The Economics of Wine in Missionary Expansion during the Age of Exploration

As a result of the printing press and a greater desire to explore the world beyond Europe’s borders, wood became a crucial aspect of everyday life in Europe at the beginning of this century. As well as being used to build ships, it was also used to construct homes and other structures, as well as for heating and making glass. By the middle of the century, Europe faced a severe wood shortage that would fundamentally change the course of human history. A silver lining in the bleak situation was the creation of the Champagne bottle, even though it cost a great deal of money[1].

Let’s Go Back

Beer and wine were popular alcoholic beverages in ancient civilizations, including Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome. When it comes to alcohol consumption, spirits were preferred by most of society throughout the Age of Exploration and Colonial periods. Cordoba became a favorite drinking destination around the end of the first century AD when spirits indeed took off. In the fourth millennium BCE, spirits were first created. In the beginning, wine was manufactured by heating water and distilling the alcohol out of it. “Spirits, as we now refer to the resultant alcoholic beverage, were developed due to this process. Regardless, it was referred to as “alcohol” back in the day[2].

Distilled wine became popular in Europe as doctors claimed it might have medicinal effects on people. Every medical issue could be treated with a drink or a topical application, and it was recommended to patients by doctors. Today, it is no longer regarded as a miracle treatment but rather a way to have fun or rapidly get intoxicated. Everyone, including the poor and enslaved people, could access it. The drinking habits of people from lower social strata worry those from higher ones. It was terrible that the poor might have gotten themselves intoxicated for a penny or two pence. They may have planned to keep the booze for themselves, but the low cost of the rum meant that everyone could partake.

The Age of Exploration

During the Age of Exploration, spirits were a standard alcoholic beverage. Various commodities, including wine, sugar, and grains, were distilled to produce spirits. As a result of their increased alcohol content and ease of storage, they required less alcohol to be transported. People drank spirits for a variety of reasons, including business. This shows the broad appeal of alcoholic drinks to the public.

This was in contrast to wine, which was expensive and had to be aged for an extended period before it could be considered “fine.” People enjoyed them because they were easy to create and did not cost a fortune. Even in today’s society, individuals of all socioeconomic backgrounds still enjoy wine[3].

The Concept of Sparkling Wine

If you go into the history of bubbly wine, you will have to wade through an enormous number of unsubstantiated claims. There is little doubt that Dom Pérignon (17th-century Benedictine monk and winemaker) at the Abbey of Hautvillers in France created the story that has become the most well-known creation myth[4]. Who is allegedly to have cried, “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” after detecting secondary fermentation in the container.

To employ it in Champagne production, some think Pérignon stole the méthode traditionelle (French for “traditional method”) from southern French wineries. While it may be a hoax, the southern commune of Limoux claims to have originated sparkling wine in 1531, more than a century before Champagne was made. Despite the ubiquitous availability of Champagne and the well-known origin stories, one of the most intriguing origin myths comes from an unexpected place.

 Age of Exploration

Figure 1. Observations Concerning the Ordering of Wines

It is believed that a royal order in England pushed the creation of Champagne forward, leading to significant improvements in glassware. Advancements in technology allowed for the production of carbonation-resistant bottles, which in turn may have aided the development of Champagne.

1700s Developments: Madeira Wine

First, there should be no surprise here that the French disagree. As the owner of the Champagne business, Taittinger, Pierre Taittinger believes that the English found sparkling wine by accident. Still, wines brought by French monks were kept in the cold, causing them to undergo a second fermentation. It was only then that the English discovered the carbonation process. Carbonation was subsequently discovered because of this.

Second, when winemaking started in Madeira in the 16th century, the country already had a well-established wine business that supplied ships traveling long distances across the sea with ample amounts of wine. Wine from Madeira was sought after all over the world by the 18th century when it was recognized as the best wine made anywhere in the world. These loyal customers drank up to a quarter of the island’s yearly wine production, a lot by American colonial standards[5].

 Age of Exploration

Figure 2. Missionaries Enjoying French (Madeira) Wine

Exploration and Wine Plantations

Wild grape vines attracted the attention of early settlers and explorers because they were so prevalent on the east coast of North America. They could not avoid seeing them due to their prominent placement in the immediate environment. For example, the Spanish reported the presence of grapes in the Caribbean islands two years after Columbus explored the New World. A plant known as Vitis labrusca was abundant in the forest areas surrounding the Pilgrim colonies in New England. One of the most striking natural plants is the northern fox grape or Lambrusco. It may have berries of any color, including black, white, and red. Naturally occurring grapes are seldom seen to have such a broad spectrum of colors. Most Americans believe that Concord grape juice and jellies have a “grayness” since they are a pristine example of the Labrusca species, which has been domesticated for a long time[6].

Also read:

An unappetizing description of their Lambrusco wines and grapes, the appellation “fox grape” is commonly used by growers in the eastern regions. Once you have experienced it, you will not be able to forget it. This flavor is unique to eastern North America. According to scientists, the chemical methyl anthranilate is one of the most common components of taste. The taste of American gray may be made synthetically wherever you need it to be. As an example, consider chemical synthesis. As with so many other flavors, I have always wondered why this one is called “foxy,” and I am not the only one.


November 29, 2020: According to Ashlie Hughes and Gerry Selian’s piece titled “birth of champagne bottle,” Europe’s time of discovery served as an unanticipated catalyst for the invention of the champagne bottle. According to the authors, the explorers were essential in the spread of winemaking worldwide.

Want to read more? Try these books!

The International Economics of Wine (World Scientific Studies in International Economics, 73) Wine Economics


[1] Natalia Beltrán Peralta, Silvia Aulet, and Dolors Vidal-Casellas, “Wine and Monasteries: Benedictine Monasteries in Europe,” Journal of Foodservice Business Research, January 27, 2022, 1–32

[2] Camille Berry, “Divine Inspiration: Influence of Monastic Orders,”, 2016

[3] Ashlie Hughes, “The European Age of Exploration Was the Unlikely Impetus for the Birth of the Champagne Bottle,” VinePair, November 29, 2020

[4] “Monastic Wines,” (France FR, October 29, 2019)

[5] Ashlie Hughes, “The European Age of Exploration Was the Unlikely Impetus for the Birth of the Champagne Bottle,” VinePair, November 29, 2020

[6] Ashlie Hughes, “The European Age of Exploration Was the Unlikely Impetus for the Birth of the Champagne Bottle,” VinePair, November 29, 2020

Categories: This Day in Wine History | Articles, Wine History In-DepthTags: , , , , By Published On: October 31, 2022Last Updated: February 27, 2024

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