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On the benefits of estate bottling

43 comments

 

At a meeting yesterday at Jackson Family Wines, several people made the point that wines that are estate bottled—that is, where the grape source is controlled 100% by the vintner, either by owning the vineyards or by longterm contracts—are preferable for wine quality to grapes that the winemaker has to scramble for each year, or that are not farmed to his or her exact specifications.

This got me thinking back to my days as a critic, and the wines I reviewed that I gave high scores to, yet were not made from grapes that could properly be called “estate.” So, as usual per Heimoff’s Axiom, not every rule in wine is iron-clad; there are exceptions to each, and in some cases, notable ones.

But I would have to say that, in general, having the precision control that estate bottled wines have is a huge plus. It’s not only a matter of where and how the grapes are grown; in order to quality for “estate bottled,” according to Wine Spectator, “the winery listed on the label owns or controls 100 percent of the grapes that went into the bottle, and the wine was crushed, fermented, finished, aged and bottled all in the same place, and that place has to be located in the same viticultural area that’s stated on the label.”

That’s a high bar to clear. If you think about it, each of those specifications might in itself be of minor importance, but when you add them all up and take them together, they make it far more likely that the resulting wine will be of high quality. Having that precision control over farming is certainly the most important of the “estate bottled” requirements, but to have the entire winemaking process “in the same place,” usually the winery or a facility located very nearby, removes the risky transportation elements that can drag down wine quality. You want to move grapes, must, fermented wine or bottled wine as little as possible; wine is living food, and doesn’t like being manhandled.

By the same token, a winery that has the means (intellectual and financial) to estate-bottle its wines is far more likely than one that doesn’t to invest in the highest winemaking talent available. Why go through all the trouble to estate-bottle your wine, only to have a mediocre vintner dumb it down?

These are all reasons why estate bottled wine almost always costs more than wine that isn’t estate bottled. The costs of production are higher.

I believe all of Jackson Family’s high-end wines are estate bottled; they include Mt. Brave, Stonestreet, Matanzas Creek, Verité, Freemark Abbey, Edmeades, Hartford, La Jota, Lokoya, Cardinale and Byron, in addition to many others. What a great portfolio. It’s one of the reasons why I took this job. Jackson Family Wines, IMHO, has the greatest portfolio of wines in the world, at almost any price point except the bottom feeders—a realm Jess had no interest in entering. If you know of another family-owned company that can make that claim, let me know.

I’ve resisted the temptation to boost or promote or praise the company that employs me for the last 3-1/2 months, since I took this job, and I’m not going to do it a lot. But I’m going to do it sometimes, including today, because it really has to be said: Too many people (so I’m learning) feel or think that all the brands under Jackson Family Wines’ roof are somehow or other Kendall-Jackson. That just isn’t true; in fact, it’s a perversion of the facts. While K-J accounts for the majority of bottles sold by the company (and, I suspect, the majority of profits), it’s simply one brand among many. Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke didn’t have to assemble this world-class portfolio (which includes high-end brands on four continents). They could well have been content to be “mere” billionaires off K-J. But Jess Jackson wanted to prove to himself, and to the world, that he could make wines to stand beside anything else, anywhere, in quality. He has done that—and estate bottling is a large part of the reason–but the story hasn’t adequately been conveyed. That’s part of the reason JFW hired me. I’m going to be telling that story, to sommeliers and other “gatekeepers,” and not just telling it, but proving it, by pouring them these wines to taste and see for themselves how great they are.

Alright, got that off my chest. Now, have a great weekend!

  1. TomHill says:

    Well…maybe so that estate bottling is important to some folks. But, over the yrs, I’ve never laid much import on whether the wine is estated bottled or not. It’s just nothing that made much of a difference to me. Plenty of the wines I buy are not EB’d and they seem just fine to me.

  2. Refreshing to hear that Jess took on this challenge. For me estate bottling is a really good indicator that the winemaker wants to work within his means and is a quality control freak…something that really shows through the wines.

    The next thing I’d look at is vineyard treatments and additives in the wines. If Jess is able to not use chemical shortcuts in the vineyard and winery and maintain a large brand, I’ll give him a big high-five!

