I learned a little something about wine, and I wanted to pass it along to you.
Last month when I visited Persimmon Creek Vineyards, I got to see a winery that does it all right there – from growing the grapes to creating the wine to affixing the label on the bottle. It was exactly how I imagined a vineyard to be. I’m sure it was what most people imagine a vineyard to be.
Would it surprise you to know that this is not the case for any of the top 30 brands of wine sold in the United States? Here’s how it works for the big brands. They buy juice from already pressed grapes that have been grown in various vineyards and have the wine created at a facility. The word facility isn’t nearly as romantic as winery, is it?
Not everyone who owns a vineyard also has a winery. Some vineyards only grow the grapes. Then they sell them to large wine producers who make them into wine and put their label on the bottle.
Don’t be surprised if you didn’t know this. The wine industry likes to create the perception that the wine you’re drinking was created from hand picked grapes and created in small wineries where an expert wine maker watched over each barrel.
The Daily Beast has an interesting story about how many of the large and even some smaller brands actually produce their wine. They are produced by wine processing companies or custom crush facilities that may create wine for several different brands in one location. That’s not how you pictured it, is it?
The reality of the situation is that last year Americans consumed over 700 million gallons of wine. Eighty percent of those wines sold for under $10 a bottle. It’s just not possible for 560 million gallons of $10 wine to be produced in the method we have in our minds – the small wineries with their dedicated wine makers watching carefully over each barrel as it ages. That type of attention to the wine would understandably raise the price of the wine and reduce the amount of wine available.
What does all this mean? Are wineries trying to perpetuate a fraud on the American consumer? Not really. Like most agriculture in America, big wine has become more of an agribusiness. The marketing of any product grown or raised on a farm will always try to sell consumers on what consumers want agriculture to be – whether it’s winemakers who lovingly turn each barrel by hand or happy cows that create happy cheese in California. If we think too long and too hard about it, we know that with the demand for large quantities of wine or cheese at inexpensive prices, the ideals often have to give.
If you want to make sure that your wine is created the way you picture it in your head, The Daily Beast has a suggestion.
The trick is to read the fine print. In wines made in America, look for the term “produced and bottled by” on the label. It may not sound like much, but it’s all you need to know. Terms like “cellared and bottled by” or “vinted and bottled by” do not mean the same thing. In fact, they imply that the wine was not actually made at the winery at all.
I just pulled three bottles of local wine from three different wineries from my rack. It’s interesting. One of the more expensive bottles that I bought at a wine festival a few months back that I’m saving for a special occasion actually says “vinted and bottled by” on it. The other two bottles, which were gifts so I don’t know how much they cost, say “produced and bottled by.” So if I understand it correctly, the expensive bottle doesn’t necessarily contain grapes that were grown by the winery.
I’m okay with that. It’s good wine and I have no problem supporting local wineries even if they have to import some of their grapes to make good wine.