The Story of Wine Storage and Transport

From the very first time that man tasted wine, he realized that proper storage and a means of safe transport was needed, and containers such as Amphorae* and Kvevri** became the most popular early solutions.

The world standard in ancient times was the Amphora, a wax-lined ceramic container of varying sizes that was used to store and transport prized liquids such as olive oil and and wine. Originally invented by the Egyptians and used extensively by the Greeks and also by the Romans, Amphorae became popular throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. They featured slim necks, two handles, and round bodies that tapered towards the bottom.

Amphorae came in sizes ranging from a few inches in height, to as much as five feet, but a standard developed in ancient Greece for those produced to store wine - they were made to hold 41 quarts of wine. While the narrow necks helped reduce oxidation, some were made to be

The Story of Wine Storage and Transport
used as decanters, and they generally had wider mouths, and were among those used as canvas for exquisite paintings.

Pre-dating the Amphora, the Kvevri (commonly and incorrectly often referred to as "Qvevri") was known to have been used by the Ancient Georgians, who authoritative sources* credit with the beginnings of grape cultivation and winemaking, eight to ten thousand years ago. Kvevris were used for winemaking and used for storing wine, but historians disagree as to whether or not they were also used to transport wine, as they were generally kept buried in the ground in order to control the effects of climate. In fact, wine was fermented in Kvevris that were sealed with stones and then kept buried for as long as two years.

Kvevris were developed for the purpose of winemaking, but were also used to store many perishable foods such as grains, butter, and cheese, and other liquids, including spirits, such as vodka. In the South Caucasus areas of Georgia, wine is still produced today in the ancient methods using Kvevris,
though the making of the Kvevris themselves is now a dying art, with only a handful of people in the trade still living and producing them, which can take up to four months for a single Kvevri. Yet, wine is now also produced using the Kvevri method in Italy, and Italian winemakers are successfully marketing their product in the US and elsewhere, at premium prices.

At some point, the Romans began using dolium for the transport of their wines. Dolium were large earthenware containers, used for storage and transport of various goods. The were lined with wax or pitch in order to hold liquid better, and for wine storage and transport, were cemented to the flooring of the cargo holds of ships. Such dolium were up to six feet in height and could hold 350 gallons, 50 times the capacity of the standard Amphora. Eventually, needing lighter-weight containers for the transport of wine on land as they moved northward into Europe, the Romans found that the Gauls had begun using wooden barrels, generally constructed of palm wood, and held together with metal fittings. Such barrels were much more practical, and first the Roman armies, and then merchants, began using barrels expensively, though oak and fir became the primary wood sources, rather than palm. The abundance of oak through much of Europe, plus
what is called its "tight grain" and thus watertight effect, led to its widespread use in barrel production, and the effects of the oak in wine taste was a generally unanticipated byproduct.

Whether kept in such ancient containers or in barrels, the problem of oxidation turning even the best wines into vinegar called for a better solution so that wine could have a shelf life or more than a few months, at best. An interesting note is that by the 1600s, it was learned that adding additional alcohol to wine could extend it's life, and wines that were bound for long trips, especially sea voyages, had brandy added to them as a preservative. This actually led to the development and popularity of fortified wines, such as Port and Madeira.

And, it was later in the 1600s, that the greatest advance in wine storage occurred, the development and usage of the glass bottle. Winemakers did not just realize out of the blue
that glass bottles would be a perfect solution however, but rather glassblowing only at that point in history developed the needed techniques where sufficiently strong, thick, and durable bottles could be produced, and produced on a grand scale. The glass bottle was the
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solution to additional wine storage and transport pitfalls besides oxidation. Glass bottles could be fashioned in shapes and sizes that were easy to pick up, easy to carry, and of a manageable weight. Also, unlike earthenware Kvevris, ceramic Amphorae, and wooden barrels, the glass, generally would not react with the wine. Finally, bottles could be more easily sealed, and they had the ability to be opened and then re-sealed.

Over the first two hundred years of wine bottles, the general shape changed from those with large bottoms and short necks, to a slimmer and more uniform shape and longer necks. However, there was always a difference from one bottle to the next, as each was hand made, until the early 1820s when Rickets of Bristol received a patent on a device that manufactured identically shaped bottles. But, the popularity of wine bottles was stymied by powerful, competing interests (the wine barrel lobby?), and in fact, in England it was illegal to sell wine in bottles until 1860. Wealthy connoisseurs, however, would own their own
bottles which they shipped to their favorite winemakers, who would fill them and ship them back.

As the use of glass bottles for wine began to proliferate, at first wine was still shipped in barrels, and it was up to wine merchants themselves to transfer wine from barrel to bottle for sale, and in the process, wines were not only adulterated, but often oxidized. As it became known that wine fared much better and for much longer in the bottle, the glass bottle became the industry standard for storage and transport.
And, all those bottles needed a method of sealing, and hence the use of the cork stopper developed, and the need for corkscrews and wine bottle openers. Coming soon.

Caveat: It is unnecessary to include any comments regarding the current cost-saving usage of cardboard boxes for the storing and transport of wine.
* "The Oxford Companion to Wine", Jancis Robinson, Oxford Press, 1994; "A Short History of Wine", Rod Phillips, Ecco Press, 2001

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