It’s safe to say that everyone in the U.S. is aware of the explosion of the wine market, and consistent addition of wineries in places one would have questioned years ago. It’s always been a well known fact that in the U.S., Napa / Sonoma was believed to be its “Wine Country”. Ask anyone from that region about other states and their wines and you usually were presented with a quizzical expression, that said “why bother” ?
In the early years of wine growing in the United States, the wineries that started up in that region worked very hard to become know to the European wine societies. The European wine market looked to the U.S. as a “why bother” bunch of wine growers, until the the year they were defeated by a California winegrower in their own back yard. That was in 1976 in the historic blind tasting at the Paris Wine Tasting, when a panel of French wine experts choose Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars wine in first place.
California was then really on the map, and the wine region started growing rapidly. During the late seventies and eighties, the wineries in the Northern California were small, personal and had an “artsy” feel to them. There were no lines of traffic seven days a week. No crowded tasting rooms. And more importantly, it was usually the owner / vintner who poured you a glass of his wine, with all the love he felt for his wine, showing in his eyes, and words. You had entered the world of his family.
Today for the most part those things have changed, and those days are gone. The majority of wineries today are still putting their hearts and soul into their wines, but mostly this is done by vintners and employees, because the wineries have grown so large. Mass quantities of grapes of all varietals are being grown in many cases to sell to other wineries, or to production plants that produce wines for those who don’t own a vineyard. Today if you can wiggle your way up to the tasting bar, your tastings of ten to fifteen or more wines is presented by someone that quite possibly has never been in the vineyard.
Wine production has become big business, an investment for many. The proof of that can be found by one simple fact here in the U.S., this year Donald Trump bought a large old winery in the state of Virginia, as an investment. As an owner, do you ever expect Mr. Trump to pour you a sample in the tasting room, and explain the growth and development of the grapes that produced that wine?
But, fear not, because there are still wineries and owner / vintners scattered around the country, that still see you pull in, and walk out of their house to greet you, and welcome you to their little tasting room. You are now arriving at what is the real definition of a “Boutique Winery”. A Boutique Winery is a small winery serving a few very high quality wines that are accurately priced for that quality. You will immediately get the warm feeling of entering someone’s home, greeted by family, and will “share” wine with them that they are proud of.
Now in this day in age, some things even for these smaller operations have a way of mimicking the larger “competitors”. Even though they are small, and have no plans to enlarge, you will still be guided to a tasting room, separate from the house, but still cozy in feel. In some cases you will be visiting a country winery, and may find yourself tasting wine in a barn. The main thing is this, you will be tasting their cherished creations, that they have given their own personal time, care and yes, love to. When you leave you will be leaving with a piece of their family, in a box with probably many more of their friends.
An example of a Boutique Winery in the U.S. is one located in Southern Oregon, in the historic Applegate Valley, Devitt Winery located in Jacksonville, Oregon. Jim Devitt, owner and winemaker learned his craft living in Napa County where he built a successful business with his boutique winery there. Relocating to Oregon Jim started his small production wine business in 2003.
Pulling into his country farm there is no fancy parking lot or grand new tasting center. You park in his driveway, and may find him in the barn tasting room, or wandering his farm. What you will find when you meet him and he brings you into the tasting room is a man who obviously has devoted his life to the grape. He tells you stories as he pours you a glass of his few select wines, like “Precipice” a wonderful red blend, or his Cabernet Franc. Jim intends to stay small and special, and lives by his code, “It’s about each barrel, and what it takes to make that barrel special”.
Another good example of a “Botique Winery” would be “KAZ Winery in Kenwood, California in Sonoma Valley. Here they tout that they are the “Smallest home-based winery opened to the public in Sonoma Valley”.This is a family run business, started by Richard Kasmier who started and planted his first vines in the ‘80’s. He will tell you he was the first in the valley to use “organic” practices in the valley. The tasting room at Kaz is called and is, “The Barn”, a small cozy room where you can almost always meet the owner, winemaker, tasting room manager, vineyard manager. Not only will you enjoy the family grown wines here but Richard puts beautiful artwork into his labels. The photograph quality pictures exemplify his years as an award winning photographer in his early years. With wines hosting names like “Hooligans”, “Kahunas “From the Barrel” and “Red Said Fred” you can bet this will be a great experience for you. And, don’t forget to ask Kaz to sign your bottle of wine before you leave.
Another example of a Boutique Winery would be Vitae Springs in Salem Oregon, in the Southern portion of the Willamette Valley of Oregon know worldwide for its Pinot Noir. Owned by the Van Volkinburg family since the ‘70’s when they planted their first vines. They were one of the first to plant grape vines in the Willamette Valley.
For many years the wine produced by the family was consumed locally and for the enjoyment of family and friends. It wasn’t until the second generation with son Joel that more serious production with small marketing began. They are small production still, producing only four varietals, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and a small production of Gruner Veltliner which is small production and from the oldest vines in the U.S. All in all, just 32.5 acres of grapes produced on this country property.
The tasting room at Vitae Springs is managed by Joel’s wife Michelle and well guarded by her extremely friendly sidekick Gunner, a wonderful yellow lab. Michelle will greet you like a friend here, and when you depart, you will feel part of their family, and already thinking of your return visit. Please note, that their Gruner Veltliner is very small production, sells out quickly, and is extremely delicious. Consider yourself lucky if you have the opportunity to taste.
These small intimate “Boutique” wineries are here in the U.S. wherever vineyards exist, you just have to find them. The internet and word of mouth are the best way of discovery. When you do find one that meets what you believe is one, where you fall in love with their wines be sure to pass the word. They are in demand more and more every day, so seek and enjoy.