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How to Write About a Winery for a Fiction Story

Andrea Lawrence has a master's in creative writing. She studied fiction, poetry, playwriting, and screenwriting.

Wineries make for great settings for stories. There are certain details that can give your story more authority.

Wineries make for great settings for stories. There are certain details that can give your story more authority.

Incorporating Wine into a Story

Wineries and vineyards make for incredible settings for stories. The setting is rich with visuals, scents, tastes, and sounds. To really capture the beauty of a winery in story form, you'll need to do some research. Rely on experts like sommeliers, archaeologists, and academics. When you write, you never want to assume. You want your writing to have authority, you can do that by having a strong knowledge base supported by research.

Don't expect that every winery on the planet is the same. There are different techniques, soils for growing grapes, types of grapes, flavors, blends, and terms. A winery in Canada will have a different feel to one in South Africa.

Wine comes up a lot in stories. The alcoholic beverage is offered at weddings, private events, and religious services. It's often paired with cheese and crackers. If you want to write a compelling story featuring wine, then you need to know some of the expressions around it.

Come along with me, and I'll give you a rundown of what you can do to elevate your story. I'll try to help you get an idea of what things people will look for when you write about wine and where you can find some free resources.

Wineries make for exquisite locations for your characters to interact, play, and reflect. If you can't easily visit one for your research, there are plenty of free resources to expand your knowledge.

Wineries make for exquisite locations for your characters to interact, play, and reflect. If you can't easily visit one for your research, there are plenty of free resources to expand your knowledge.

Story Elements

Setting: The playground for your characters. The setting, in a way, is an extension of your characters.

  • A room is indicative of the type of person who owns it.
  • You would expect someone with a lot of money to have a different home than someone who doesn't have a lot of money.
  • The setting gives us a sense of space and time.

Characters have a particular set of options and manners related to their setting. You would accept characters to act differently at a gas station than at a wedding.

Wineries are often romantic locations, they're fantasy spaces away from urban sprawl, and they connect people back to their roots. Wineries often bring in rich snobs.

If you're planning to write about a winery or vineyard, I would encourage you to make your writing descriptive:

  • What does the soil feel like?
  • What does the wine smell like?
  • What memories come up when you drink the wine?
  • What is the weather like around the winery/vineyard?
  • Does the wine taste different with different methods?

Symbols: Wine has been used as a symbol for millenniums. It was a symbol of Dionysis and partying. It was a symbol of resurrection and sacrifice for Christ. It's a symbol of plight and hope for migrant workers in The Grapes of Wrath.

Themes: Wine could be used for various themes from depicting wealth inequality to the beauty and possibilities in metamorphosis.

Brief Winery History

Evidence of wine dates all the way back to 7000 BCE in China. Humans have been sipping wine since the Neolithic Era, a time when most of the world lived in Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer communities.

Oldest Known Wineries

LocationDetailsAge

Areni region, Armenia

Wine press in a cave. Discovered in 2011.

Dates back 6,000 years

Zagros Mountains, Iran

Jars found with a chemical marker of wine.

Dates back 7,000 years

Kvemo, Kartli, Georgia

Wine-making equipment discovered.

Dates back 8,000 years

Tbilisi, Georgia

Remnants of wine-making facility discovered in 2017.

Dates back 8,000 years

Quick Overview

How do we get wine? Winemakers work to ferment grapes and other fruit. The fruit is blended and aged with juice. Grapes are brought in from vineyards owned by the winery or outsourced from other locations.

I encourage writers to go to wineries and vineyards to get a firsthand look at these places. There are people at these places who are experts on wine; they can help you get a more accurate feel of the industry. They'll likely be enthusiastic to talk to you. Wineries often give tours, and sometimes they'll let you taste the wines for free.

Some wineries have fancy architecture to lure people to them. They have cellar doors and tasting rooms. I encourage writers to consider what their winery/vineyard looks like for their story and what makes it special. Consider writing about design features that will catch people's attention: giant marble statues, passages hidden by books, and expensive wine stored in an expensive display case (and surrounded by lasers).

Wineries can be found nearly everywhere. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Napa Valley, California
  • Sonoma Valley, California
  • Barossa Valley, Australia
  • Bordeaux, France
  • Burgundy, France

Grapes aren't the only fruit that can be turned into wine. Quite a few things can be transformed into a wine: honey, dandelions, pears, pineapples, persimmons, blackberries, peaches, apples, strawberries, etc.