  3. Estate bottled wines are from a place that you can actually know.

    Estate bottled wines likely are made with the advantage of intimate knowledge of their own vineyard. The opportunity is there to make wines that express their unique terroir.

    Estate bottled wines likely have some inherent sustainability advantages. The distance from vineyard to/from winery is likely to be small.

  4. Bob Foster says:

    I could not care less if a wine is Estate Bottled or not. I care about flavor, balance, depth and a myriad of other sensory factors.

  5. Steve – I think there was a time in California when Estate Bottled meant exactly what you said. But I think times have changed to the point that the separate grower / winemaker model has the same potential to make great wine these days.

    It really comes down to the people involved.

  6. Bob Henry says:

    Penfolds Grange — arguably the most esteemed red wine of Australia — is a “mash up” of grapes grown from multiple distant properties.

    Excerpt from Wikipedia:

    “Unlike most expensive cult wines from the Old World which are from single vineyards or even small plots (called blocks) within vineyards, Grange is made from grapes harvested over a wide area. This means that the precise composition of the wine changes from year to year; it is the expertise of the winemakers which purchasers value, rather than the qualities of the specific places where the grapes are grown, or the particular vines. . . . Despite the vagaries of grape sourcing and vintage variation due to growing conditions, some believe that there is a consistent and recognisable ‘Penfolds Grange’ style.[citation needed]”

    I have heard anecdotes over the years that selective winemakers truck their refrigerated Oregon Pinot Noir grapes across the border to California to vinify the wine at their own facilities.

    A call-out to Brian Loring: where do you vinify your Shea Vineyard (Oregon) Pinot?

  7. How does a consumer pick a good wine without having the opportunity to taste it?

    Hopefully, by using the best available information. Estate Bottled on the label offers some very good information to the consumer about what’s in the bottle.

    Personally, I’d rather have more information than less when making decisions.

  8. Dan Fishman says:

    I can certainly see the benefit of Estate Grown grapes for many reasons (although I agree with Brian that you can do well buying grapes from good farmers willing to work to your specifications), but I have a hard time seeing how the Estate Bottled designation really matters. If you own a vineyard in, say, Alexander Valley, and a production facility in Calistoga, is it really harming the grapes to take them over the hill? Of course, if you labeled the resulting wine North Coast, instead of Alexander Valley, you could use the Estate Bottled designation. Would that make the quality of the wine better?

  9. Bob Henry says:

    Here’s a small but insightful counterpoint example to the putative importance of “estate bottled” wines.

    The great winemaker Joe Heitz sourced his Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from Martha’s Vineyard, owned by Tom and Martha May.

    (And gave it the distinction of being a “vineyard designation” bottling.)

    Heitz did not vinify it on the property.

    Critics and collectors unanimously agree that “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernets of that period represent some of the greatest wines in California’s history.

    Steve, you took the inspiration for your interview book “New Classic Winemakers of California” from my buddy Bob Benson’s tome “Great Winemakers of California.”

    Go back and re-read the Heitz interview. (Likewise the chapter on Heitz in Roy Andries de Groot’s tome “The Wines of California, The Pacific Northwest & New York.)

    Joe implicitly trusted his growers to give him great grapes to work with. And they delivered.

    Brian Loring and others are simply traveling a path blazed by Joe Heitz.

    Not a bad model to emulate . . .

  10. Bob Henry says:

    Postscript.

    In the July/August 2014 issue (# 49) of the Wall Street Journal magazine WSJ, readers will find an article (page 84ff) on Bill Harlan.

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/articles/napa-valley-winemaker-bill-harlan-releases-a-new-vintage-1403218372#printMode

    His BOND winemaking venture is based on an implicit trust in the growers who supply him fruit from specific terroirs. None of the Melbury, Vecina, St. Eden, Pluribus and Quella is “estate bottled.”

    His new venture is named Promontory. The article doesn’t say if the fruit from his 900 acre purchase will be “estate bottled.”

  11. Bob Henry says:

    BradK,

    At Domaine Georg Rafael, one can read at your website . . .

