handcrafted wine barrels

THE LIFECYCLE OF HANDCRAFTED WINE

Mar 11, 2024Jason Wagg

California wine conglomerates make between one million and 50 million cases of wine every year, each. Economies of scale are key to meeting their benchmarks and price points. But at the small, family-run wineries we feature, passion is the force behind the wines. They handcraft wines in ways that are just not possible at large wine corporations. It’s a difference you taste in every sip.

 

Starting Place:

At small wineries, it all begins with a vision of what the winemaker wants to create.

No shareholders = Freedom to …

  • Champion under-sung varietals.
  • Pioneer new wine regions.
  • Craft their perfect flavor profile through blending.

“For our size, it doesn’t make sense to make ‘something for everyone.’ If we get stuck with a wine, we can just drink it,” says Chris Dowsett, Founder Dowsett Wines.

“When you are small, the attention to detail in the product itself is what you’re selling,” says One Flock Wines Founder/Winemaker Jason Hooten.

In The Cellar:

Artistry in the cellar is where small wineries really shine. From sorting to soaking to fermentation decisions, experimentation partnered with meticulous care creates magic.

Artisans may use:

  • Whole-cluster fermentation to add structure and complexity.
  • Hand-punchdowns and even foot-trodding to gently extract flavor.
  • Long aging in barrels, which adds expense to winemaking, but is worth it for small, artisan winemakers, who monitor every barrel.
  • Wild fermentation.

“Commercial yeasts usually use a single strain and this will dominate the wine. With a native or wild fermentation, we get non-wine yeast in small doses, that add layers and complexity.”
Joe Otos, Founder/Winemaker Willowbrook Cellars

In the Vineyard:

Walking every row and checking every vine is key to quality.

  • Hand-leafing to let in just the right amount of sun and wind.
  • Hand-pruning to help produce concentrated flavors.
  • Hand-picking at night so fruit arrives at the cellar in cold, pristine condition.

In The Bottle:

Small wineries often don’t have their own bottling lines and will hire in mobile bottling units. Capsule application may be done by hand. Label art is often created by someone in the winemaking family.

Getting To You:

Selling their wine is the most difficult step. Small wineries simply don’t make enough for distributors to carry. That means their wines are rarely found on grocery store or wine shop shelves. For more than three decades, our mission has been to help small, artisan wineries share their handcrafted wines.

Corporate Wines:

Different from start to finish!

Starting Place:
At corporate wineries, wines can start with the marketing team, who determine what will appeal to the largest number of consumers.

In the Vineyard:
Machine harvesting is the norm. Conglomerates avoid complicated terrain, because flat, valley floor territory is easier to farm.

In the Cellar:
Automated Hydraulic punchdowns and 8,000-gallon fermentation tanks enable mass-production. Consistency is king: The wine must taste the same year after year, so the blending process is often achieved by a recipe. Acid may be added if fruit tastes flabby and shortcuts like “liquid wood” may be added to a wine to quickly and inexpensively mimic barrel aging.

In the Bottle:
In-house equipment and assembly lines move the wine into bottles graced with market-tested labels.

In Store:
Sales to grocery stores and chain restaurants is done through teams of salespeople and distributors.

About The California Wine Club

Discover great wine with The California Wine Club. Since 1990, it’s been our wine club’s mission to help artisan wineries share their small-batch wines with wine enthusiasts everywhere. At The California Wine Club we happen to think these wines simply taste better than the mass-produced wines that dominate store shelves.

We visit the wineries, meet the families and winemakers behind the wines and then invite them to share their favorite wines with our wine club members. Every wine featured in our wine of the month club comes from a real-working winery.

About The California Wine Club

Discover great wine with The California Wine Club. Since 1990, it’s been our wine club’s mission to help artisan wineries share their small-batch wines with wine enthusiasts everywhere. At The California Wine Club we happen to think these wines simply taste better than the mass-produced wines that dominate store shelves. Signature Series members will enjoy  Elkhorn Peak Cellars’ 2018 Estate Grown Reserve Napa Valley Pinot Noir their next delivery.

We visit the wineries, meet the families and winemakers behind the wines and then invite them to share their favorite wines with our wine club members. Every wine featured in our wine of the month club comes from a real-working winery.

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