Wineries are generally associated with warmer weather. Grapevines don't grow when it is too cold.

Wineries are generally associated with warmer weather. Grapevines don't grow when it is too cold.

Types of Wineries

Farm Winery: Farms produce the wine and sell it on location. These operate on a small scale. The winery often helps farmers who might be struggling to survive.

Micro-Winery: Located at a small farm vineyard or a wine producer sets up a location and gets their grapes from outside suppliers. It's similar to a microbrewery. Small batches are generally made for locals. The micro-winery usually has a wide range of wines, since it isn't limited to its own fruits.

Urban Winery: A winemaking facility inside a city rather than out in the country. Grapes are grown in a remote location, transported, then crushed at the urban facility. Urban wineries often draw people in with restaurants and venues for bands or other live performances.

Tools to Research Wines

There are multiple tools you can use to learn about wines, wineries, and the like.

  • Visit Wineries: Go to wineries. Walk around and get a feel for the place. While you're there, write on your phone descriptions of the area. Look for hidden trails. Go to tasting rooms. Let your mind wander.
  • Find Books: Your local library likely has books on wines and wineries. If you're going to write about a popular winery, there is likely a book on it. This can be a good reference point for you as you write.
  • Listen to Podcasts: There are podcasts you can use as background noise as you write. Search "wine" or the name of the winery wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Look for YouTube Videos: There are travel videos all over YouTube. You'll find hundreds of Napa Valley videos where people sample wines, discuss them, teach you about the finer things of life, etc.
  • Sample Wines: Order wines from the area you're doing research. Try them out for yourself. Host a wine tasting party. Have people write notes about how the wines tasted. Notes with descriptive language will be helpful when you write.
  • Subscribe to Wine Magazines: Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, The World of Fine Wine . . . there are an endless number of subscriptions you could use to build your knowledge. Sometimes libraries have copies of these!
  • Watch Wine Documentaries: Dozens of wine documentaries have been created. You can find them on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. It's a good idea to listen to sommeliers and get a sense of their language and personalities.
  • Study Pictures and Art: There are some incredible artworks out there of wines. You could look at paintings from the Dutch Golden Age for inspiration.
  • Look to Ancient History: Tie-ins to older texts can help ground your story. Wine has been around for about as long as human memory. Essentially, when you study history, you study wine—it's all hooked up. Wineries dating back thousands of years still exist today.
  • Study Myths About Wine: Look for stories about wine deities, curses, and prophecies. You want to write a compelling story, so if you can find a local legend about a ghost haunting a winery, you should definitely use that.
  • Join a Wine Club: Get around wine enthusiasts. Observe how they interact with each other. Take note of their pride in their skills.

Research Your Location

You can't expect a winery in Australia to be the same as one in Italy. You should do some research about the land. You want to paint a picture of words; your description should give the reader an idea of what it's like to travel to this place.

I often use Walla Walla, Washington as an example for my writing guides. I find it makes it easy to keep going back to the same place for my readers. I also intend to write a novel about Walla Walla.

What are things you should keep in mind? The history of the wine, the geography of where it comes from, and the rivers and valleys that support its development. You also want to know how it's served, how it's stored, and the rituals associated with it. You want to know the details of the wine like your lover's face.

So what makes the Walla Walla Valley special? It's a hidden gem in the United States. I would bet if you asked people to name one wine hot spot in the US, they'd probably say Napa Valley, not Walla Walla.

You need to know the size and scale of your wine valley. Walla Walla Valley AVA is included within the larger Columbia Valley AVA, which goes through central and southern Washington and a small section of Oregon. Columbia Valley AVA is the largest wine region in Washington. It includes more than 11 million acres. 50,000 of those acres are vineyards.

Walla Walla Valley AVA has the second-highest concentration of vineyards/wineries in the state. There are about 140 wineries.

For writers, you should have guide notes about your winery/vineyard of interest. Consider these notes like a character profile. This can help you to better understand the setting's identity and how to write about it for your story.

Here are some important things to consider for a winery. I filled out the details for Walla Walla Valley AVA:

  • Climate Region: Continental/Mediterranean
  • Growing Season: 190-220 days
  • Soil Conditions: Loess soil, unstratified, calcareous silt
  • Grapes Produced: Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Chardonnay, Counoise, Gewurztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Syrah, and several others.
  • Wine Produced: Grape, Dessert, Sparkling, Meritage

What makes your winery special? There are a few things that make Walla Walla a star in the wine community. It will likely be a big player in the wine game in the future. The Walla Walla Valley has large areas of wind-deposited loess, and this makes for excellent drainage for wines.

