Book Review: American Wine Economics by James Thornton

BR Wine Economics FotoSince there is now an American Association of Wine Economics, it’s only logical that there should be a book that synthesizes the knowledge and research on economic analysis as applied to the American wine industry.  That is precisely what James Thornton offers in his book on American Wine Economics, published by the University of California Press. Economists and non-economists are likely to appreciate this book quite differently.

This book covers all the standard economic topics concerning wine—the nature of the product, consumer demand, the supply of grapes and wine, government regulation, etc.  It is a comprehensive, economic assessment of wine and the wine industry in America.  It would make a great textbook for a course on Wine Economics or a supplementary text for an intermediate course on Microeconomics.

From an economist’s perspective, this book’s principal value lies in its synthesis of research and its use of data to illustrate characteristics of the wine market.  The encyclopedic nature and data-based analysis of the book renders it a great reference work to consult on specific topics.  But, aside from this, much of the book’s discussion and analysis is rather obvious to a trained economist.  It’s the kind of book the economist will want to skim to find those interesting portions that deal with unfamiliar data or topics.

From the non-economist’s perspective, this is above all a book that teaches the principles of economics as applied to wine.  In this sense it can seem pedantic, explaining an economic principle followed by its application to wine. This is what makes it a great textbook.  And there are undoubtedly a large number of people who took intermediate economics in college and will find the book to be a wonderful refresher.  But is the rare non-economist who will have the fortitude to systematically read their way through this book.

In short, this is a book that would be especially useful to motivate young students to learn economics (although my own son would be more motivated by a book on the economics of beer).  It does a good job of synthesizing our research knowledge on wine economics, and in that respect merits a good read from any wine lover who successfully passed Econ 101.  We highly recommend it.

Don Winkler

March 2014

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