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11.12.2009

Just Where Is That Winery, Exactly?

I'm in the middle of a book project. I've agreed to write a chapter in a big wine book that will cover all the major wine regions of the world and the top producers in each region. My area of responsibility will be Sonoma and Marin counties, which the book is combining into a single section. I'm enjoying the process of thoroughly combing through the region's compass.jpgwineries to select the several hundred that I get to highlight in the book, but in the process I'm running up against a conundrum.

My charter is quite simple: list a bunch of Sonoma and Marin wineries. But the difference between the theory of that charter and the practice of actually selecting the wineries is proving quite difficult, because the definition of what is a winery these days isn't so clear. For starters, not all wineries have wineries. These days there are plenty that are just labels without buildings, or often, even without vineyards. But that's just the start of my problems.

Let me give you a couple of examples of some producers that have caused me to scratch my head a little:

A producer that owns a vineyard in Sonoma county, makes wine from only that vineyard, but the offices and the place where the wine is made are not in Sonoma county, they're in Napa.


A producer based in Napa with their own winery facility that makes only wines from Sonoma County.

A producer based in Marin with their own winery that does not make any wines from grapes grown in Marin county.

A producer that makes wines only from contracts with several Sonoma County vineyards, has offices in Sonoma County, but uses a custom crush facility in Napa.

A producer that owns a vineyard in Sonoma, has a winemaking facility in Sonoma, but their tasting room is in another county.

A producer that makes mostly Sonoma county wines, but also has a Napa Cabernet in the portfolio. All the grapes are grown on contract, the wine is made in a custom crush facility in Sonoma county, but the winery's official address is in Napa.

Which of these is actually a "Sonoma winery" or a "Marin winery?" It would be easy if there were some sort of clear cut legal definition like the address on the winery's bond issued by the government, but that really doesn't make sense in a lot of cases, as that address is pretty arbitrary and often has nothing to do with the winery's real operation.

To add an extra layer of complexity, one of the implicit purposes in making this atlas of wineries is the idea that it can be used by consumers who want to go visit these wineries. It's not a guidebook, of course, but there will be maps and the wineries will be plotted on the map. So where the heck do you put some of these wineries in a way that is most useful to consumers? In some cases you'd point the consumer to the vineyard, where they might meet the owner and taste wine in their kitchen. In some cases you'd point the consumer to a tasting room which may or may not be anywhere near where the grapes are grown or where the wine gets made. In some cases there may not be anywhere to point the consumer, just a warehouse in some industrial park that will carry the name of many producers because they all make wine there. Better that, I suppose than some little business office or P.O. box in the middle of nowhere, right?

After a couple glasses of wine, I'm less frustrated, and contemplating thoughts like "the damn grapes know where they're from. Who gives a shit about anything else?" But that's not exactly going to make the publisher very happy.

Maybe I should have volunteered to write the chapter on Macedonian wineries. I'll bet they're much less difficult to pin down.

Comments (24)

Loren wrote:
11.12.09 at 11:22 PM

I think it all depends on the audience of your group. If your publisher is targeting a tourist audience, I agree with your last thought -- it needs to be a tasting room or some other physical visitable location that the tourist can visit when they're touring Napa / Sonoma.

If on the other hand, you have a more sophisticated crowd that really digs the process, I think you lean towards the "grapes know where they're from" -- wines made from grapes of that region are wines from the region. That seemed to make the most intuitive sense, even to a non-wine-drinker like myself. (oops, did I just out myself on a wine blog? Consider me your layman voice.)

If I had to choose, I'd choose where the grapes are from. You'll get a pretty good intersect anyway and for the exceptions where the grapes are from a region but the tasting room is outside that region or even the area you're assigned to cover, your reader will now have another splendid reason to visit that new region :-)

(Note: the rest of the chapters are probably written with a certain rule in mind so the practical suggestion might be to strike consistency with that?)

Jon Bjork wrote:
11.12.09 at 11:23 PM

I guess you'd have to ignore wineries making wine in a state like Virgina using Sonoma fruit? :-)

My suggestion is that if your audience is the everyday consumer, you have to put that map pin on the location they might be able to visit to actually build a relationship. As you know, if a customer sees a barrel or two, they'll often think they are at a winery, even if those barrels are just for show.

