The Science, Art, and History of Wine Bottle-Making

The origins of the wine bottle can be traced back to 6,000 BC with Kvevri or Qvevri in the Western Georgian region. The invention of enormous earthenware pots coated in beeswax was made to store or drink wine, and their wide utilization was recorded first in Georgia[1]. Initially, these pots were used for storing and fermenting but not transporting old Georgian wine. Subsequently, the amphora—an ancient jar-like pot with a tapered neck and two handles—was invented by the Egyptians and popularised during the Greek and Roman empires.

Such ceramic containers came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but they all contained two handles for easy transportation and a long, narrow neck that limited the oxygen’s exposure to the quantity of wine. Initially, the bottle would be sealed with clay stoppers, but the Romans and Greeks later realized that cork was the most acceptable way to keep their wine from spoiling.

Hence, the wine would have been stored and contained in clay pots, specifically Kvevri and Amphoras, before the discovery of glass containers. As mentioned above, Georgians utilized the beeswax-coated earthenware pots called Kvevri, and they are considered the world’s oldest wine storage vessels.

These remarkable multipurpose apparatuses, which were utilized from grape crushing to aging, produced incredibly tannic earthenware-aged wine. Although this custom was abandoned for centuries, certain Georgian and Italian winemakers are bringing it back to life in the modern era. Some of these winemakers include Friulian winemaker Josko Gravner, Elisabetta Foradori, an Italian winemaker, and Austrian winemaker Bernhard Ott[2].

Amphoras, also known as amphorae, were wax-lined ceramic containers designed and developed by the Egyptians. These useful containers were later adopted by almost all wine-drinking and producing ancient civilizations in the Mesopotamian and Mediterranean regions. However, they achieved their pinnacle in terms of standardization and utilization in ancient Greece and Rome, which is the most familiar period for all wine enthusiasts. These containers, which were round-shaped with a tapered bottom, two handles, and a long, slim neck, served several purposes. They allowed sediment to collect through the tapered bottom. The amphora itself could be easily buried when cooler, long-term storage was required; the handles made carrying them easier; and the long, slim neck reduced the amount of wine exposed to oxygen[3].

Additionally, the containers were designed to fit into ships of the time, making it easy for efficient transportation. Initially sealed with reeds and leaves, the Romans experimented with cork, rags, and wax, which is now the most prevalent stopper. Winemakers who swear by the freshness of wine flavor that comes from aging in it are also rediscovering these traditions. For instance, several Croatian winemakers have already adopted this winemaking approach. Moreover, the 2009 Malvazija Amfora and the 2008 Tomac Amfora also offer this experience to wine lovers.

One Croatian winery began to take this procedure to the next level by building an underwater winery. In December 2013, Winery Edivo decided to blend tradition, sea, and wine in order to create something truly unique for wine lovers globally. They poured the wine into a glass bottle, which was then placed in an amphora[4]. Subsequently, the amphoras were immersed in the sea for more than 700 days, at a depth of 18 to 25 meters. Only then are they returned to the surface for wine enthusiasts to taste the flavor of the wine and relish the feelings of the Ancient Greeks.

The Wooden Wine Barrels

The ancient nation of Gaul, which covered modern-day Switzerland and France, together with some regions of Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, and Northern Italy, is credited with the early development and discovery of the wooden wine barrels. The nation of Gaul existed between 600 BC and 486 AD under various rules. During the later stages of the empire, wine barrels were popularized upon the Roman Empire’s expansion northward into Europe[5].

During the invasion, the tired troops were in dire need of soothing wine. Therefore, they had to explore manageable ways of transporting wine. Hence, this necessity motivated them to come up with the idea of wooden barrels. The wooden barrels could be easily transported on water. Furthermore, the ancient Romans also invented the use of oak barrels for wine storage, as we know them today. The Romans sought a practical and straightforward way to transport wine not only by sea but also by land, as they conquered many countries. Finally, they found a feasible solution to their difficulty when they encountered the Gauls, who utilized the approach of using wooden barrels for storing and transporting beer.

The Romans soon discovered that different types of wood have varying impacts on the flavor and tannins of the wine. This was because, unlike clay, wood barrels were porous, allowing some oxidation to occur. The oak barrel aging is now essential to the production of many wines. However, their discovery was entirely by chance, as it was only over the next few centuries that it was discovered that oak had a beneficial effect on the wine.

Discovering Glass Bottles

In the 1600s, the discovery of the coal furnace led to the invention of thicker, more difficult-to-break glasses. Consequently, this process gave birth to glass bottles capable of safely carrying wine. The wine was still aged in barrels during this time, but it was eventually shifted to individual glass bottles for sale and consumption.