    “Domaine Georg Rafael, located in California’s Napa Valley, is focused on the production of single vineyard, estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Our region of the Napa Valley, the Oak Knoll District, provides world-class growing conditions for these two fine varietals and it is our goal to craft exceptional, vibrant and sophisticated wines that decidedly speak of place and enjoy a long distinguished life.”

    Link: http://www.georgrafaelwines.com/ourwines.html

    Are you also estate bottled?

    ~~ Bob

  12. Bob,
    We meet the requirements of Estate Bottled, but do not put the term on the Cab label….

    To your previous comment, Martha’s Vineyard is a vineyard designate. I don’t see estate bottled and vineyard designates as a counterpoint to Steve’s argument, but instead see them as offering similar, useful information.

    Though, Estate Bottled may be a term that consumers don’t really understand. It defines control/ownership. A vineyard designate seems easier for a consumer to understand and defines place.

    Ultimately, I agree with Brian. It comes down to grapes and people. But, in a world of hype, finding those people can be very difficult. Useful information is a hedge against hype.

  13. Bob Henry says:

    Brad,

    “Estate grown” indicates grapes sourced from a specific plot of land.

    “Estate bottled” goes one further by indicating grapes that never left the property for vinification.

    So many prized winemaking programs would not exist if they had to be estate bottled.

    (Example: Think of all those Pinot Noir vineyard designates from Williams Selyem. A small, remote properties like Summa Vineyard could not possibly support its own production facility. Link: http://www.princeofpinot.com/article/1232/)

    I side with Bob Foster (and others) that the added distinction of “bottled” is eclipsed by more fundamental concerns: how good is the grape growing and winemaking team.

    Harvested grapes are not some hot house flower that wilts with a little transportation.

    (Aside: in Joe Heitz’s interview with Bob Benson, he cites the fact that he used machine harvesting of his fruit. Modern grape growers and winemakers would be aghast at that notion — given the adoption of multiple passes through a vineyard and sorting tables.)

  14. Steve and all,
    Just so that you are all clear, here is the link to CFR 4.26 which defines the rules concerning Estate Bottling. Please note the definition of “controlled” (1.c.). As long as you have a three year contract with a grower and an alternating proprietor agreement with a facility in the same viticultural area of the grapes grown, you can call the wine “Estate Bottled” even if no person from your winery ever touched the grapes or wine.

    “Estate” does not mean owning an Wine Estate anymore than “Chateau” means you have a Castle or “Natural Ingredients” on your yogurt means flavor concentrates were not added.

  15. Bob,
    In the real world, with most bottles of wine, consumers have no clue about the grapes or people that made the wine.

    Estate Bottled is one term on a label that actually helps tell about the grapes and people that made the wine.

    It’s illogical for you to argue that something that helps you understand what you think is most important about a wine is not helpful.

  16. Bob Henry says:

    BradK,

    I invite you to re-read my comments.

    At no time did I write (“argue”) that knowing whether a wine is “estate bottled” is helpful or “not helpful” to “understanding” the beverage.

    One can cite poorly-made “estate bottled” wines and sublimely-made “estate bottled” wines. Vinifying on-premises or nearby wasn’t the “tipping point.”

    I assert (“argue”) that there are more pertinent considerations.

    Speaking as a marketer, let me pose you this non-rhetorical question: If even trade persons commenting to this blog don’t even know the nuances of that opaque term [and thanks to Oded for his link] . . . what assures you that the general public does?

    As a proponent for adopting this nomenclature, will Domaine Georg Rafael in the future be adding that descriptive phrase to its estate-grown Cabernet labeling?

    ~~ Bob

  17. Bob,
    These are your words: “I side with Bob Foster (and others) that the added distinction of “bottled” is eclipsed by more fundamental concerns: how good is the grape growing and winemaking team.”

    I responded specifically to those words. Those words are illogical because “Estate Bottled” helps you to understand the grape growing and winemaking.

    I now hope you are re-assured that I read your comments with care.

    “Estate Bottled” wines CAN’T be bulk wine purchased from another winery. I hope that you get bulk wines offer you basically zero knowledge about the characteristics you stated were most important.