On our Lodi maps, we usually break down the "wineries" by "tasting rooms" and "wineries without tasting rooms." The later don't get physical addresses listed.

Perhaps you could use the classic Johnson/Robinson Wine World Atlas as a guide on how to approach this? I think, for Rosenblum, for example, they'd be showing them in Alameda and Healdsburg.

I don't envy your position!

Pop another cork! :-)

Jon Bjork wrote:
11.12.09 at 11:27 PM

After reading Loren's comment, why can't you mark tasting rooms/wineries and also call attention to specific vineyards that are notable?

There are many vineyards (i.e. Rochioli) that are important sources for many wineries, as you know.

It comes back to the World Atlas of Wine model again.

11.13.09 at 12:01 AM

I would vote for location of the physical facility where the wine is produced--unless this is touring guide book. Beyond that, if there is text, you can note where the tasting room is.

Rosenblum, for example, is an Alameda winery. If you have the opportunity to discuss tasting rooms adjacent to Healdsburg Plaza, then their second tasting room gets mentioned there--according to my ordering of the world. Of course, as a winewriter, it is not surprising that I opt for the production facility over the tasting room.

Fred Swan wrote:
11.13.09 at 12:15 AM

I feel your pain, amplified 5x. Since one of the main foci of my site is listing "Northern California wineries," I deal with this issue every day. Not only are there wineries all over the state sourcing grapes from just about anywhere, there are wineries just about anywhere sourcing California grapes. Lynfred in Illinois buys Cal fruit. There's a winery in New York and another in Idaho that ONLY produce wine, in those states, made from Cal fruit.

Going by vineyard makes sense on the surface, but doesn't work. This is because the vineyard selection changes too often. Wineries that rely on sourced fruit are always losing one vineyard, getting another, etc.

In the end, I've decided to follow these policies:
1. Use the primary tasting room address as the primary address for the public.
2. If there's no tasting room but tasting can be done by appt. at the winery (even if it's a custom/community crush), use that address. (These rules mean I ignore Idaho, NY, and others without a physical presence in my area of focus.
3. Third choice is to go by the address listed on their winery bond.
4. I go beyond those rules for my site, but it may not be relevant for your book, since it can't be updated as readily as a website.

Good luck.

Wink Lorch wrote:
11.13.09 at 7:41 AM

You've encountered a classic publishing dilemma, one that in my experience editors/publishers more than authors have to decide upon. In a flexible internet format, it's not usually as hard as for book format where print is fixed to page forever and footnotes/links are not so effective.

The worst decision is always where to pinpoint the 'winery' on the map - Oz Clarke's atlas that I worked on was a particular nightmare for that, because it wasn't ever supposed to be a touring guide, but you could actually see buildings in vineyards on the map ... not necessarily the office address or even the tasting facility, but yes, where they made the wine.

There are lots of possible solutions, but as simply a contributing author to this magnum opus (possibly the same one I'm going to contribute to as well?) you can of course cop out ... just put them all in with an explanation and leave it to the editor/publisher to sort out/decide. I've been on the other side where we had to do that very often.

11.13.09 at 8:01 AM

There is always going to be the problem that some wineries don't want to be found by the public. If they don't want to cooperate or make themselves more available to the tasting/touring public, that's their choice. Besides, players change so quickly that some of your entries are obsolete already!

Roy Tennant wrote:
11.13.09 at 9:02 AM

For my particular needs I use the tasting room location. As you've pointed out, that often has very little to do with where the grapes are sourced, where the wine is made, or where the winery itself is location. So be it.

11.13.09 at 9:23 AM

Alder, I would agree with Loren – know your (intended) audience – I think wine drinkers and non-wine drinkers are currently very interested in where their food / drink comes from. I wouldn’t angst over the physical bricks and mortar of a winery as much as its soul – vineyard, winemaking and winery cultural. Without great fruit, great winemaking and a positive winery culture which promotes and encourages growth and education what are we left with – another mediocre place and product. Question what makes a great wine region, wine brand, winery or wine experience? Does your intended audience care more of a travel guide to tour a wine region in pursuit of relaxing in wine-country style or experiencing the uniqueness of the region from ground to bottle…and if so, is it by touring vineyards and going to beautiful tasting rooms to enjoy product? In one way I can imagine many of your partners to be envious of your region selection for the book – however I can feel your pain – this is a large and very complex area with amazing and unique attributes from one end of the county to the next (Sonoma Coast, Green Valley, Carneros, Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley….and I haven’t even listed them all), how does one approach selecting 5 appellations in Sonoma / Marin area….not to mention only 5 wineries? Best of luck on your research.