The use of glass was introduced into the wine industry during the 17th century. Sir Kenelm Digby, a tumultuous adventurer, privateer, and alchemist, is widely regarded as “the father of the modern bottle.” Initially, the bottles had thick bottoms and short necks at first, but as time went on, the neck grew and lengthened while the bottom slimmed.

By the 1820s, they resembled current wine bottles. In 1821, Rickets of Bristol filed a patent for a machine that produced identically sized bottles in a design that we recognize today[6]. While today’s bottles come in various styles, basic bottles accommodate 750ml of wine. Slightly larger and smaller bottles, made in accordance with regional customs, are still available, but their use has become increasingly rare.

Modern Wine Bottles

Due to modern technology, most bottle manufacturing processes are now automated; however, manual methods are still used to manufacture wine bottles. Trained artisans utilize an age-old procedure to craft wine bottles of various shapes. The manufacturing process of a wine bottle begins with what is known as “hot end procedures,” in which molten glass is molded in a furnace, regardless of whether it is made by hand or machine. Subsequently, in the next phase called “press-and-blow,” a blade is used to cut and shape the molten glass, which is above 1,000 degrees Celsius at this point, into a cylindrical gob that is then oozed into a blank mold by gravity[7].

Consequently, the molten glass takes on the shape of the mold before being blown into the shape recognized as a bottle in a second mold. According to some estimates, Cullet, or recycled glass, makes up at least 15% and as much as 50% of a standard wine bottle today[8].

The size of the wine bottles always matters during the production process. It should be noted that while little oxygen is beneficial to the aging process as well as the taste of wine, too much oxidation could cause deterioration. The headspace of air between the wine and the bottom of the cork is referred to as ouillage in French. Because corks do not establish a completely airtight barrier, some liquid is lost through evaporation as the wine ages. Hence, the risk for wine to be exposed to dangerous levels of oxidation grows with the rise of ouillage. This is the reason why some experts argue that magnums (one and a half liters or twice the size of a typical bottle) are better for storing wine due to their increased capacity. For instance, the amount of liquid in a magnum compared to the ullage level is twice that of a traditional 750ml bottle.

Some marketers started adopting bag-in-box and aseptic packaging methods for carrying everyday-type wines in 2006, thinking outside the bottle. Similarly, the Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyard released a sparkling wine in a can on January 14, 2016[9]. If Sir Digby were still alive today, one must wonder what he would say about these innovative ideas.

On the other hand, glass wine bottles are unlikely to be replaced by anything else anytime soon. The primary reason for persistence with bottles is that the glass gives the wine a better value by projecting a luxury image and allowing it to be sold at a higher price. The only thing left to do now is to wait and observe how the glass technology evolves to carry wines. For instance, it got double-layered this year. Who knows what will happen next year? We will wait for the time to give the story.

On This Day

December 2013: On this day, Winery Edivo designed, and developed an underwater winery. They mixed tradition, sea, and wine in order to offer something truly unique to wine lovers across the world. They poured the wine into a glass bottle, which was then placed in an amphora and then immersed in the sea for more than 700 days, at a depth of 18 to 25 meWine Bottle Making, The Science, Art, and History of Wine Bottle-MakingWine Bottle Making, The Science, Art, and History of Wine Bottle-Making

In 1821: On this day, Rickets of Bristol filed a patent for a machine that produced identically sized bottles in a design that we recognize today.

January 14, 2016: On this day, Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyard released a sparkling wine in a can, giving room to a new era of can wine bottles, which might replace the current glass bottles in the future.

 Want to read more? Try out these books!

Wine Bottle Making, The Science, Art, and History of Wine Bottle-MakingWine Bottle Making, The Science, Art, and History of Wine Bottle-Making

 

Reference

[1] http://blog.iwawine.com/2014/06/the-history-of-wine-storage/

[2] Wine and More, The history of the wine bottle, 20th Feb. 2020. https://www.thewineandmore.com/stories/history-wine-bottle/

[4] https://www.edivovina.hr/about-us

[5] Stefan K. Estreicher,  Wine: from Neolithic times to the 21st century (Algora Publishing, 2006).

[6] Martin Fone, ‘Curious Questions: Why are wine bottles all pretty much the same shape and color?’ (Country Life July 25th, 2020). https://www.countrylife.co.uk/food-drink/210679-210679

[7] https://www.bordeaux.com/us/Bordeaux-Magazine-US/Journal/Education/The-History-Art-and-Science-of-the-Wine-Bottle

[9] Richard Thirumaran,  New Niagara Sparkling wine in a can from Between the Lines Winery, January 14, 2016, https://betweenthelineswinery.com/blogs/news/a-summer-of-fun-suarez-wine-release

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!