For wine producers, small is beautiful – but big is useful
Size isn’t everything in a vineyard – but it matters
At times, it can be absurd. On the one hand, you have multi-million-selling brands attempting to camouflage the scale of their production with suggestive back-label trigger words such as “artisan”, “terroir” and “craft”. On the other, you have niche importers and sommeliers bragging about the diminutive size of their latest acquisitions: “Two hectares? A few barrels? You call that ‘small’? This guy has less than an acre, on a 180° slope accessible only on horseback, and he makes just a few dozen bottles a year.”
It’s easy to be cynical about why wine producers might want to talk down their proportions. Small production, of course, implies rarity – a valuable asset for any business, whether they’re targeting the status-symbol-obsessed rich on the hunt for exclusivity, or the obscurer-than-thou wine obsessive who will only drink something they’ve “discovered” before anyone else. It also speaks directly to the idea that small is beautiful in a moral as well as aesthetic sense, that a wine made by a farmer tending their own patch will always be better (for the farmer, the environment and in the glass). And, of course, more “authentic” than one produced by a large corporation.
But this isn’t just about a sentimental, vicarious experience of the good life. If I put together a list of the most exciting wines I’ve tried in the past year, an overwhelming majority would be the work of producers with just a handful of hectares. Because they tend to have a more intimate relationship with their vines, small producers are more likely to get their wine to transmit that elusive quality that makes it special: a sense of place, a certain flavour or feeling that only comes from that specific site.
Not having to answer to the rigours of the quarterly sales report, smaller producers are also more likely to take risks, whether it’s seeking out unfashionable places to plant, or trying out radical new winegrowing or winemaking techniques. It’s impossible to imagine the anarchic unorthodoxies of the natural wine movement emerging from a corporate brainstorm.
Indeed, you could even flip the argument to say that the deep pockets of a corporate owner are indispensable in both making good wines affordable and producing luxury wines of the pedantically fine-tuned kind. In the former, it’s a matter of classic economies of scale. In the latter, well, how else to pay for all those expensive new barrels, whizzy harvest kit such as digital grape-sorting tables and experienced staff?
It’s all rather like the restaurant trade. The independent vigneron able to take care of everything from pruning to picking to marketing, is analogous to the chef-patron of a 20-cover family restaurant. In their attention to detail and ability to marshal a team of talents, a chief winemaker like Dom Pérignon’s Richard Geoffroy or Penfolds Grange’s Peter Gago is equivalent to a Michelin-starred hotel chef. Finally, a winemaker such as Adolfo Hurtado, responsible for the consistently good budget output of Chile’s Con Sur, is like the chief of operations at a good mid-range chain. Any one of them is able to create wines that meet some need at some time. And while small may be most beautiful, there are still times when big is more useful.
Wines Inform Assessors
I like you admits your normal limit of price is £10 ... Many producers seem to think consumers must pay higher prices and be lucky because they are buying "an experience"
Fair prices is the key and honest products must be served
Wines Inform Assessors
Origin information: The Guardian