What does “Estate” really mean on a wine label?
What does the term “Estate” on a wine bottle label really mean? In a few words--grown, produced and bottled--encapsulates the concept. However, these three words don’t really cover all that is entailed in producing an Estate wine.
To label a wine “Estate” you must make the wine from start to finish at the winery from grapes grown or controlled by the winery. At a small winery, that could mean that the guy who sells you the wine in the tasting room also pruned the dormant vines in January, worked the vineyards during the growing season, harvested the grapes in the fall, assisted in getting the precious clusters to the winery, crushed the grapes with complex (and expensive) equipment, performed fermentation management, handled the wine in barrel for its aging process, and put the finished wine delicately in the bottle.
Universities call it a “seamlessly integrated business model.” I call it a lot of hard work requiring a vast amount of knowledge, skills and abilities drawn from different industries. When I thought about examples of other businesses as complex and dynamic as winegrowers producing Estate wines, I came up with very few.
Christmas Tree Farm: The owner grows trees his property. The trees are processed (cut and loaded) on that same dirt and retail clients come to that farm to purchase their seasonal holiday centerpieces. This fits the rough definition; however, I would argue that this is hardly a complex business model.
Estate Designer Clothing: Imagine a woman (or man) growing cotton and other textile materials on her plantation. She picks the cotton and processes it to make fabric. From this fabric she crafts unique, small-lot jeans, shirts and socks on the property. People come from all over the country to try on her jeans and have them shipped to their homes, or she ships her products to distributors to sell. THIS is very similar to what we do, except it is wildly outlandish and currently not happening.
Whenever a part of the process is passed on to a different entity or person, there’s the room for the ball to be dropped. In winemaking, that means loss of quality, whether it’s muted aromas, angular taste, off color or weird finish. Wine growing and production is not for the meek, but it’s a career that rewards those who invest the time, energy and money needed to pull it off.
The point of this blog is to highlight the complexity of what small, family-run estate wineries deal with daily. Making Estate wines requires knowledge, skills and abilities to maintain equipment, train employees, and manage the facilities to make a unique product that stands out from the other 200 (friendly) competitors in the area.
So as a recap: "Estate" means the winery and vineyards have to be in the same AVA, have to be controlled or owned by the winery, and the wine has to be made from start to finish at the winery.