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wine estateA recent post by Steve Heimoff raises the issue of whether the designation “Estate Bottled” tells the consumer much about a wine.

Legally, in the U.S.,  “Estate Bottled” means that the winery controls the grapes, the grapes must all be sourced from the same AVA, and the wine must be fermented, bottled, and aged in the same facility. (It does not mean that the winery possesses a lovely mansion set within scenic vineyards)

Heimoff, with some qualification, says this is all useful information and speaks well of a wine:

If you think about it, each of those specifications might in itself be of minor importance, but when you add them all up and take them together, they make it far more likely that the resulting wine will be of high quality. Having that precision control over farming is certainly the most important of the “estate bottled” requirements, but to have the entire winemaking process “in the same place,” usually the winery or a facility located very nearby, removes the risky transportation elements that can drag down wine quality. You want to move grapes, must, fermented wine or bottled wine as little as possible; wine is living food, and doesn’t like being manhandled.

Perhaps. But there are some caveats to note. Estate Bottle does not mean that the winery owns the vineyards from which the grapes are harvested–the control may be via contract rather than ownership. Some wineries are better at enforcing contracts than others, and if the winery is looking for high yield rather than high quality, the fact they control the viticulture will not enhance their wine. Furthermore, AVA’s in the U.S can be rather large and diverse. Thus, vineyards in the same AVA may have vastly different soil compositions and be subject to different climates. So Estate Bottled does not mean that the wine expresses a particular terroir.

I have consumed many, many very fine wines over the years that were not “estate bottled” because the grapes were sourced from independent growers who were very good at what they do. Transportation of grapes is always an issue but it can be done well with no discernable loss of flavor. So is an “estate bottled” wine more likely to be of high quality than not? I see no basis for assuming that.

However, “estate bottled” does rule out one important possibility–the wine cannot be bulk wine purchased from another winery. That is an important bit of information because bulk wine is usually, with some exceptions, inferior wine.

So “estate bottled” is useful information but offers no guarantee and perhaps not even a liklihood of quality wine.