieties (such as Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer) are likely to yield bitterness if they are pressed too hard. As a result, to maximize quality with these grapes the best strategy is to press very lightly and thus get only 120 to 140 gallons of juice.

As is evident, the old rules do not apply. 

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