Tom's blog

Refrigerated shipping changed the wine industry

There was a recent report that a cache of madeira was recently discovered during a archeological dig around an old New Jersey museum's wine cellar. The three cases unearthed at the Liberty Hall Museum in Union, N.J., was still in drinkable condition.

The discovery got me to thinking about the evolution of wine imports to the United States and how far we've come since President Jefferson struggled to get Burgundy to Monticello.

Madeira, produced on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira, was one of a handful of wines that traveled well in an age of unrefrigerated containers. But it wasn't the only one. Port, for instance, traveled well because it was intentionally refortified with brandy to make it last longer. The colonies were happy to have these wines.

Even champagne made the trip, but only after the British invented a stronger bottle to keep it from exploding.

The explosion of wine choices in the United States didn't happen until transportation improved from wine growing regions in Europe. Even in my lifetime, there were but a handful of wines on the shelves during the 1950s and 1960s. 

Wine doesn't do well in heat, so temperature control was key to opening the door to thousands of producers eager to sell wines to North Americans. So, instead of sweet madeira and port, consumers finally had regular, still wine to buy. Thank heavens.