Big wine companies and wine quality, part II

Big-CompaniesThis is the second of two parts looking at consolidation in the wine business and the rise of the giant producer — a handful of which dominate the U.S. wine business. Today, advice on how to tell which multi-national made the wine you drink. The first part, which ran on Dec. 13, looked at company size and why it matters.

What do the Barefoot, Cupcake and Two-buck Chuck wines have in common? Each are labels owned by one of the largest wine companies in the country, but you can’t tell that by looking at the label.

Nowhere does it say that E&J Gallo owns Barefoot, perhaps the best-selling wine in the U.S. Or that The Wine Group makes Cupcake through its Underdog division. Or that Two-buck Chuck, the Charles Shaw wine sold at Trader Joe’s, is one of dozens of labels produced by Bronco.

That’s because there is no legal requirement to do so, and most wine companies aren’t interested in that sort of thing. So what ?s a curious consumer to do? Googling the wine while standing in the store aisle isn’t the most efficient use of time. Rather, look for clues on the back label.

Look for something like “Produced and bottled,”  “Vinted and bottled,” or “Imported and bottled.” The location that follows usually identifies the parent company, so that almost all Gallo-owned brands say Modesto, Calif. In addition, the “imported” line may have a company name similar to the name of the multi-national that owns the brand, so that CWUS is part of Constellation Brands, the second-largest U.S. wine company.

The following list is far from complete, given that wine companies acquire and sell brands the way baseball teams trade players. And not everyone uses these pointers. But it should get you started — and I welcome additions to it:

Gallo: More best-sellers than you can imagine, like Apothic and Dancing Bull, and most say Modesto.

The Wine Group, whose brands include Cupcake, Big House, Fish Eye and Flip-Flop: Look for Livermore or Ripon, Calif., on the back label. There may also be a reference to the Underdog division.

Jackson Family, which makes not only its trademark Kendall Jackson, but Murphy-Goode, Cambria and Freemark Abbey, often has Santa Rosa, Calif., on the back label.

 Accolade Wines, which owns Geyser Peak and Atlas Peak, as well as Aussie labels Banrock and Hardys. may have Healdsburg, Calif., on some older bottles (the company has since moved to Napa).

Bronco: Two-buck Chuck’s parent has Ceres or Napa for location; its brands include Salmon Creek, Forrest Glen, and Napa Ridge..

Constellation: The CWUS identifies imported labels like Kim Crawford, while some imports, like Monkey Bay, will say Madera, Calif. Domestic wines will say Woodbridge or Acampo (and a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to blog visitor Russ Winton for this).

Chateau Ste. Michelle: Look for Woodinville, Wash., as well as Patterson, Wash. for secondary brands like Columbia-Crest and 14 Hands.

Treasury: This Australian company identifies its imported wines, like Rosemount, Penfolds and Lindeman ?s, with the initials TWE. It ?s more difficult to tell its U.S. brands, like Beringer and Meridian.

Diageo: Its U.S. division, Diageo Chateau Estate Wines, owns Beaulieu, Sterling, and Rosenblum. Look for Sonoma, which isn’t much help, or some form of the initials DCEW.

5 thoughts on “Big wine companies and wine quality, part II

  • By burnsey -

    Thanks for printing the “clues’ as to a wine’s origin. I have known for years that anything from Modesto comes from Gallo. Also, is Gallo still debt free? In the past, I believe they only did cash deals.

  • By janjamm -

    Is your quarrel that the big brands don’t identify themselves on their subsidiary lables? If so, do you see that as different from, say, General Mills, Pepsico, Carlise, Lowes, Koch, etc?

  • By Jeff Siegel -

    Thanks for the comment, janjamm. I have no complaint either way. Companies do what companies do. I’m just reporting — and, as noted in the post, many other consumer goods companies do put their name on all of their products.

  • By -

    Do you find these big companies add more chemicals to the wine? Sugar for taste? Sulfites for preservatives? I’ve heard the FDA allows up to 250 additives for color, flavor, and preserves in wine. I assume the big companies are more about making money fast so pesticides, manufactured yeasts?

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      This is the question no one in wine, big or small, wants to answer. I have been pushing for ingredient labels for years for just this reason (do a search on the blog for ingredient labels), but the wine industry thinks this would just confuse consumers. Actually, they’re scared people will find out how manipulated their $25 bottle of wine is.

      And it’s not just the big companies who feel this way — some “craft” producers use the same winemaking techniques. That includes grape juice concentrate like Mega Purple to add sugar, “oak adjuncts” like oak chips and powder to simulate oak aging, and liquid tannins.

      The one thing you don’t have to worry about is sulfites. That’s listed on the bottle, and is among the most natural additives. White wine, in particular, would suffer without sulfites. And there is almost no market for organic-style wines, so most producers big and small use -ides — pesticides, herbicides, and so forth. And why isn’t there a market? Because, as one consultant told me, everyone assumes wine is organic because that’s the image the industry has sold them.

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