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Conventional Wisdoms – Smaller is Better in the Wine Industry . . . Or Is It?

It seems that with most things in life, bigger is considered better . . .

In the wine industry, though, conventional wisdom is that ‘smaller is better’ . . . smaller yields, smaller tanks, smaller presses, smaller case volumes, etc. ‘Smaller’ wineries produce better wine then ‘bigger’ wineries, right?

Well, just as with all things wine related, there really is no ‘absolute’ answer here. I’ve had many conversations over the past 5 years with consumers about this very topic, and the vast majority of the time, the ‘conventional wisdom’ seems to hold true for them.

Why am I bringing this up? As you know, my ‘day job’ is Assistant Winemaker for Fess Parker Winery, a moderately sized winery that produces over 100,000 cases per year (though of this, only about 2/3 is ‘estate produced’). The winery is considered ‘large’ in relation to other wineries in Santa Barbara County.

When I give tours at either of our facilities, I’m always careful to watch the reactions of those entering our production area. They are drawn to the size of our largest tanks, to the size of some of our presses (we use both bladder presses and a basket press), and to the stacks of barrels we maintain. There is a natural tendency to compare what they see at our facility with what they’ve just seen at much smaller wineries in our area – with much smaller production areas . . .

What I stress to all who visit, though, is that at a larger winery such as ours, we have LOTS of different tanks to use – from the small 1.5 ton fermenting boxes that are the choice of many many smaller ‘hands on’ wineries to much larger tanks that do a very fine job, thank you very much!

We ferment all of our lots separately, oftentimes splitting the lot into multiple tanks – some very small ones where we’ll do hand punch downs, medium size ones where we’ll do pneumatic punch downs, and larger ones, where we’ll pump over the tanks. We’ll keep each of the resulting wines separately – we’ll create separate barrel plans for each and age them as separate entities.

Throughout their lives, we’ll go through and ‘rate’ each lot, and, guess what – sometimes, our favorite lots are those that some from some of the largest tanks! We do not presuppose that ‘smaller is better’ and ‘bigger is not’, because it is a generalization which simply is not true.

So just because you visit a winery and it is ‘large’, don’t presuppose the wines will be ‘pedestrian’ – you will most likely enjoy yourself – and the wines – a whole lot more!


One response to “Conventional Wisdoms – Smaller is Better in the Wine Industry . . . Or Is It?”

  1. Even if a winery is large, the people who visit probably already like the wines and don’t necessarily feel the wines are “pedestrian.”

    If the winery offers tours, or even if not, the employees can always point out the small lots that the winery makes.

    Sometimes a large winery that does some small lot wines have an advantage in that these high end bottlings can enhance the reputation of their primary wines.

    People do like to boast to their friends that they visited this well-known winery and really enjoyed this 100 case production of the single vineyard or reserve Cab or Chard that their friends cannot buy locally.

    It’s really a matter of how the wines are promoted. This is why I don’t quite understand large wineries that pour only those wines that can be found in supermarkets across the country.