    I already addressed your rhetorical question in a previous comment. Please re-read.

    I can’t speak for what goes on the Rafael label. It is not my decision.

    I take exception with Oded’s comment as well. Any term on a label can be abused. That is not an argument to leave it off. For example, a wine labeled Cabernet Sauvignon can be made from 25% Thompson Seedless grapes. Does anyone really want to argue that we should all leave varietal designations off of wine labels because they can be abused?

    Reality is that “Estate Bottled” wines are usually the wines that a winery feels are their best.

  18. “While K-J accounts for the majority of bottles sold by the company (and, I suspect, the majority of profits), it’s simply one brand among many.”

    Steve — You suspect? Surely you jest…simply talk to anyone in Marketing,Finance or anyone whose been at JFW long enough they will tell you this — K-J, La Crema, and probably now Murphy-Goode keep the small “boutique” wineries going in the portfolio (and tasting rooms that basically lose money for the company) going.

  19. Bob Henry says:

    BradK,

    I don’t wish to make this a contentious issue.

    But a fact trumps a theory every time.

    “Estate bottled” wines can be plonk or they can be transcendent.

    But history tells us that a talented grape growing and winemaking team using contract fruit can eclipse the efforts of others whose wines fit the narrow legal definition of “estate bottled.”

    Joe Heitz’s “Martha’s Vineyard” and “Fay Vineyard” Cabernets. Williams Selyem’s single vineyard Pinot Noirs. Other exemplars too numerous to mention.

    None vinified at the vineyard. All among the best wines of their type ever made in California.

    I’m sorry Brad, but your haven’t successful made the argument that “estate bottled” wines are, by legal definition and “real world” experience tasted in the glass, superior to other practices.

    Wishing it were so doesn’t make it so.

    ~~ Bob

  20. Nick: Even supposing that’s true (and I don’t think it is across the board), so what? It simply means that the company has enough money to keep high-end wineries going!

  21. Just to be even clearer
    Definition of ‘‘Controlled’’. For purposes of this section, Controlled by refers to property on which the bottling winery has the legal right to perform,
    and does perform, all of the acts common to viticulture under the terms of a
    lease or similar agreement of at least 3
    years duration.
    It must be owned or leased and not a contract with a grower that allows estate bottled to be used.

  22. Bob,
    I haven’t been trying to make an “argument that “estate bottled” wines are, by legal definition and “real world” experience tasted in the glass, superior to other practices.”

    It is beyond me how you could possibly come to that conclusion by what I actually wrote.

    “Estate Bottled” conveys “useful” information about a wine. It doesn’t convey any guarantee about wine quality and I never wrote that. That is you putting words in my mouth.

    Furthermore, I never wrote that “Estate Bottled” was the only way to make good wine. Your whole line of vineyard designate discussion has exactly ZERO relevance to what I wrote. Again, it’s you putting words in my mouth.

    It was rude of you to “invite” me to read your comments. I found it very contentious. As my response showed, it was flat out wrong. It’s again rude and condescending of you to lecture me on theory and fact. I will refrain from addressing that BS.

    I find it rather ironic that you didn’t follow at all what I actually wrote about what “Estate Bottled” really means on a wine label.

  23. @Mark Cochard, That is not the way that KJ or many other wineries use the term “Controlled”. I have been involved with many projects that sold fruit to KJ. They had specific requirements in their viticulture plan, but they most definitely did not own or lease the land. There was an agreed upon viticulture plan, which they rarely looked at before making demands on the grower.

  24. Bob Henry says:

    BradK,

    You wrote:

    “Estate bottled wines likely have some inherent sustainability advantages. The distance from vineyard to/from winery is likely to be small.”

    “Inherent . . . advantages? I don’t know what those advantages would be.

    How do we measure the fall-off in the “inherent” quality of the grapes when it comes to the distance “from vineyard to/from winery”?

    You wrote:

    “Estate Bottled on the label offers some very good information to the consumer about what’s in the bottle.”

