Small versus Big: Can we really say that a winery is better than another because of its size?
This is my first post after we re-launched TheWineHub… and I wanted to write about something that matters… something that is close to my heart…
I was working on Facebook to schedule visits in Brazil for a friend of mine – Lotte Karolina Gabrovits – when I got this feedback: ” If you are looking for the real Brazilian terroir and true stories you will find them, as usual in the wine world, in the small wineries.” This gave me the perfect reason to write about something meaningful.
Does size really matter? Are “real terroir” and “true stories” only a privilege of small wineries?
Most of my time is dedicated to wine. This includes the grueling studies of the Master of Wine (MW) program, judging in wine competitions, and visiting hundreds of vineyards and wineries. These visits vary from families growing grapes in their backyard for personal/friends consumption to the largest producer of a region (or even a country). So, the pictures above were not included by coincidence: A big (and very famous) Champagne producer – Krug – and a very small producer of “natural wines” in Friuli – Paraschos. They are the starting point, the building blocks of this theory of mine that it’s much more about “who they are/what they do” than “how big (or small) they are”.
Besides personal pleasure, my main goal when visiting a wine region is (not necessarily in order of importance):
- Find the best wines for my own business
- Report the best experiences to fellow #winelover-s (the wines themselves, and/or the visits to the vineyards, wineries, etc)
- Learn about their viticultural and enological practices for my MW studies.
I try, to the best of my possibilities, to include “small and big producers on the same trip as amazing experiences can be found in both. You just need to know who they are…
To prove my point, I’ll talk about some of my experiences during my visits in Europe this year: Big, small, big, small, big, small… ad eternum…
Albert Bichot (big): I had the opportunity to visit them during a MW trip in March and I was truly impressed with some of their wines. The visits to the vineyards and cellars were both educational and entertaining. Since 1350, the Bichot family has made Burgundy its home, but the family only became attached to vines and wines during the 19th century. In 1831, Bernard Bichot founded a merchant house bearing his name in Monthélie, south of Beaune. At the end of the 19th century, his grandson Albert Bichot, brought new impulsion to the business and established the headquarters in Beaune. The family heritage has been perpetuated from father to son since then. Each “sub‐region” corresponds to a “Domaine”, with owned vineyards but also standalone structure dedicated to wines of the area, including viticulture and vinification teams and facilities (equipment, cellars). Today, the House owns 100 hectares (245 acres) of vineyards in Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise. “Big” is good!
Domaine O’Vineyards (small): Ryan O’Connell is a fellow #winelover. During Vinisud, Andre Ribeirinho and I had a chance to pay a short visit and finally get to know his family’s winery in the Languedoc (a few miles north of Carcassonne). By coincidence, it was Ryan’s last day there as he was moving to the US to work in California. What a lovely afternoon/evening it was… We visited the winery and talked about the winemaking process while we were tasting very good wines from the tank and barrels. After that, we walked in the vineyards and talked about what they were doing to grow better grapes. After that, we tasted wines in a cozy living room and had a lovely dinner with his family. “Small” is good!
Real Companhia Velha (big): In 2006 they celebrated 250 years of existence and uninterrupted activity on behalf of the Porto Wine trade. During the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2012 in Guimarães earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit them. We started with a walk through the vineyards from the top of hill, all the way down to the Douro river. The views were amazing (as you can see on the picture above). Every corner of our path offered breathtaking views of this amazing valley. When we got to their tasting room by the river, we had the opportunity to taste some of their amazing wines. “Big” is good
Quinta do Pôpa (small): “Every man has a dream, and the dream of Zeca do Pôpa was to own a vineyard in one of the best locations in the oldest recognized wine region of the world.” I met Zeca’s son – Stéphane Pôpa – for the first time in Celorico da Beira in 2010. Stéphane, who was born in France, is passionate about his wines and also very active in social media as I am, so the connection between the two of us was very natural. We met a few times, but it was not until May this year that I had the chance to visit his winery in the Douro. I had the chance to see all the work (and money) they are putting into the vineyard/winery. Their Tinta Roriz (see picture above) has been one of my favorite reds of the region, and has an amazing quality/price ratio. “Small” is good!
Quinta do Noval (big): Andre Ribeirinho and I visited Noval in May. I’m trying to find words here to describe our experience, but I will simply use what Christian Seely (their Manager Director) had to say: “The name Quinta do Noval evokes for me above all a place. A magical place, a historic place. A piece of the earth capable of producing wines that are among the world’s greatest. The wines of Quinta do Noval express the greatness of this terroir, of this majestic landscape. They evoke also the centuries of history that have been necessary for these wonderful wines to exist.” Not much more to say about one of the most amazing wineries/vineyards that I have visited in my life… “Big” is good!
