That bottle of artisan wine you enjoyed last night , the one from the guy who produces less than 5,000 cases a year…we know you know, but there really is a tremendous amount of effort that goes into it.
These small producers face innumerable challenges on their road to cork their wine. They need to know about viticulture, winemaking, wine distribution, marketing, government regulations, consumer preferences … the list goes on.
Not so long ago, most people wanting to start a winery in California looked for vineyard land first. They planted a vineyard, then, as they gained capital, built a winery.
At least small winemakers today no longer are tied to that scenario. Most of them begin their brands on a shoestring, using co-op wine facilities and buying their fruit from independent growers.
But while the capital outlay to begin a brand today is far less, the need for knowledge and the ability to wear many, many hats has increased. A lone winemaker has to do it all – locate the good grapes, make the wine, and go out and sell it.
Some have advantages. If it is a family business, a winemaker can focus on what he or she does best, and let other family members take care of the rest. If a family vineyard exists, a winemaker might have a better grip on that part of the puzzle.
Also, winemakers with varied backgrounds in the wine business can have an edge. For example, Michael Quinn, who produces just 1,500 annual cases of mostly premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for his Michael-Scott Wines, has the advantage of years of experience in several areas of the wine industry.
He gave us the scoop in an interview last week for our Aged Cabernet Serie.
He began his career at the age of 18 years old, as a Napa native working in the tasting room of Beringer Winery. He later went across the street to Charles Krug, then learned viticulture for five years at Robert Mondavi.
After a stint as a vineyard manager, Michael explored the sales and marketing side. He became a wine seller dealing with buyers, wine shops and restaurants over a huge area covering all of northern California to Lake Tahoe.
So, by the time he decided to start his own label, buyers had lined up to buy it–he presold his first vintage before it was even ready for tasting.
But even with his amazing background, Michael tells us,
a winemaker needs to wear all the hats all the time. “You have to be ready for anything and everything,” he says. “I’ve been doing it so long, so nothing surprises me.” Michael emphasized that “you have to be flexible. You have to be ready for the changes. Vintages that are panned by the media – you still must be able to sell your wine. And there is competition. The big guys have more
money and more clout. And then you sometimes have a battle getting paid for your wine.”
So, next time you sip an artisan blend, you might give a toast to the hard work that made it possible.