Humans have cultivated vines for the production of wine for thousands of years. According to Unwin (1991), the origins of viticulture lie in the region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and date back to the year 4000 BC, possibly even 6000 BC. There are few products that can look back to such a long history while the production process has remained more or less unchanged.
Accordingly, over the last millennia, a large body of viticultural and enological literature has accumulated. Early examples date more than 2,000 years back (Robinson, 2006). The Roman statesman, Marcus Cato, also known as Cato the Elder (234-149 BC), in his book “De agri cultura,” provides detailed practical advice how to profitably run a wine farm. Among other topics, he stresses that grapes should be fully ripe when harvested and all vats need to be perfectly clean to prevent wine from turning into vinegar. Another Roman, Lucius Columella, discusses many technical aspects of Roman viticulture in his treatise on farming “De re rustica” (60 AD). In two books, he elaborates on topics such as what grape variety grows best on what soil type. He lays out many elements of modern vine training and trellising. For instance, he recommends a vine spacing of a double-pace (about 1.50m), vines to be trained on chestnut stakes as high as a man and willow shoots to fasten the vines (a natural fastener that is still being used in the Mosel valley).
Economists have taken notice of wine and the vine as well. Adam Smith, David Ricardo,
John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx or Leon Walras, all wrote, to some extent, about wine (see, e.g., Chaikind, 2010). Although these early writings are on topics such as the value of vineyard land or trade, they mostly touch wine only in passing or refer to it as an example. In addition, these references are too scattered over more than a century that they can constitute wine economics as an independent economic discipline.
Wine economics as a discipline that analyzes wine-related issues as its main focus entered the scene much later. Over the last two decades, wine economics has emerged as growing field not only within agricultural economics but in adjacent fields such as finance, trade, growth, and environmental economics as well. There are several academic associations that are devoted to furthering the economics of wine. At the annual conferences of the largest one of them, the American Association of Wine Economics (AAWE), more than 200 wine economists from all over the world regularly meet and present the results of their research.2 Since 2006, and in addition to the agricultural economics journals, there has been an academic journal entirely devoted to wine and economics, the Journal of Wine Economics.3 Furthermore, wine economics research has been increasingly recognized by general economics journals as well.
In what respect is wine different from milk, coffee, tea or beer? This paper wants to sketch the emergence of wine economics and recent developments in the economics literature. Furthermore, I want to shed some light on the three main research issues of wine economics: wine as an investment, environmental issues and the role of experts. The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. In Section 2, I provide some data on the development of wine in the scholarly literature over the last decades. Section 3 describes the emergence of wine economics. The central topics of wine economics are introduced in Section 4, 5 and 6. Section 7 concludes and provides an outlook.