Mapping the World of Wine: A History of Wine Maps

We often talk about wine history, but there is an under-explored and under-appreciated aspect of wine history–the history of wine maps.

Maps and wine are almost synonymous with each other online today. Run a google search on ‘wine’ and ‘maps’ and you will be greeted by a torrent of sites dealing with the subject. Wine cartography is big business, with detailed maps of famous wine districts highlighting famed wineries and charting the main grape varietals grown in places like Napa Valley or the Loire Valley retailing for forty or fifty dollars apiece.

Nor is this just online. If you visit a winery in France or Oregon or New Zealand today, there is a good chance they will sell maps of this kind, highlighting the viticultural landscape of their regions. Here we examine the history of wine maps and show how they have emerged in modern times as cartographic knowledge has developed since the sixteenth century.

A Brief History of Cartography

To fully understand the manner in which modern wine maps emerged we need to take a panoramic view of the history of cartography. Maps have not always looked the way they do now. In ancient times the concept of an accurate map showing, for instance, the continent of Europe was unheard of.

Rather what maps we have dating from Roman times are tabula, charts that were effectively designed to show mariners how to navigate from one seaport to another. The coastline of the Mediterranean or the Black Sea was depicted, as settlements, but these cannot be said to have been accurate in any modern sense. [1]

The medieval period did not bring any improvements. Rather things degenerated further. To examine a medieval map such as the famed Hereford Mappa Mundi dating to around 1300 is to look at a map that was constructed on religious lines. Rome and Jerusalem were given pride of place within it and any effort at scientific accuracy in depicting somewhere like the wine-growing French countryside was sacrificed for the sake of this Christian impetus. [2]

Things began to change rapidly, though, from the sixteenth century onwards. For the first time, European cartographers began using scientific methods to produce accurate maps of European nations, the continent as a whole, and the wider world. In 1570 a Brabantine (i.e. Belgian) cartographer by the name of Abraham Ortelius published Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, meaning The Theatre of the World, in which he established the idea of orientating a map along a north-south axis, a concept we take for granted when looking at maps.

wine maps

For instance, if one looks at a wine map of France today the English Channel will always be at the top of the map and the Mediterranean at the bottom. Before Ortelius established the north-south axis principle a map of France could just as easily have been orientated in such a way that the Mediterranean was at the top of the map. [3]

These trends towards more accurate and recognizably modern mapmaking continued into the seventeenth century when modern surveying methods were developed as part of the Scientific Revolution. As a consequence, by the time that the modern French wine industry began to develop in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was increasingly possible for cartographers in Western Europe to produce maps that were accurate to scale and looked much like maps would today.

A good example of this is the Cassini Maps of France which were produced by César Francois Cassini de Thury and his successors from the 1740s onwards. These would form the basis for accurate maps of France’s wine country for decades to come. [4]

The First Wine Maps

The history of wine mapping must be understood in light of the developments in cartography that occurred in the nineteenth century. In particular, the development of the Ordnance Survey transformed the nature of local map-making. In the course of the first half of the nineteenth century, the British Ordnance Survey began creating the first systematic sets of maps charting local conditions on an almost parish-by-parish basis across entire countries. As they did the possibility of mapping the geography of wine-producing regions on a minute and precise level became possible.

The impact of this was soon being felt far away from Britain. For instance, in the mid-1830s a surveying team was sent to Australia to begin mapping the expanding colonies there. One of these surveyors, William Jacob, produced the first detailed maps of the Barossa Valley and the Barossa mountain range in 1840. Incidentally, he and his brother John are also responsible for the name Jacob’s Creek. Jacob’s map can be said to constitute one of the first maps of Australia’s wine country. [5]

This pattern was repeating itself in a great many countries by the 1840s, with maps of local conditions in France to rival the British Ordnance Survey appearing from mid-century onwards. Similarly, in 1895 one of the first detailed maps of Napa County was produced by the cartographer Oliver Buckman on behalf of the San Francisco Punnett Brothers, a cartographic company based out of the city of St Francis in the late nineteenth century. This was produced at a time when Napa Valley was beginning to cement itself as one of the most significant centers of viticulture in the Americas. [6]

