Ask an American how wine is made, and most of us will answer that it involves buying a winery and growing grapes on winery land. It’s all very romantic, and it’s one of the reasons why so many people think they want to own a winery (until, of course, they discover the joys of harvest and Pierce’s Disease).
In fact, this vision of the wine business ? which produces what are called estate wines ? is not the only approach to winemaking. There is also the negociant method, a French term for a wine company that buys grapes or finished wine, or even both, and sells the resulting product under its own name. In this, a negociant may not own land or a winery, and the only ?winemaking ? that it may do is to blend the finished wine that it buys from other wineries into a final product.
There is nothing wrong with this approach; it’s a centuries-old tradition that started in the French region of Burgundy, where some of the best wines in the world are produced by negociants. It moved to Bordeaux, where it works in a slightly different fashion, and today exists all over the world. That includes California, where many well-known wines are made under the negociant system. Purple Wine Company, which makes Mark West pinot noir and Avalon cabernet sauvignon, is a negociant (and quite proud of it).
Nevertheless, many California producers still don’t like to be thought of as negociants. In this country, a stigma still attaches to the term, as if it’s un-winely in some way. I can’t tell you how many winemakers and marketing people make an effort to reassure me that their wines are estate wines when I interview them, as if estate wines carry some guarantee of quality. Which they don’t.
The photo is from Kay Pat of New Dehli, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license