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Ain’t Nothin’ Simple

by David on November 14, 2006

That’s what my Dad always used to say…

Our growers often drop by with friends, or just to taste the latest and see what’s new. In this case, Geoff Gorsuch, our Winemaker, specifically invited a grower in to try a wine that was coming along especially well. He wanted the grower to literally taste the fruit of his labors – the absolutely delicious wine we made from his vineyard.

Head down, concentrating, he smelled and tasted. He paused and looked up at Geoff. He smelled it again. Smiled. He took a few more sips and suggested “…you know, it would be a great idea to give this wine a vineyard designation.” which translates to us as “he knows this is good stuff and wants his name associated with it.” It’s a happy thing for both parties.

So, I’m working on the back label for the wine and Geoff tells me about this conversation. He’s totally in favor of it. He loves the fruit that comes from this vineyard and, probably more importantly, he really likes and admires the grower – kind of an old-time, authentic, Napa Valley hands-on farmer. Nothing pretentious about him. Grows great fruit with lots of care – salt of the earth kind of guy. Geoff’s thinking this is a done deal.

Wishing to keep my job, before I add the grower’s name to the label, I run it by David, who co-owns the winery with Geoff. Got an e-mail back: “Let’s discuss”.

Hmmm, I think. What’s to discuss? Single vineyard wines are hot, and the vineyard designation seems to take the wine up a notch in the eyes of the consumer. It makes it appear more limited and upscale. What’s David thinking?

Good thing I checked. He’s thinking like a business man. He has no problem with putting the grower’s name on the label, but we need to sign some papers first – a long-term contract with pricing and quality standards. As it stands, with a year-to-year agreement, putting his name on the label is like running a full-page ad for the grower in the Wine Business Monthly. We can’t be the only ones to recognize the quality, and if another winemaker tastes the wine and is similarly impressed, he’s just a phone call away from trying to outbid us for the fruit. But not if he doesn’t know who the grower is. As we look to build brand value and recognition for Goosecross wines, growers look to build vineyard designations. Both designed to improve the bottom line with potential conflicts.

Everybody brings a different perspective to the table, even at a very small winery like Goosecross. Geoff (being a farmer himself) was being emotional, and wanted to honor the grower. As a wine educator, I was thinking of the great story I could tell about this little vineyard off in the hills. But clearly, the thing to do is to go with David’s recommendation. Wine is perhaps more of a romantic business than most, but it’s still a business. Gotta get that long-term contract signed and then give the grower that place of honor on the label.

When we get to talking about what goes on the wine label, guests at the winery are invariably surprised and somewhat amused to find out that there are regulations behind the statements we make about vintage, location and varietal content – and restrictions regarding what we can say to describe the wine. At first glance, everything seems simple.

Wish I could share the name of the mystery vineyard and wine with you, but I’m not sure we’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s yet. For now, it remains a mystery…

By the way: in the USA, a vineyard designation requires that at least 95% of the grapes come from the named site. Click here to read about some of these regulations in understandable terms.

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