Did you know? Studying wine maps is the best way to learn about wines. They serve as a reference to various regions in various countries

Early example of a wine map of Champagne, France

Early example of a wine map of Champagne, France

Twentieth Century Wine Maps

While the cartographic foundations had been laid down between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, the wine map in its modern incarnation is really an invention of the twentieth century. Much of this was owing to the manner in which wine has been marketed in modern times. As advertising became ever more important the concept of marketing wine according to the region it was produced in and the grape varietals used also became ever more prevalent.

These marketing methods invoke the idea of place and geographical location as being integral to viticulture. From there it was not a major leap of the imagination to begin producing maps showing the major wine-producing regions of a country like France or Italy.

Wine maps evolved over the course of the twentieth century, moving from rather basic maps showing the main provinces or districts which wine was synonymous with early on to later become highly detailed maps showing individual regions in a color-coded schema and using complex legends to indicate the use of specific grape varietals and other aspects of viticulture in a given region.

They were also produced for an increasingly broad range of purposes and customers. Some modern wine maps, for instance, are designed to look antique and are essentially decorative. Others such as De Long maps are highly detailed and are often used as reference guides and for research by people who work in some way in the wine industry.

More still are large souvenirs sold in wineries much like any other tourist trinkets as a way of signifying that a person has visited a certain part of the world. Whatever the purpose of the maps, though, or the ways in which they were produced, these wine maps are the by-product of hundreds of years of developments in cartography. [7]

History of wine maps

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Modern Commercial Wine Maps

Modern times have seen an explosion of interest in wine maps. Walk into a winery in the Barossa Valley, Burgundy, Mendoza, Napa Valley, or the Rhineland today and you will probably be confronted with wine maps for sale in the gift shop, showing the main wine-growing regions of the country or province. Indeed this trend has moved online. On Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Shopify, and a host of other websites and online marketplaces wine maps are big business, with compendiums of highly detailed wine maps from around the world selling for hundreds of dollars in some instances.

In some cases, such as the maps produced by Steve and Deborah De Long, the authors of the critically acclaimed, Wine Grape Varietal Table, these are of an exceptional level of quality and detail. One can learn as much from examining these maps about the viticultural landscape of a country like France or Italy, as one would from reading an entire book on the topic.

And this trend has moved into academic publishing also. Over the past twenty years, for instance, the University of California Press has begun publishing volumes exploring the geography of wine in individual countries and regions. These lay precise maps of wine-growing areas alongside a discussion of the wines produced in each.

Good examples of these include the Wine Atlas of Germany published in 2014 and Washington Wines and Wineries, which appeared in 2007. These, along with the myriad output of winery maps and regional maps of France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and many other countries besides, certainly point towards a healthy future for wine maps and viticultural cartography in general. [9]

Modern Surveying and the Scientific Revolution

Modern surveying of the kind which is a necessary precursor to the development of modern wine maps began to emerge in the seventeenth century. This was a core part of the Scientific Revolution which was occurring at the time. Surveying techniques that emerged at this time involved using mathematical methods to survey land and measurements accurately.

For instance, in the 1650s the British cartographer and mathematician, William Petty, undertook the Down Survey whereby he and his team mapped the entirety of Ireland on the baronial level for the first time. The goal of doing so was to try to exploit the land which was being mapped more effectively. Once the government and landowners had a more precise, scientific idea of what land was available for development, they could begin to improve it more, creating better agricultural estates and proto-industry thereon.