    When even wine industry professionals don’t even know what the legal term “estate bottled” means, how is the less informed consumer going to know what that information conveys?

    A point you concede:

    “. . . Estate Bottled may be a term that consumers don’t really understand.”

    So if they don’t understand it, how is that information useful to them in knowing “what’s in the bottle”?

    You wrote:

    “Ultimately, I agree with Brian [Loring]. It comes down to grapes and people. But, in a world of hype, finding those people can be very difficult.”

    I concur. And I also assert that great grapes can be contract grapes. And they don’t have to be vinified on the property they came from to retain their greatness.

    (Think of the folks who buy Screaming Eagle vineyard contract grapes — but can’t brag about it on their labels or in their marketing due to non-disclosure agreements.)

    And I assert that the contribution that “people” play in this discussion has been given short shrift — hence my citing luminaries like Joe Heitz, and Burt Williams and Ed Selyem . . . and many others, if need be. All who rose to acclaim based on making wine from contract fruit, transported to their own production facility.

    You wrote:

    “Estate Bottled is one term on a label that actually helps tell about the grapes and people that made the wine. It’s illogical for you to argue that something that helps you understand what you think is most important about a wine is not helpful.”

    From my perspective (and the perspective of fellow readers and commenters to this blog, who have privately exchanged e-mails with me differing with your position), reading that a wine is “estate bottled” doesn’t aid in my “understanding.” And I definitely don’t think it is the “most important [thing] about a wine.”

    For instance, if I find that a given vintage Chateau St. Jean “Robert Young Vineyard” Chardonnay is personally preferable [I won’t say “better”] to the Robert Young family’s own branded Chardonnay, I am more apt to conclude that the folks at CSJ have a more talented winemaking team.

    ( Think about Malcolm Gladwell’s reporting of social scientist research studies in “Outliers” that it requires 10,000 hours [10 years] of practice to become a proficient professional. Link: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_48/b4110110545672.htm )

    And I would further conclude that the Robert Young family growing the grapes and vinifying on their own property — versus CSJ transporting their contract grapes to their own facility — didn’t give them any “inherent sustainability advantages.”

    Likewise if I found that in their heyday Burt Williams and Ed Selyem made a preferable Rochioli Pinot Noir than Joe Rochioli, Jr. did, I would attribute it to that bracing the 10,000 hours [10 years] rule. Good ol’ Burt and Ed had more opportunities each vintage to refine their talents, because they were making wines from contract fruit sourced from disparate vineyards. More discrete wines made, more of those 10,000 hours of practice racked up.

    (The same way that “flying winemakers” like Michel Rolland and Paul Hobbs can accelerate their learning curve and refine their talents by working two harvests/two vinifications each calendar year: one in the northern hemisphere, and one in the southern hemisphere.)

    You wrote:

    “‘Estate Bottled’ conveys ‘useful’ information about a wine. It doesn’t convey any guarantee about wine quality and I never wrote that. That is you putting words in my mouth.”

    Again citing those private e-mails to me regarding your comments, one person wrote:

    “‘Estate Bottled’ is essentially meaningless to me — kinda like the AVA listed. It’s information, but doesn’t really tell you anything about the quality of the wine inside.”

    Another wrote:

    “To Brad, ‘estate bottled’ means a lot of information and some guarantee of a certain level in quality of a wine. Maybe it’s colored by his employer’s usage of the term. Maybe he honestly believes in its importance. . . . The reason for his original post. But for you, me, and most wine people I know, the ‘estate bottled’ term doesn’t mean squat for what’s in the bottle.”

    You wrote:

    “I find it rather ironic that you didn’t follow at all what I actually wrote about what ‘Estate Bottled’ really means on a wine label.”

    So I guess I’m not alone in not following what you wrote and attempted to convey..

    Finally, but most importantly you wrote:

    “Reality is that ‘Estate Bottled’ wines are usually the wines that a winery feels are their best.”

    Yes — and they can still be crappy wines. There’s a lot of plonk out there masquerading as “fine” wine.

