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What Do Wineries Have to Hide?

Wine blogger Hunter Kangas raised the question on Twitter of why aren’t wineries upfront about where they source their grapes. He then asks, “What do they have to hide?” First, I’d like to pose the argument that many consumers are not that concerned about where the grapes are sourced. They are concerned about whether they like the wine or not. Those that are concerned about where the grapes come from can simply ask.

Some wineries are upfront about where grapes are sourced. We noticed that many Washington wineries produce single vineyard wines and mention the vineyard where they acquired their grapes. Golden Vineyards in Mendocino County, California requires wineries that source their grapes to list their vineyard on the label.

However, the practice of listing vineyards where grapes are sourced is not common. A consumer can look for an AVA, however TTB rules make listing an AVA not always possible. I am making a barrel of Cab at a Virginia Winery. We sourced the fruit from Paso Robles, California. I am not allowed to list Paso Robles or California on the wine label. In my case, it isn’t a matter of hiding information; it is a matter of following rules.

Many consumers are unaware that wineries and vineyards are two separate businesses. These consumers assume that a winery walks out to their surrounding vineyards and harvests their grapes. They should visit wineries in Woodinville, Washington. There is a plethora of wineries that would take days if not weeks to visit. They will not see vineyards. If these consumers were more aware that wineries do source their grapes they may be more inclined to ask a winery where their grapes came from.

There is much information that wineries do not reveal. For example what strain(s) of yeast they use to ferment the grapes. Did they add enzymes to the fermentation? Did they add winemaking additives to the wine during fermentation or aging? Where did they purchase their barrels? Where did the cooperage source the wood used for the barrel? What substances did they use to fine the wine? How did they filter the wine if they filtered it? Perhaps these questions are not answered because they aren’t being asked.


One Comment

  1. Posted July 29, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    I posted that comment on twitter to highlight the fact that many wineries are not as open and honest as you’d expect. Certainly, there are incredible producers who will share everything about their wines with you, but I think this is the exception rather than the rule. You are absolutely right about how much wineries do not reveal especially when it comes to yeast strains, additives, cooperage etc. In fact I have asked several winemakers for that type of information to complete a blog and some flat out refused to give it to me.

    It is my feeling, however, that wineries should be open and transparent. If they are not doesn’t it raise some suspicion as to why? A few weeks ago I posted a blog and pointed out that Sandbanks Winery here in Ontario’s Prince Edward County markets themselves as a County winery yet source much of their fruit from the rest of the province. They simply label their bottles VQA Ontario and can do so. Of course when you buy a bottle all the label talks about is Prince Edward County. It is very deceptive because many consumers would assume they are drinking County wine when really most, if not all of it, is coming from Niagara or Pelee Island. Still, after I made the comment on my blog I upset people at the winery even though it was the truth.

    I think you raise several interesting points in your post that are worth exploring further. First about consumers and whether or not they care where the grapes are sourced from. Second about labeling and being forced to follow regulations where certain information cannot be shared. Third about the disconnect between vineyards and wineries and consumer perception. Finally, about questions that are not being asked and therefore not answered by wineries.

    I have quite a bit to discuss about all of those points, but I am actually in the process of moving from Ottawa to Niagara. Packed up the truck tonight and leave tomorrow morning. So I do not have the time to elaborate further but, I will post another comment in the next couple of days addressing those points. I am glad my twitter comment sparked some good discussion


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