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Italian Wine and the Vatican – A Love Story That Looks Set to Become Stronger

For centuries, the Vatican has stood as something of an anomaly inside Italy. The region is classed as a “sovereign city state”, which means it’s not quite a country but it is also not a part of Italy, even though it sits within Italy and is essentially considered part of the country.

We know.

It sounds a little confusing.

But the long and short of it is that the Vatican is essentially governed by the Pope and, for all intents and purposes, is its own country. What makes this even stranger is that the Vatican is home to only about 900 full-time residents, which essentially makes it the smallest country in the world!

Of course, it receives tens of thousands of visitors every year, so you would never know that it has such a small population.

Still, it’s this small population that leads us to yet another interesting fact about the Vatican:

It consumes the most wine per capita than any other country in the world.

So, does this mean that the Vatican’s residents are walking around in a state of continuous tipsiness? Does the state produce its own wines or does it rely on a continuous flow of Italian wine? All of those questions, and more, will be answered in this article.

And that starts with a deeper dive into the Vatican’s residents drinking more wine than any other collective of people in the world.

The Highest Per Capita Consumption

So, where does the information about the Vatican consuming more wine than anywhere else in the world come from?

In 2020, the Wine Institute of California conducted an in-depth study to discover who drinks the most wine. They found that the residents of the Vatican manage to get through about 74 litres of wine each per year. For reference, that amounts to about 105 bottles per year, or a little over two bottles per week.

The astonishing thing is that the Vatican is smaller than the vast majority of vineyards that produce the wines it consumes.

Let’s add a little more perspective, again using the institute’s findings.

According to the Wine Institute of California, the United States has a population of about 325 million people. Each person in the US consumes about 11.1 litres per year, making a total of 3.5 billion litres consumed across the entire country. Ultimately, this amounts to a bottle of wine every 3.8 days, which is about half of what the Vatican’s residents drink.

So, why does this happen?

There are a few reasons.

One is that the Vatican is the home of Catholicism. And as any Catholic will tell you, wine is an important ceremonial tool, particularly in the holy communion. Church-goers consume wine every time they take communion. And even though it’s just a sip per person, that all adds up when you consider the fact that thousands of people visit the Vatican per year. So, perhaps the wines that churches purchase lead to some inflated figures.

However, there’s a more important factor that comes into play.

The Vatican’s 900 residents are exclusively adults. They’re members of the priesthood or other adult members of the Catholic church. Again, this is another thing that makes the Vatican unique, as no other country is made up exclusively of adults. So, the figures the Vatican produces in terms of per capita wine consumption are skewed somewhat by the fact that there are no children involved in the population counting. No children means no group of people that don’t consume wine. And so, we see higher per capita consumption rates.

In other words, if the United States was made up exclusively of adults, it’s likely that its per capita rates would be much closer to what we see from the Vatican.

Now, we know what you’re thinking.

If the Vatican consumes so much wine, surely that means it has its own vineyards.

That isn’t the case.

Or at least, it wasn’t until very recently.

The Pope’s New Vineyards

In February 2021, the Italian wine industry news website WineNews.it posted the interesting revelation that the Vatican was finally planning to plant its own vineyards. According to the site, the vineyard will be approximately two hectares in size and will sit in the Castel Gandolfo estate, which is just outside Rome.

That estate is the Pope’s official summer residence, hence the ties to the Vatican.

Beyond this, little is known about the new project.

We don’t know what grapes will be planted, what types of wine will be produced, or even if the Vatican’s wines will be governed by the same strict regulations that other Italian wines must meet.

What we do know is that planting began in the spring of 2021 and that the entire project is being overseen by Riccardo Cotarella. For those who don’t recognise the name, Riccardo is one of the most prolific Italian winemakers, as well as being one of the first of what some in the industry dub “flying winemakers” due to his propensity for travelling the country to take on new products.

We also know that the wine will not be available for sale.

Instead, it will be used solely for sacramental and gifting purposes.

The Final Word

As we mentioned at the top of the article, the Vatican is one of the most interesting places in the world. Its per capita wine consumption numbers may seem a little shocking at first. But when you take the various mitigating factors into account, they start to make sense.

What doesn’t make sense is that it’s taken so long for the Vatican to start producing its own wines.

However, the establishment of this new vineyard changes all of that. It will likely be a couple of years before anybody gets a taste of the new Vatican wines. And even then, they’ll only be sampled by those who partake in the various ceremonies that the Vatican holds, But we must say we’re more than a little interested in getting a taste of what the place with the highest per capita wine consumption in the world has to offer when it comes to its own wines.

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