Before long these scientific surveying methods were being transferred to Europe where they were employed in countries like France, Spain, and Italy. As a result, viticulturists in France were mapping their vineyards scientifically by the early eighteenth century and maximizing their potential. [10]

The Ordnance Survey

The Ordnance Survey of Britain was initiated in the 1790s. The goal originally was to produce detailed local maps of Britain, largely for military purposes. Precise maps of the more remote parts of England, Wales, and Scotland were needed in case the French attempted an invasion of Britain in the context of the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars which followed.

Thus, the Ordnance Survey gets its name for having been overseen by the Board of Ordnance in England, which effectively managed Britain’s artillery and heavy armaments. Between the 1790s and the 1840s detailed, precise maps of every part of Britain and Ireland were produced as part of the Ordnance Survey. These were on an unprecedented scale in human history, with individual fields and roads being mapped throughout the countries.

Detailed maps of this kind are the forerunners of modern wine maps, the better ones of which identify individual wineries in the landscape and precisely show where different grape varietals are being grown in a province or district. Thus, when you see a wine map online in a winery in the early twenty-first century it is in many ways the by-product of the Ordnance Survey and other detailed cartographic projects which were undertaken in the nineteenth century. [11]

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On this Day

4 September 1784 – On in this day in 1784 César-Francois Cassini de Thury died in Paris of smallpox. Cassini was one of the greatest cartographers in French history. Back in 1744, he had commenced work on a great topographical map of the entirety of France which was eventually published as 180 individual plates, systematically showing the different parts of the country.

The Cassini Map, as it is sometimes known, mapped the entire country using a scale of 1:86,400, meaning 1 centimeter on the map is reflective of 864 meters of land on the ground. In completing this Cassini provided some of the first maps of the main wine districts of France, in Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire Valley, the Rhone Valley, Alsace, Provence, and Bordeaux.

While the wine maps one can purchase commercially in a French winery today or online are very different from what Cassini commenced work on in the 1740s, the Cassini Maps are nevertheless a vital forerunner of the wine maps we have today for the French countryside.

27 March 1815 – On this day in 1815 William Jacob was born in Hampshire in England. He trained as a surveyor and in 1836 arrived to Australia as part of a substantial surveying mission led by Colonel William Light. Light is famous for mapping Adelaide and other parts of Australia in the years that followed, but Jacob is remembered for his impact on wine country. In 1838 his brother John Jacob joined him in Australia and the two of them began exploring the Barossa Valley shortly thereafter. Today their link with the region and wine production therein is immortalized in the name of the Jacob’s Creek winery. However, less well-known is that William Jacob also produced one of the first detailed maps of the Barossa Valley in 1840, a cartographic achievement that stands as one of the first-ever wine maps of Australia

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  1. [1] [accessed 8/9/22].
  2. [2] Thomas de Wesselow, ‘Locating the Hereford Mappamundi’, in Imago Mundi, Vol. 65, No. 2 (2013), pp. 180–206.
  3. [3] [accessed 8/9/22].
  4. [4] Jonathan Powell, From Cave Art to Hubble: A History of Astronomical Record Keeping (Bern, 2019), pp. 114–115.
  5. [5] [accessed 8/9/22].
  6. [6] [accessed 8/9/22].
  7. [7] [accessed 9/9/22].
  8. [8] [accessed 7/9/22]; [accessed 8/9/22].
  9. [9] Dieter Braatz, Ulrich Sautter and Ingo Swoboda, Wine Atlas of Germany (Berkeley, California, 2014); Paul Gregutt, Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide (Berkeley, California, 2007).
  10. [10] Adam Fox, ‘Sir William Petty, Ireland and the Making of a Political Economist, 1653–87’, in The Economic History Review, Vol. 62, No. 2 (May, 2009), pp. 388–404; D. Graham Burnett, ‘The History of Cartography and the History of Science’, in Isis, Vol. 90, No. 4 (December 1999), pp. 775–780.
  11. [11] Rachel Hewitt, Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey (London, 2010).

Categories: This Day in Wine History | Articles, Wine History In-DepthTags: , , , By Published On: October 18, 2022Last Updated: June 26, 2023

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