When we look at a bottle of wine we are looking at a tremendous amount of effort. I think the average consumer really has no idea of what goes into 26 ounces of wine sitting on a shelf or in a restaurant.
Let's look at the complexities of what we are experiencing with this enchanting commodity.
Vineyards — Before we plant vines we need to find a suitable site. Vineyard sites, sites that might produce well- made wines can be expensive to purchase or contract with landowners. I won't go into everything a good site requires for fine wine grapes but the finding, evaluation and maintenance of the site before and during wine propagation is a massive undertaking and requires professional intervention, diligence and money. It also takes about four years of growth until a harvest is realized for winemaking. Also, a decision must be made as to what to grow on the site. This is a crucial decision and requires quite a bit of understanding on what varietal grows well on any specific site and why. Making a wrong decision can be more than a disappointment; it can mean an expensive rethinking of the process. On the other hand, choosing a good varietal for the site can reward the winery many fold. Decisions on how many tons per acre and pruning, are just two efforts required in the vineyard. Of course, there are many other decisions that have to be made but the clear understanding is that farming grapes is a major undertaking and requires an incredible amount of time sensitive work and effort.
Winemaker — Winemakers come in various dimensions. Some are winemaker-owners, others are employees, still other winemakers are strictly for hire on a custom crush agenda. Winemaking is partly science and partly art and can become a blend of both in an almost intuitive manner, much like riding a bike. After many harvests, a winemaker "understands" what is needed of her or him and tries to use a strict methodology where given any situation — a flexible and fluid approach is used. A talented winemaker understands that wine is all about balance, clean effort and varietal correctness.
Cellaring and bottling — Some wines are stored in the cellar for future release. Some wines are stored in stainless tanks ready to be bottled; other wines are sitting in barrel to gain more complexity. Winemakers and other decision-makers have to decide where to store the wines, when the wines will be bottled and labeled and when the wines will be released to wherever they are going. This is a huge task and many decisions require thoughtful analysis as well as good timing.
Marketing — This aspect of the wine bottle experience includes label design, capsule and closure selection, bottle color and shape and how to get the product known in the community. Some wineries prefer to self-distribute, others rely on distributors but the marketing department's goal is to maximize exposure and minimize costs in doing so. Everyone from designers to national marketing firms or in-house marketers gets involved in this process. Of course, with the enormous competition, locally, statewide, nationally and internationally, we are seeing the marketing division in the wine trade becoming more and more important. Marketers are now helping to make decisions on release prices in certain markets because this department is acutely aware of market trends that now include different varietals from all over the globe. It is becoming increasingly apparent that it is just as important to understand the market as it is to produce a fine wine.
These are some of the things to think about when looking at a bottle of wine on the shelf. It is all quite daunting.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.