    ( Think about all those “estate bottled” California Pinot Noirs from the 2011 vintage that Steve and James Laube rightly criticized for exhibiting mold and mildew. Link: http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2013/12/17/more-on-the-troubling-2011-vintage/ )

    Steve, you may have to organize a “beer summit” to resolve these philosophical differences.

    ~~ Bob

  25. So in reality the TTB language in the code of federal regulations is not enforced and therefore pretty much meaningless?

  26. steve – After 38 vintages, I am firmly in agreement with a statement made by Louis Martini at a discussion of the “Seal” wine proposal of the time. He said “The only guarantor of wine quality is the name of the winery on the bottle and their commitment to quality.” I no longer ascribe any quality plus from Estate Bottled etc. The only real quality statement is the degree to which the winery pursues improved quality year after year. However,I do admit to still rather liking Hanzell’s statement of “Grown, Produced and Bottled by…”

  27. Bob Henry says:

    Tom,

    Three nights ago while dining out with friends, I opened up a 1970 vintage Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon. Not the “Private Reserve” program. Not the “Special Selection” program.

    Just the “everyday” drinking wine. (Cost in its time — about 4 bucks?)

    Marvelous!

    And I preferred it over the 1975 Beaulieu Vineyard “Georges de Latour Private Reserve” likewise opened that night.

    One of my early wine mentors (and a dear friend of Henri Jayer) told me: “Put your trust in the winemaker and the label.”

    A philosophy I honor to this day.

    ~~ Bob

  28. Bob,
    As I ALREADY wrote, the inherent sustainability advantage is shorter distance — for grapes from the vineyard to returning stems back to the vineyard as a couple of examples. Transport cost has impacts on sustainability. It’s a simple point. Local is more sustainable.

    You are absolutely correct that useful information is lost on the ignorant. The answer is not to remove the information. The answer is education.

    All things being equal, I know that an “Estate Bottled” wine CAN’T be bulk wine, comes from a specific place, was made by the winery and I assume it is likely to be a wine that a winery feels is their best. Should I try that wine, I will now have a better feel for their “best” wines versus their portfolio of wines. I will use that information to help guide further purchases from that winery.

    I find all of that information useful. You and your email buddies can all agree that it’s useless information and unknowingly buy bulk wine. Be my guest.

  29. Bob,
    One additional comment.

    You’ve espoused the wonder of vineyard designated wines over and over. A vineyard designation on a label helps specify place and likely indicates the winery feels it is one of their best wines. As you have already written, Estate Bottled does basically the SAME thing.

    Yet, you appear to argue one is useful and the other is not. That is a massive contradiction in what you have written.

    Do you get that vineyard designated wines can also be crappy?

  30. Bob Henry says:

    BradK,

    Your theory is based on the superiority of “estate BOTTLED” wines. “A wine that a winery feels is their best.” “. . . Estate Bottled . . . defines control/ownership. A vineyard designate seems easier for a consumer to understand and defines place.”

    I — and others — assert that it is irrelevant if the grapes are VINIFIED and BOTTLED on the property. That transporting contract fruit to one’s production facility is not injurious.

    The legacy of Joe Heitz and Burt Williams and Ed Selyem and countless other winemakers whose acclaim is based on a contract fruit business model is the supporting evidence for my and others’ assertion.

    (Aside: You make the argument for “control.” Joe Heitz had complete control over the growing of “Martha’s Vineyard” grapes. He didn’t need to vinify on the property to assure its greatness. And he knew that “Martha’s Vineyard” fruit was better than his own property’s.)

    It only takes one contrarian fact to disprove a theory. And the above cited wine luminaries and their handiwork does just that.

    Brad, if you wish to revise your theory in favor of “estate GROWN” wines, you will get no disagreement from me. (And I suspect other readers and commenters to this blog.)

    I champion the notion of “vintage designate” wines, and see them as synonymous with “estate grown” wines (though I must confess I have not studied the legal definition of that latter term).

    ~~ Bob

  31. Bob Henry says:

    Erratum.

    I champion the notion of “VINEYARD designate” wines, and see them as synonymous with “estate grown” wines (though I must confess I have not studied the legal definition of that latter term).

