This week we explore the phenomenon of boutique wineries. There are numerous, quality, diverse and interesting wineries that fall in this category within the Sierra Foothill region of California. Many wine connoisseurs from the bay area and beyond leave successful careers as lawyers, money managers and IT engineers to embrace their dreams by opening up their own winery in the Sierra foothills. The rest of us have possibly had similar dreams as these brave wine producers. Maybe we lack the the ability to buy the property, purchase the equipment, learn orchard management and wine science, grow the grapes and then create a fine wine.
Differing Opinions of what Makes a Boutique Winery
Winemakers, viticulturists, wine enthusiasts, writers, reviewers and the like all have a different slant on what exactly constitutes a boutique winery. Similarly, many have a different opinion of who and what comprises a mass producer of wines. If you turn to Webster’s Dictionary and look up the term “boutique winery,” you won’t find it there. It’s more of a term thrown around within wine society. Many may wonder what makes a boutique winery different from other wineries. Members of the wine community generally agree, a boutique class winery is classified as one with a production count somewhere in the 2,500 to 5,000 cases per year. Some believe boutique classification includes those wineries producing all the way up to 10,000 cases per year. The question remains illusive as to what makes a boutique winery, is it simply production count or are there more factors?
Winery Size and Classifications
There are many fewer large production wineries that small. The number of wineries progressively goes down as a function of their yearly case production. In the United States, as of January 2019, there are only 72 wineries designated as “large-sized,” these are very large production corporate operations that produced over 500,000 cases of wine annually. There are 267 designated as “medium-sized” producing from 50,000 to 499,000 cases per year. There are 1637 designated “small-scale” wineries producing between 5,000 to 49,999 cases per year. The boutique winery classification would fall into the “very-small” category with 3741 wineries producing 1,000 to 4,999 cases. There is one additional category designated “limited production” with a total of 4326 wineries producing under 1,000 cases a year. These would be considered the private consumption or friend network wineries.
So, what other factors in our opinion classify a winery as boutique. When wine lovers use the word “boutique,” they are generally talking about a winery that is small and whose owners are focused on high-quality and creates a specialty lifestyle type of wine. More players in the industry, as of late, are categorizing a winery as boutique specifically related to high quality, regardless of the number of cases produced or winery size or lifestyle wine.
Boutique Owners are True Artisans
Boutique wineries bring artisans with a passionate focus for the regional grape, its unique character and flavor. One of the factors that make these wineries compelling is there’s no corporate directives or limitations to imposed on the art of high-quality wine production. This frees-up the winery owners to present their very uniquely individual wine with an exceptionally individual flare and style. These owners also typically enjoy including wine pairings as part of the tasting experience on Fridays and weekends where food is offered with their wines. Many times, the winery owners enjoy the culinary arts and will prepare homemade cuisine. This adds an additional touch of class and sophistication to the total wine tasting experience.
They Can Do it all
Owners of boutique wineries are classically self-motivated, micromanagers who tend to do everything themselves or have the expertise to do everything from vineyard management, blending to bottling. These owners tend to be extra discerning in vineyard management. They prune unreasonably and meticulously make grape selections row by row for the harvest. They focus on the varietal the soil is best suited for rather than produce a one for the sake of experimentation or simply for turning a profit. These owners can truly be considered artisans focused on winemaking as a way of life. They could care less, in many instances, the number of tons an acre will produce in order to maximize their return on investment.
Its a Personal Thing
These wineries are typically family-owned by wine-passionate married couples or business partners who have decided to try their hand at the game wine making. Some wine-fanatic celebrities and sport figures have also ventured into the boutique winery business. These include Madonna, Francis Ford Coppola, Mick Fleetwood, Fergie, Guy Fieri and John Legend and even NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
Boutique Wineries – The Sierra Foothills Shine
The Sierra Foothills region has an abundance of these treasured boutique wineries in and around thriving counties. An example is El Dorado County along the scenic California Highway 50 corridor just minutes outside of Sacramento. Here you’ll find upscale homes green golf courses and boutique wineries in towns with names such as Cameron Park and Shingle Springs and of course El Dorado Hills. Boutique wineries are a phenomenon worldwide. With oenophiles discovering the exceptional unique character and flavors of these wineries, large corporate wineries find themselves on-notice to compete in a new world of loving quality wine production. As you visit the region, keep your nose, tongue, ears and eyes focused on discovering a new favorite boutique winery.