The area doesn't receive a lot of rainfall and relies on irrigation. The 200-day-long growing season has hot days and cool nights. Cold air comes down from the Blue Mountains and gets trapped in the Snake and Columbia river valleys.

What is the history of the place? Walla Walla Valley became a leader in wine in Washington when the town was founded as a trading post in the 1840s. French fur trappers settled outside the city and planted grapes. The first nursery of grapevines came from Champoeg, Oregon.

The Idaho gold rush of 1860 helped Walla Walla turn into a trade center. When the gold rush ended, the state switched its focus to the Western side. Seattle was the state's main hub from then on.

The first Walla Walla wine industry ran into some major setbacks. The Northern Pacific Railway built a route from Spokane to Seattle, cutting Walla Walla off from the state's hotbed of economic growth. Frost in 1883 destroyed several grapevines, forcing farmers to abandon their crops. Worse yet: the Prohibition Era. The wine region was essentially dead at that point.

The area didn't see a resurgence until the 1970s. Leonetti Cellars became a cult favorite. Woodward Canyon Winery was founded in 1981 and L'Ecole No. 41 in 1983. Walla Walla Valley was granted AVA status in 1984.

What are the most popular wines/varieties? The most popular grape variety for Walla Walla wines is Cabernet Sauvignon followed by Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. The four varieties account for approximately 89% of what's planted in the area.

You want to paint a picture of words; your description should give the reader an idea of what it's like to travel to this place.

You want to paint a picture of words; your description should give the reader an idea of what it's like to travel to this place.

Winkler Index

The Winkler Index, Winkler Scale, or Winkler Regions classifies the climate of wine-growing regions. This is based on how much heat gets into an area. There are five climate regions that are based on temperature converted to growing days. The regions are listed below.

Region°F Units°C UnitsRipening Capability/Wine Style

Region Ia

1500-2000

850-1111

Very early ripening varieties will achieve a high quality finish. Suitable for hybrid grapes and some V. vinifera.

Region Ib

2001-2500

1111-1389

Early ripening varieties achieve a strong finish. Suitable for some hybrid grapes but mostly V. vinifera.

Region II

2501-3000

1389-1667

Early to mid-season table wine varieties.

Region III

30001-3500

1668-1944

Suitable for high production of standard to good table wines.

Region IV

3501-4000

1945-2222

Favorable for high production. Not the best table wine quality, but acceptable.

Region V

4001-4900

2223-2700

Only suitable for extremely high production. Fair quality table wine.

Grapevines do not appear to grow below 50°F (10°C). Important note about the Winkler index: the higher the number of the region, the warmer the area gets.

More subtle wines with lower alcohol content and a stronger fruit scent are found in cooler climates, Region Ia, Ib, II, and lower III. Bolder wines with a deeper color and strong aroma are found in warmer regions, Region III, IV, and V.

It's important when doing research on a vineyard to consider the sun exposure, latitude, precipitation, soil conditions, and risk of bad weather. Winter weather is disastrous for wine; you don't want blizzards and ice.

Selected Wine Regions Globally

CountryWine RegionCityGST °FGDD °F UnitsWinkler Region

Canada

Nova Scotia

Kentville

57.4

1579

Region Ia

Australia

Tasmania

Launceston

58.0

1709

Region Ia

France

Champagne

Reims

58.4

1805

Region Ia

Germany

Rhine Valley

Geisenheim

59.4

1926

Region Ib

Spain

Ribera del Duero

Valladolid

60.3

2211

Region Ib

Ukraine

Crimea

Simferopol

61.7

2504

Region II

New Zealand

Hawke's Bay

Napier

62.9

2768

Region II

United States

Columbia Valley

Prosser, WA

64.0

2993

Region II

Italy

Alto Adige

Bolzano

64.1

3016

Region III

United States

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma, CA

64.9

3189

Region III

Italy

Verona

Verona

66.4

3509

Region IV

United States

Napa Valley

St. Helena, CA

66.8

3601

Region IV

South Africa

Stellenbosch

Nietvoorbij

67.5

3751

Region IV

Italy

Tuscany

Firenze

68.3

3907

Region IV

Japan

Yamanashi

Kofu

69.3

4140

Region V

Morocco

Meknes-Tafilalet

Meknes

69.4

4149

Region V

Greece

Patras

Patras

70.1

4292

Region V

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Andrea Lawrence