If you were asked to categorize wine into two groups, chances are your answer would include the separation of red and white wine. While that is not incorrect, a more telling rank could be mass produced wines and small lot wines. This grouping is important because not all wines are created equally and wine that has undergone mass production has most often been created for many different reasons to wine that has been produced by small wineries.
Mass produced wines are created with the sole purpose of being sold quickly and enjoyed straight away, and are targeted towards entry to mid-level markets. When it comes to flavor and balance, mass-produced wines are often easy drinking and inoffensive, but can lack the complexity and ‘soul’ of non-commercial wines. Another notable trait is that the wine production of mass-market wines is mechanized, meaning that the grapes are machine pruned, picked, and sorted. In comparison, smaller wineries tend to use hands-on vineyard and wine production techniques as a desirable selling point. Also, mass produced, or commercial wines, are often distinguished by their general growing vicinity, where small, or boutique wineries, will produce wine from specific regions and vineyards. Commercial wines can be from a broad region or even categorized by an entire country.
Perhaps the most evident factor that separates mass produced wines from small production size wines is that commercial wines often contain a cocktail of synthetic additives. The wine production process allows for over 500 different compounds to be added, which confirms that there is a lot more in your glass than just fermented grape juice. If you avoid processed foods for health purposes, you should also be avoiding large-scale commercial wines for the same reasons. Processing wines and including additives like stabilizers and sulfites are done mainly to eliminate vintage-to-vintage variation, making each year taste the same as the last and to keep the product consistent.
Does this mean that a small winery looking to maximize profit cannot produce wine in mass production format and be successful? This depends on many different variants. It’s not unheard of for small wineries to produce ready-to-drink wine, to use mechanized vineyard and wine production techniques, or to use additives in their wines. Where small wineries have the upper hand is direct sales. If a small winery producing 10 thousand cases a year sells all of their handcrafted wine through their cellar door or wine club, they can compete with a
larger winery that may produce triple the amount but have lower margins and sell through wholesale channels.
Small wineries can command higher prices by building a brand and reputation, and most importantly, because they have a superior product. True wine drinkers will seek out to experience the natural variations of a quality wine from a quality year. They will enjoy distinguishing between wines from different regions and different winemakers. Both mass produced wines and small lot wines serve a distinct purpose in the market, and while small lot producers may not be able to directly compete with large companies who make wine for a low retail price, the price will always reflect the quality – and quality always sells.