About Factory Wines

About Factory Wines

About “factory’ wine

You won’t find me griping about a $150 million home being built in Big Sky or the necessity to raise the tax rate to pay for new and better schools. I have a constitution alright to gripe and it helps to vent every now and again.

My gripe this week focuses on the wine business, not because I think it is especially important compared with issues such as peace, poverty or education, but simply because this is my bailiwick.

I get to taste a lot of wines and it is upsetting to me to find so many of them are impostors. They are dressed up to look like interesting wines; made to sound as if they have been lovingly created from a single vineyard by little old winemakers in small, rustic cellars – aged gracefully in oak barrels with the attentive hand of the grower never far away.

The truth is they are industrial formulas produced in gigantic refinery-like wineries from machine-picked grapes that come from huge, flat, irrigated vineyards, and conjured up with all manner of winemaking chicanery. (Don’t get me started on Mega Purple). These chemical engineers blend juice together to offend as few consumers as possible the sell it by deep discounting to give the consumer some measure of satisfaction at having a “good”, cheap wine. 

OK, far be it from me to suggest that we shouldn’t have cheap wine. Nothing thrills me more than to find a great wine at a great price. But why can’t we have cheap, honest wine? Cheap, honest wine still exists, and thanks to small growers and vintners, it looks like it will have a future.

The modern retail environment, with its demand for uniformity, continuity of stock, and large volumes means that only the big wineries get invited to the party. You won’t find small artisanal wines at Wal-Mart, Target or even at the major supermarkets. Smaller growers who make honest, affordable wine can’t deal with the quantities needed by major retailers. They also can’t afford the “big stick” discounts that are demanded by the Costco’s and Sam’s Clubs of the world. Sadly, they can’t produce those big volumes of wine without resorting to chemical sleight of hand.

You can’t blame the big guys for wanting to make a buck. They want to present the most affordable, good tasting, recognizable wine they can find. It is no wonder thatDoritos and Cheez-whiz (two other “factory” comestibles) are always on sale at deep discounts. Both are easily recognized, affordable and made with enough salt to make them taste good to almost everyone. A peek around the corner at the wine aisle will show you hundreds of brands that are “factory made”, taste good (in a generic way), are deeply discounted and have familiar labels.

What can stem this rising tide of factory wine? I reckon some gently subversive counter movement is needed. Help me to champion the small well-made labels. If there’s an increased demand, then perhaps the continued existence of real wine will be assured. Here are a few things I look for in a good inexpensive wine.

• The wine is made from grapes grown in one vineyard, or several neighboring vineyards
• The vineyards supplying the grapes are usually owned by the people making the wine, or        are supplied by growers on long-term contracts
• There is limited or small production
• The wines are subject to vintage variation
• Convenience and availability are sometimes a problem, because of the limited production
• You won’t see their ads on the Super Bowl.