Wine Moving: A Brief History

At Top Shelf Logistics, we have been moving wine and other beverages since 1989, however, wine transportation has been taking place for centuries. Wine skins were used in the biblical days and offered transportation for small amounts. For larger amounts, large pottery jugs were used and these were a standard mode for the production, preservation and transportation of wine.

Wine Moving from Greece and Rome to the Middle Ages

The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used large pottery vessels to store and transport wine across city-states and countries. The Romans used amphorae. The sizes varied and so did the stylistic qualities. The Greeks believed in elaborately decorating their clay pottery; the Romans focused more on the practicality of the vessels for transportation.

Wine moving primarily too place via water as it was the best medium for shipping the smaller amphorae and its larger counterpart. This was the dolium. Like our various shipping containers at Top Shelf Logistics, this choice became part of the Romans’ own logistic system for shipping and transporting wine and other goods. The dolium evolved over the period and ships came to feature dolium cemented into the floor. This allowed for less disturbance of the wine.

Yet, like other containers, the dolium and amphorae soon faced competition. Wooden barrels, invented by the Celts but introduced to the Romans by the Gauls, came into prominence in the shipping industry in conjunction with the expansion of what was to become the Roman Empire. Between Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 54 BC and the first century AD, wooden (in particular oak) barrels became the accepted form of wine moving across the Republic/Empire. The reasons were simple. Barrels were:

  • Durable
  • Light weight
  • Watertight
  • Able to hold large amounts (the larger barrels called tuns)

By the third century AD, the transition to barrels was complete.

Barrels also had a surprise benefit; they influenced the taste of wine.

The Middle Ages saw barrels of all sizes. Export and import taxes were in place and licenses affected the wine trade (just like we experience today at Top Shelf Logistics). Wine even influenced the categorization of ships. By the 14th century, a ship was referred to as being able to carry so many “tuns” of wine. Until the advent of the 19th and early 20th century, ship and tuns remained the favored mode of moving wine in and across Europe and even into the New World.

The Modern Age of Moving Wine

In the past few centuries, technological advances have affected wine moving in a positive way. The railroad was the first to open up the ability to transport wine across the land with less spillage and spoilage. Barrels and specially designed tank cars made this possible. The acceptance of the glass bottle also affected the transportation of wine. This new container was slow to receive acceptance across the public. Although glass bottles had been in use since the 1600s, their use for wine as more than a temporary transport from barrel to cup did not begin until the 1820s. In addition, laws in England did not allow for the sale of wine in bottles until 1860. Eventually, the bottle became the standard wine container.

Wine Moving Today

Today, technology has once again affected the wine industry. Containers for transporting wine and other beverages have undergone a virtual revolution. Since the 21st century started, wine production companies have looked for lighter, safer and less expensive ways to ship their product. They also need to ensure the product does not suffer any loss in quality. At Top Shelf Logistics, we can assure our customers we are capable of achieving this objective no matter how the wine is packaged from plastic Flexi-tank bags (bladders) to boxes or glass bottles. We are prepared to handle all types of wine moving and transportation.