Vail Wine Ink column: The numbers behind wine (from grapes to bottles) |

Vail Wine Ink column: The numbers behind wine (from grapes to bottles)

Kelly J. Hayes
Wine Ink
A barrel of wine holds about 25 cases or 300 bottles of wine.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto


2012 Baxter “Oppenlander Vineyard” Mendocino Pinot Noir

They made 10 barrels of this family-made wine and it is amongst the best wines I tasted this year. Baskets of berries with raspberries in the lead, firm tannins and a fair balance of earth and sky. The vineyard is less than a dozen miles off the Pacific on the Mendocino Coast and this tastes of coastal vines.

This is a winery to keep on your horizon.

The Caveat

The numbers in the story are approximate estimates based on how an acre of grapes can be harvested to get a winemaker 2,400 bottles. In reality, there are a plethora of factors that would determine the actual yield of a vineyard, including:

Soil Type


Grape Varietal

Spacing of Vines

Flock Cover

Vine Age

Winemaker decisions

And simply because a wine comes from a vineyard with a lower yield does not mean that it is a better wine than one that comes from a higher yielding vineyard. But that’s a story for another column.

What is the most important tool in wine? A pair of clippers? A wine opener? Try a calculator.

Wine is, when all is said and done, a business based on turning soil, sun and plants into profits. Don’t consider the numbers and your wine venture can add up to, well, zero.

There are winemakers who are artists and there are growers who are all about farming and the land. But the foundation for both is the ability to make a profit. From the vineyard to the end consumer in a wine shop, or someone who buys a glass in a restaurant, the name of the game is making the numbers work.


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Let’s start with a bottle of wine and work backward. A full bottle contains 750 milliliters of wine. That works out to a fifth of a gallon, or a little more than 25 ounces. Who cares? Well, start with a restaurant or bar that is selling premium wines by the glass.

The average pour, or the amount of wine in a glass in a bar, is right around 5 ounces. If the bottle cost the bar say $20 wholesale, and they are charging you $10, a reasonable price for a premium pour (likely more at that bottle price), then they are making $50 on that bottle, or two and a half times more than they paid for it. The numbers start to add up.

You know that there are a dozen bottles in a case, right? This is important because wine is sold by the case to retail establishments and usually when you purchase a case at your local wine shop you will get a 10-15 percent discount.


So, how many cases of wine can come from a single barrel of wine? Keep in mind that most premium wines spend time in barrels. Some in old or used barrels, some in new barrels. Some stay a short time in barrels, while other wines may be stored anywhere from 18 months to as long as four years, as is the case with some wines in Italy’s Piedmont region. A single barrel can hold 25 cases of wine. That’s 300 bottles, or about 60 gallons of wine.

But before wine can be put in a barrel it has to be grown in a vineyard. How much land, how many vines and how many grapes does it take to make a bottle, or a case of wine?


In this country, the standard mode of measurement for a vineyard is the acre. An acre is just shy of 44,000 square feet, or about 10 percent smaller than a football field. In other parts of the world the measurement used is the hectare, which is equal to about 2 and a half acres. We’ll use the acre because, well, we’re in the U.S.

An acre of land can, based upon the variety of the grapes, the way they are trellised and the desire for a level of quality, host anywhere from 500 vines on the low end to as many as 1,300 vines. The total number depends on the spacing between the rows and the vines themselves. This can be where things get tricky, as the right brain (the creative side) may want to increase quality, while the left-brain (the analytical side) may want to increase yields.

Each vine has approximately 40 clusters of grapes depending upon the techniques used by the grower, and each cluster will have somewhere between 75-100 grapes.

OK, so that means there are on average about 3,500 grapes per vine. The weight of those grapes is about 10 pounds. A high-end winery will usually shoot for somewhere between two and four tons of grapes yielded per acre. Using our model, that means to yield four tons of grapes you need about 800 vines.

So how much wine does four tons of grapes produce? Well, again on average, a ton of grapes will crush down to 120 gallons of wine. Multiply that by four tons and you get 480 gallons of wine.

Still with me? Remember, a barrel can hold 60 gallons of wine. So 480 gallons would fill eight barrels. Again, remember, a barrel produces 25 cases and there are 12 bottles in a case. So if you multiply eight barrels times 25 cases times 12 bottles, then you get 2,400 bottles of wine on your planted acre.

That’s a lot of digits to be sure, but you can bet that any successful grape grower has done that math, usually in their head in bed, many times for every acre they have ever planted.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at

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