Phil wrote:
11.13.09 at 9:49 AM

I'll agree with everyone else: the somewhat unhelpful "it depends." If the main idea is drinking wine with grapes from those counties (more of a terroir approach) then it's less important where the wine is actually made. We had a similar issue with our upcoming Terroir Experience, of course the answer was made pretty easily by the name of the event.

But Wink is right, this is ultimately not your decision, because the editors/publishers (if they know what they are doing) are going to want continuity across the chapters in terms of how this issue is handled--imagine if you decide to go the tour guide route for Sonoma and the person responsible for Napa goes for terroir. So I would recommend contacting the editor and asking for clarification. Will probably save you (and them) a lot of headaches.

Alder wrote:
11.13.09 at 9:57 AM

The publisher has decided that a winery is located, no matter what, where the grapes are fermented. But with some of these wineries, I really have a hard time with that, especially those that are really all about making wines from a given region, but happen to custom crush somewhere else. This post was just me venting.

Erik wrote:
11.13.09 at 5:12 PM

This was a great article, and I share the vent. I think, sort of repeating what everyone else has said, that you have three entities (at least) - the vineyard, the winery, and the tasting room - and what you care about depends on what you are looking for.

I like the concept of terroir, and am usually looking for where the grapes come from more than where the wine comes from (or where it is poured), and I'd be more interested in where the vineyards are than where the wineries are. The World Atlas of Wine does a pretty good job here. However, if you are a tourist, then clearing you are looking for tasting rooms, and perhaps wineries. If you are looking for buying local (locavino) - then maybe a local winery with local grapes is your first choice, but maybe the local winery with 'foreign' grapes is OK too.

I had started building my own database a few years ago to try to come up with a real way to store wine information (had the idea for an appellationamerica type website at some point that online wine stores could share to enhance their content) - and for your reasons and others, it's really tough if you want to answer all of the questions about where a bottle of wine comes from.

Dylan wrote:
11.14.09 at 8:31 AM

At the very least, this shows you care enough about the project to become frustrated over it. Someone of lesser passion could quite easily say, "forget it," and go the path of least resistance. So, take solace in the fact that your anger is a demand of higher standards for the book, or, at least, more clearly defined standards.

11.14.09 at 12:33 PM

This is more of CA problem than say Argentina or Australia, France or Italy.

And each of the approaches suggested has its own problems.

If you choose, location of fermentation, then you lose out on those labels that use custom crush facilities in San Francisco but make only Napa wines. But, if you use "terroir"/provenance of the grapes, then what do you do with a winery like Siduri that makes wine from sources as far south as Santa Barbars and as far north as the Willamette Valley?

And if you choose tasting room, and someone goes to the Pahlmeyer tasting room in San Francisco (not sure it is still there, but there was one and none in Napa where the grapes were fermented), then that person is going to be visiting nothing more than a wine bar.

You can't win on this one. Location of the fermentation is as good as any. Most small wineries require a phone call in advance anyhow, so not all that much harm is done, and if your book is not going to provide that info, then the potential user of the book will have to look it up anyhow.

Jonathan Pey wrote:
11.15.09 at 9:33 PM

As a grower in Marin who also buys grapes from Oakville, Sonoma Coast and Santa Lucia Highlands, who ferments in Napa and has a tasting room back in Marin I am sorry to make the task such a challenge Alder! But some Europeans appear to be in the same boat. Some Champagne producers grow in one region of Champagne (eg Cote des Blancs), use press houses during harvest in another region of Champagne (eg Valle de la Marne), buy bulk wine or "sur lattes" from yet another region in Champagne (eg from the Montagne de Reims), bottle it in Reims and have a tasting room in Epernay, all the while being owned and licensed by liquor company in London. So where are they from? "Champagne", sure, but that's a large, diverse AOC, no? IMO it illustrates how entrepreneurial spirit can bring experimentation and diversity to our craft. If we all grew, made and tasted at the same spot - and only that spot, imagine how different (boring?) the landscape might look - even if it made your editing easier!