  32. Tom,

    Are we really that old? I can’t believe I have 30 vintages behind me (damn you, made me count…). I often wondered what if California would, at some point, develop a certification of quality based on taste and label integrity. Who proposed the “seal” certification you mentioned? PS. Unlike BradK (who’s passion for wine I respect) – I have both tasted and made wine from purchased lots (yes, bulk wine) that were phenomenal. In fact, most of the wines of the Champagne region are purchased in bulk (as juice, wine or even “sur-lattes” by the Champagne houses. Not many of them own much vineyards.

  33. Bob,
    Wow, it’s really hard to communicate.

    There is no leap from what a winery “feels is their best” to “superiority.” Sorry, did not say it and do not mean it.

    Sorry, did not say and do not mean that trucking grapes to another facility by definition impacts quality. I spoke ONLY in regards to sustainability.

    Sorry, did not say or mean that vineyard designated wines can’t be just as good or better than any other wine made in any other way. Heck, great wines can be made in a variety of ways. That’s you arguing against a point that I never made.

    I don’t believe “Estate Grown” is anything other than a made up synonym for “Estate Bottled.”

    The only actual argument you’ve made against “Estate Bottled” AS A USEFUL INFORMATIONAL TERM is that consumers may lack an understanding of its meaning. Oded’s argument was that the term lacks value because it’s too loosely defined and open to abuse.

    There is some amount of truth in both points. Education is the answer to the former. Tightening up the term to ownership makes sense to me. Sketchy people that diminish the meaning of something do a dis-service to all of us. Contracts that codify a lie take a sketchy winery and a sketchy grower.

    In the spirit of communication — you argue the incredible brand XXX Vineyard should not use “Estate Bottled” for their incredible wine from their own incredible XXX vineyard. What should they do? Should they have XXX Vineyard on their label twice, once as a brand name and once as a vineyard designate? Should they change their brand name so that they can vineyard designate their own vineyard? Should they leave the vineyard designation off and not differentiate that incredible wine in any way? Should they make up a fanciful name?

    (FYI – my first employer used “Estate Bottled” for their own wines made from their own grapes and purchasers of their grapes used vineyard designation when doing a single vineyard wine.)

    Oded,
    Phenomenal bulk wine is the exception rather than the rule IMHO. It’s likely a one off with no past or future. Champagne quality is driven more by the process rather than the cuvee made from (unripe) grapes IMHO.

  34. Bob Henry says:

    BradZ,

    Okay, so like any spirited Socratic debate, we are coming closer to saying what we mean . . . and saying it cogently.

    I am an agnostic on whether wines are estate GROWN or estate BOTTLED.

    If wine industry professionals don’t even know those legal distinctions . . . then it is a leap of faith to assume those terms are informative to the general buying public.

    If these terms are used on wine labels, then (speaking as a marketing professional with CPG experience) I would counsel wineries elaborate on what those terms means . . . with some pertinent narrative on the back label.

    The beginning of an public education program you espouse. (And I support.)

    Steve, seems like the “beer summit” has begun. Care to pull up a seat?

    ~~ Bob

  35. BRAD–

    A couple of points. If Estate Bottled as a term were limited to grapes grown on the same turf as the winery and thus were used as a term of equal specificity as a named vineyard-designate, then the term would have value. As it is in today’s world, it has far wider and less specific meaning such that it is far less informative than a vineyard-designate.

    Your understanding of Champagne is less than complete. Champagne vineyards are valued according to their properties, and while there are few true vineyard-designates, there are many Champagnes that come from the makers own turf. You might want to investigate the so-called “grower Champagnes” to learn more about this.

    I do not want to overlook your extensive reply on the issues at hand. Your replies above do clarify some of the issues, and also out to rest the “qualitative superior” suggestions that have invaded this discussion. Wine cannot be judged by its label alone, and while there are producer names that come with incredible qualtitatively superior cachets, they got their standing by what has been in the class for years and years.

  36. Et tu, Charlie?

    Many wonderful wineries use Estate Bottled in a sincere manner to identify place and brand their “best” wine(s). Vineyard designation may not make sense for them to identify place and their view of the wine’s quality. Even if you doubt sincere usage, it is a cue to check it out, albeit with skepticism. Many other terms have no legal meaning at all. No cue at all is valueless.

