So I’ve been loving Vox.com lately. If I had a few hundred hours a week to waste, I would probably waste them reading the stories and associated “cards” on Vox. At least until I got caught up. Most of what I read there is either personally interesting (politics and political science!), some of it is professionally useful (marijuana) and some of it, sometimes, fits here. So I encourage to you to go over to Vox and read the story that originally accompanied these maps I yoinked. I will not recapitulate their points here. Instead, I will point out some things about the first map they didn’t, either because they did not know, did not care, or did not think were more generally interesting for their audience.
So, of this map, Vox says “the coasts like wine, beer is popular inland.” Yeah, generally, I guess. Except wine is actually the dominant drink in New England, Florida, northern California, a strange pocket in northwest Arkansas, and on the fringes of the Pacific northwest. Beer shares dominance in over 50% of the coastal regions which Vox implies are wine-dominant areas. I only see on surprising thing here, which I’ll get to in a moment. For two reasons (not necessarily unrelated) wine should be popular precisely where it is popular.
Wine is expensive. For most of its life, beer was canned primarily with some bottles. Then craft came along and bottles dominated that sector and now craft brewers are canning again. But wine is bottled (except in some cases when it is bagged and boxed). Also, grapes are harder to ship than any of the ingredients in beer. These two factors (big heavy glass bottles and expensive-to-ship raw ingredients) have always meant that wine has tended to stay close to home. That is not to say that wine has not enjoyed international markets. We know that the ancient Greeks were trading deep into Europe and wine went with them, the Romans too. But the vast majority of wine is drunk locally, primarily because of logistics, which combine to make an expensive product even more so. Those ancient Greek and Roman wine traders were dealing in true luxury items. So it isn’t at all weird that wine would be most popular in those areas where grapes are grown and then secondarily where people can afford to buy it.
As we know from several repetitions on this site, as people get richer, they move their drinking toward wine. And, as Vox notes, wine seems to be an urban phenomena (where, on average, people have more money). Note that wine outpaces beer in northern Virginia (some of the most expensive counties in the country) and continues north through eastern Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and the southern parts of Connecticut and Vermont. On the west coast wine begins dominance in (roughly) Orange County (the “OC”) and continues north through the wine growing region. Also in Colorado Springs (deep inland, but also very rich). As a matter of fact, check out this map of the most expensive counties. It isn’t very finely detailed but you can see that the red areas more or less correspond to the dark areas on the wine map. The blue dots travel the western edge of that shared wine/beer area along the Mississippi River.
Speaking of that one weird thing, that area along the Mississippi River, what is going on there? From Vox’s headline implication, it could just be that we should treat the Mississippi River area as a “coast,” but it is unclear what that would mean. Sure it has shipping, like the coasts, but analyzing the Mississippi as coastal because of shipping should indicate that the Great Lakes region should have some wine popularity too. It’s one of the poorer regions of the country. Obviously this isn’t a “coastal elite” thing. I credit two things. Shipping helps. Shipping over water is more efficient (read: cheap) than shipping overland, so getting wine to the region isn’t as expensive as say, getting it to Denver and down into “The Springs.” But shipping from where? One would suppose that wine dominance would leave a trail along its logistical path if the mere presence of wine could inspire a change in palates. So where’s the trail leading from Sonoma to the Mississippi or from Albany to New Orleans? It doesn’t exist. I think it has more to do with this.
Specifically I think we’re seeing an artifact of that region’s early French influence. It’s not just architecture folks. Those things, like a preference for wine, linger. Notice the dark region on the wine map and compare it to the area on the map above called New France (not the one in Canada, the one where New Orleans is). From there straight north to St. Louis, which, if you’ve ever been to it, you know has a French influence (not just in its name, but that’s a pretty good hint). North of that it was all Bohemian, Scotch, and German farmers. Here’s the description of New France from the article linked above:
NEW FRANCE. Occupying the New Orleans area and southeastern Canada, New France blends the folkways of ancien régime northern French peasantry with the traditions and values of the aboriginal people they encountered in northeastern North America. After a long history of imperial oppression, its people have emerged as down-to-earth, egalitarian, and consensus driven, among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy. The New French influence is manifest in Canada, where multiculturalism and negotiated consensus are treasured.
I had initially planned to discuss all five maps, but I also didn’t expect to spend so much time on this one. Another time, perhaps.