Rick Gunier wrote:
11.16.09 at 8:58 AM

Many people are tricked by appellations of where winegrapes come from. Many wineries use the Americana appellation, confusing their costumers as to who grew the grapes in the bottle.By using the "Americana" appellation says the grapes could have been grown anywhere in the U.S.
I think the average consumer thinks if the label is from XYZ winery then the fruit in the bottle is from their region and this just isn't so. example would be Canada where only 50% of the fruit needs to be grown in Canada to be called Canadian wine???

Alder wrote:
11.16.09 at 9:40 AM

Rick,

I'm not sure I agree.

I don't think I've ever seen the appellation "Americana" on a wine bottle. Ever. But I've never bought wine in many states, so I may be living in a little bubble when it comes to that sort of thing.

The vast majority of wines in America (by volume) come from California, Oregon, Washington, and New York and if any of those states appear on the label, US law requires 75% of the grapes in the wine to have been grown in that place. If the bottle contains a federal AVA designation beyond a state or county, then 85% of the grapes must be grown in that AVA.

Some states have even more stringent rules for their growers.

You can see the full set off federal guidelines here: http://www.ttb.gov/appellation/index.shtml

tom farella wrote:
11.16.09 at 9:47 AM

Yes, a sign of the times. After the shakeout it will be a little different, perhaps. More light industrial park wineries, probably.

We are wrestling a little with this issue on our nascent "Coombsville Vintners and Growers" group and how to assign membership and tasting tours (mapping). How many winemakers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Rick Gunier wrote:
11.16.09 at 9:51 AM

I've written two AVA's for norther california and sell over $4 million dollars of grapes to out of state wineries and Yes if a winery uses America or Americana as its AVA then those grapes all 100% could be from any or a mix of grapes from other states. i.e. California.
You are exactly correct on your comments only if they were to use their own AVA on the front label, then they would have to have used the percentages you mention. 2 of California's largest wineries DO NOT have their own brand. only crush and make fine wines for other mostly out of state wineries.

tom farella wrote:
11.16.09 at 10:20 AM

I never thought that I would see/hear that an Estate Bottled winery would be "boring" but convenient for mapping! Ooof! At least you know where to find me if I'm late for dinner.

Regina M. Lutzq wrote:
11.17.09 at 11:10 AM

LOL, Alder! Isn't EVERYTHING a lot less frustrating after a couple glasses of wine. Keep fighting the good fight...it's a complicated (wine) world we live in today...

BaroloDude wrote:
11.17.09 at 4:35 PM

1) if this were a project I had to do at work, I would lay out the choices and suggest a simplifying solution to my boss ... let them decide this one but with your guidance. THey may understand the target audience better than you.
2) "Where the grapes come from" doesn't work imho, as the information may immediately be incorrect when a sourcing decision changes for a winery. Probably need to stick to a facility or visitor-location oriented decision. If I had to pull up and shoot, thats how i would go. THis assumes: (a) your audience is more tourist/where to visit oriented and (b) the chapter is meant to be a snapshot of the situation, and not long lived necessarily.

I think you will need to demand samples or free tasting room visits in order to validate each entry ;-)

BaroloDude wrote:
11.17.09 at 4:52 PM

Correction, vice versa there on 2(b) above. Cheers!

scott wrote:
11.19.09 at 2:07 PM

But isn’t this where the whole darned wine industry has gone, and especially in the US? Wine made from grapes trucked in from long distances or even by train, and having nothing to do with the winery or winemaker other than they wrote a check for them. What about consulting winemakers traveling across the state, or the country, or the globe imparting their organoleptic sameness on $100+ bottles? And then there’s the technological hocus-pocus commonly practiced in lots and lots of wineries at all price points.

I know this may be a bit of a divergence from your chapter-writing-conundrum, but it’s really the crux of the problem. Whatever happened to the practice of and the appreciation for a farmer raising grapes and then making wine from those very grapes? It's very simple – a vineyard, a farmer/winemaker, and a wine with distinction.

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