As my wife and I were driving along a country road a few weeks ago, she spotted a small plot of grape vines in front of what appeared to be a vacant old farm house. There was a man nearby, and as we had nothing better to do at the time, I stopped and talked to him for a few minutes.
He told me that the house was their winery.
Now, I'm not saying that a guy couldn't make some quality wine from a garden-sized plot in southwest Missouri, but it got me thinking about the idea of "single-vineyard" wines. That's one of those almost magical terms that is thrown around to indicate higher quality, better wines.
In many cases, it's absolutely true. Grapes that are grown in a single vineyard receive the same care, draw from the same soil and air, and are very often harvested and fermented together by the people who own the land.
There is much to be said for wine where the vintner takes a hands-on approach from vine to bottle, and is intimately involved in every step along the way. Many French wines proudly state "Mise En Bouteille Au Chateau," a legal phrase meaning the wine is made from grapes that were grown and bottled on the property.
In the same manner, "estate-bottled" carries that connotation, as well.
You just get the idea that a little more care and TLC was put into the wine in a bottle with such a label, as opposed to one where the grapes were purchased from far away and shipped to a location where wine would be produced.
On the other hand, just because a wine came from a single vineyard does not make it superior to all others. Here in the United States, as in many other parts of the world, seemingly everyone who has a bit of land is starting a vineyard.
I dare say that where the vineyard is, and who is making the wine, are still the two great factors that will determine its ultimate quality. A single vineyard with great terroir will outproduce one that lacks in the qualities of climate and soil.
Likewise, a more skilled winemaker can take equal grapes and make a better wine than one without the knowledge or commitment needed to achieve great results. We're back to the "old world" vs. "new world" philosophy, and I continue to believe they are both right.
So, while a single-vineyard wine sounds impressive, make sure both the vineyard and the producer have the reputation of producing great wine before you shell out any extra cash. Your local wine boutique can usually direct you to some gems that will meet your expectations, and often for less money than you might expect.
Write me with your thoughts or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, happy pours.