    I worked at one estate winery that used Estate Bottled on their wines and their vineyard customers used vineyard designation for single vineyard wines they produced. I haven’t heard from this thread of a better option for my former employer to brand their “best” wines.

    I don’t think your comment applies to a discussion on the value of bulk wine used in making Champagne. Oded brought up Champagne in the context of rationalizing bulk wine as being good. At best it was a tangent to the discussion. Traditional Champagne comes from a very cold region, is fermented twice, contains CO2 and is aged on the lees for a long time. These factors affect varietal impact making the choice of grapes less important and bulk wine more likely to be sufficient.

    Thanks for recognizing my words as being clarifying (at least to some degree). The value of something is lost on those that don’t understand it.

    We all should make better decisions when open and informed. That doesn’t mean we will all come to the same conclusion. It should be very clear that I have concrete reasons why I find “Estate Bottled” useful. It’s fine that nobody else appears to agree with me.

  37. Bob Henry says:

    Brad,

    “I haven’t heard from this thread of a better option for my former employer to brand their ‘best’ wines.”

    Well, let me propose three ways.

    One example is DeLoach and their “OFS” bottlings (ostensibly an acronym for the phrase “Our Finest Selection.”)

    A second example is Louis Martini and Caymus with their “Special Selection” bottlings.

    And third countless examples of wineries adopting the verbiage “Private Reserve.”

    (Aside: Yes, yes, I know — the word “Reserve” has no legal definition in California winemaking.

    See this Los Angeles Times article:

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/2011/may/16/business/la-fi-wine-labels-20110516-24

    Those with l-o-n-g memories can harken back to the 1980s and the infamous Glen Ellen “Proprietor’s Reserve” Cabernets that sold for 4 bucks in the Liquor Barn stores.

    See these Los Angeles Times articles:

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/1988-04-06/business/fi-585_1_glen-ellen-version

    — and —

    http://articles.latimes.com/print/1993-09-29/business/fi-40245_1_glen-ellen-brand )

    Each of these approaches is an attempt to connote “best efforts.”

    Whether that is realized by the experience in the glass is a separate discussion.

    ~~ Bob

  38. Brad–

    When a winery makes wine from the very property on which it sits, and also makes vineyard designates, the use of Estate Bottled is not only correct but very useful. But when a winery uses the term on wines coming from many sources within its AVA, and when those sources are only loosely controlled, the term gets bastardized. And the poor consumer really does not know, without intimate knowledge, what the term actually means–on our immediate property or someplace miles away that the grower manages under our “contract” guidance.

    The problem is the extension of the term into broad, not specific meaning, and secondly, the suggestion that quality attaches to the term generally in a more specific way than Reserve or Winemaker’s Selection.

  39. Brad–

    I did mean to add that Estate Bottled can have very specific meaning as to source, and I see no one arguing against that concept–and those most of us agree with you on that application.

  40. Those of us not within an actual AVA (Madera) must use the political appellation (Madera County) which precludes our labeling as Estate Bottled or Estate Grown despite both being the truth.
    “Grown, Produced and Bottled by” is as descriptive as it gets.
    Of course, none of the above ensures quality or consistency however truthful.

  41. Charlie,
    I agree that Estate Bottled can get bastardized.

    The “estate” must be prepared to explain what they published on their label. I feel no pity for the “estate” that gets called on it by the press or customers. Trust lost can be impossible to get back.

    Ray points out another weakness in the term. It precludes him from using the term in the manner we seem to agree is most obvious.

  42. Ray and Brad–

    I have a strong preference for “Grown, Produced and Bottled by” since it is absolute truth so long as “Grown” is defined tightly and does not have loose connotations such as contract managed by the grower with no winery involvement other than a piece of paper.

    The concept of specifically managed directly and in total control by is the only one that ought to count for some extra designation–and Estate ought to mean the immediate estate, not a collection of sources in varying locations. All in my opinion, of course.

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