Weingut Seymann (small): Nancy Lee Seymann was my friend on Facebook. When she heard I was going to Austria in July, she invited me to visit her winery in Karlsdorf. She grew up in California and is now in charge of marketing as well as creating special food and wine events. Her son Laurin is studying enology and actively works in the vineyards and cellar. Her husband Harald has been cultivating the “Treasure in Pulkau Valley” in Western Weinviertel, which he inherited with his brother Alexander from his father. The Seymanns see their role as winemakers to be catalysts for the birth of wines with outstanding personality. Seymann´s wines whisper secrets about the single vineyards from which they evolve and of the winemaker´s love, understanding and connection to these vineyards. “Small” is good!
Tsantali Winery (big): I had the opportunity to visit Greece for the first time in June. Ted Lelekas (a good friend and fellow #winelover from Greece) organized a trip for a few male #winelovers and we were able to visit Mount Athos. The place is not only truly amazing, but the wines made at the Saint Panteleimon cloister by Tsantali are impressive. The vineyards of the Metoxi (Domain) of Chromitsa, property of the St. Panteleimon monastery, extend across an area of 80 hectares and are cultivated by Tsantali using organic methods. The benevolent climatic and geographic parameters enable organic farming without problems. The relatively dry climate, sandy soil and strict isolation of the vineyards from other cultivations offer an excellent basis for organic farming. The results are lower yields of grapes, which make for more concentrated, complex wines. “Big” is good!
Chrisohoou Winery (small): The “ESTATE CHRISOCHOOU” is a family winery in Naoussa (“the city of wine and vineyards”) built in a very traditional style. Their vineyards are located in the south-eastern slopes of mountain “Vermion”at an altitude of 250 meters, in the region Strantza Naoussas. These conditions are perfect for the production of light Xinomavro wines (only 12.5% alcohol as you can see on the label), with a good structure and with a tomato leaf note that is so characteristic of the grape. Xinomavro as its best! During our visit we had the opportunity to have a fantastic traditional dinner with the owners: Kimis and Betty Chrisohoou. “Small” is good!
Hugel & Fils (big): Etienne Hugel (picture) is a great #winelover. I know him for a few years now. Every time I have an opportunity, I love to go to Riquewihr to get a taste of his amazing wines and chat about modern life (social media for example) or the amazing history of his family. The first traces of his family in Alsace date back to the XVth century. Some two centuries later, Hans Ulrich Hugel settled in Riquewihr, which had been devastated by the terrible Thirty Years War. In 1639, he was made a freeman of the city and soon took charge of the very powerful Corporation of Winegrowers. In 1672, his son built a fine house in the Rue des Cordiers. The family crest was carved over the front door, and is company’s logo still used today! How much better does it get? A conversation that starts on the XVth century and goes all the way to apps, facebook, twitter… while we taste his great wines… “Big” is good!
Spiegelberg Winery (small): It’s amazing how Istvan Spiegelberg and I have been able to communicate over the years without speaking each others’ language. Of course, we always had help from people around us that spoke both languages (Hungarian and English), but somehow we have a connection that goes beyond the translated words. Istvan was kind enough to come to our #winelover’s hangout in Eisenstadt, but he had one condition: that I reciprocated the favor and went to Somló to taste some of his new wines. How could I say no to a guy who wears the #winelover’s badge on his hat all the time? And have I mentioned that his wines are amazing? I think that Magnus Reuterdahl can back me up on this, as we both had the opportunity on that day to visit a winery on the slopes of an extinct volcano… and to taste delicious wines that screamed “Somló”. “Small” is good!
Blandy’s Madeira (big): During the FTLOP trip in June this year I had the opportunity to visit these beautiful cellars (Chris Blandy himself – picture – was our “tour guide”) with Roy Hersh, Mario Ferreira, and a group of #winelovers. The Blandys are unique in being the only family of all the original founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their own original wine company. The family has played a leading role in the development of Madeira wine throughout its long history. Members of the family continue to live in Madeira, maintaining a tradition that goes back to 1811. And just to be clear: The company is not only about history… they are making fantastic wines. “Big” is good!
Artisan Wines (small): Franz Schneider is a Boku-trained enologist with a Master in Quality viticulture and Marketing. Experience acquired working at Azienda Agricola Luciano Sandrone/Barolo, research center Geisenheim/Germany, Klein Constantia Estate/South Africa and some estates in Austria. Franz thoughts on AW: “Artisan Wines is my brand new wine label. The Artisan Wines are handmade, rare, unique and carbon free! Our mid term aim is to apply an energy management system and implement natural protection activities in the organizational-technical field to get the most resource-saving wine producer in our area.” I had the chance to taste his wines this last July and I was more than impressed… I felt in love with them! “Small” is good!
What is the conclusion? This “small x big” dichotomy is purely ideological. I don’t think it exists “per se” as many people present it and I don’t choose wines or wineries for their political, ideological, religious, and philosophical beliefs. I LOVE wine above all and all these other things are secondary to me. Sometimes “small” can offer an extra pleasure that “big” can’t. However, in many cases, the opposite also holds true. In other words, they both – small and big – can offer unique experiences: Size shouldn’t matter to a real #winelover.
Luiz Alberto, #winelover