Corporate Whine: “Knowing Your Winegrower” Is One Way To Ensure Integrity In Your Drink
“Know your farmer” is one of the many reasons why people eat local. “Know your winegrower” is one reason to drink local. If you like to know who grows the food you eat, then why not know the people who grow the grapes that are made into the wine you drink? A smaller producer is a smaller producer, whether they produce food or drink.
Although I admittedly drink Australian and California wines from time to time, I get a little fatigued with the corporate maneuvering inherent in Big Wine. Anyone who knows the history of Inglenook, one of California’s formerly great wineries, knows what the buy-and-sell mentality can do to the quality of wine. Unfortunately, there is a whole generation (maybe two) who associate Inglenook with producing wine on par with bad jug wine, not unjustifiably. Along the same lines, there is a reason why Yellow Tail costs only $7.99 and is available everywhere: Australia has perfected mass production of wine.
The most recent example of corporate decimation of wine is the shuttering of Rosenblum‘s winery in Alameda, California, in San Francisco’s East Bay. I am sure that many of you are familiar with Rosenblum wine, especially their Zinfandel. It has been widely available, almost always reasonably priced, and easy-to-drink. Rosenblum also came with a nice story: it was founded by Alameda veterinarian, Dr. Kent Rosenblum, and his wife. In 2008, Rosenblum was purchased for $105 million by London-based Diageo, the beverage giant that owns the brands Smirnoff, José Cuervo and Tanqueray. Alas, it is easy to predict what would happen next; before the latest announcement, Diageo had been trimming Rosenblum’s most highly regarded single-vineyard wines from Sonoma. Then, on May 12, 2010, Diageo announced that it would restructure its U.S. wine business, laid off employees, and now, with the closure of Rosenblum’s Alameda winery, is moving production of Rosenblum to Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa Valley, California, already a big winery. In doing so, Diageo is focused on creating an “efficient, entrepreneurial wine business, focusing on core strategic brands,” which it cites as Rosenblum, Beaulieu, Sterling and Chalone. Kent Rosenblum expressed disappointment with the move, and said, “this is what happens when you let bean-counters run a company.”
Unfortunately, what is happening to Rosenblum — shifting production, decision-making by people not actually growing the wine — is all too commonplace in the world of wine.
If you’d like to keep your wine drinking simple and not have to wonder which “bean counter“ cost-cutting measures have resulted in the provenance of your wine being amorphous at best, then drinking local wine is one way to go. For instance, take a closer look at some of the extensive information on Shannon & Cortney Casey’s blog, Michigan by the Bottle. (For those who don’t know, the Caseys are tireless crusaders of Michigan wine.) There’s this interview with Doug Welsch, the winegrower and winemaker at relatively tiny Fenn Valley Vineyards. He’ll talk about how he started growing grapes and making wine with his family at his winery in Southwest Michigan. Read this interview with Bryan Ulbrich, of Left Foot Charley, about how he got into winemaking after graduating with a Master’s Degree in American Indian Law and Policy. Then, go drink some local wine — does it feel better than drinking a bottle by Big Wine Co. USA, Inc.? I thought so.