vineyardEarlier this week I linked approvingly  to a story about a young winemaker who pointed out how conventional and boring California wine is becoming.

I have another pet peeve—corporate wineries trying to pass themselves off as family-owned.

The marketing materials of most wineries include an idyllic story accompanied by pictures of the founder in the old days operating on a shoestring, scratching out a living from newly planted vineyards, gradually building quality and handing off the successful operation to the next generation. There are such authentic stories. But most of the time it’s bullshit.

Here is a winemaker, from a genuine family-run operation in Australia, exposing one of the big lies the wine industry doesn’t want you to discover.

“I’m really sick of the latest trend for corporate misuse of the term ‘family’ when promoting wine brands that were sold by the family founders eons ago and conning wine loving consumers and trade alike,” Mr Hill-Smith told The Weekend Australian…“But now, intriguingly, some of the larger corporates that have bought into fallen family business, or are reinventing themselves as family businesses are being, I believe, deceptive and mischievous because I think we all know there is an emotional attachment to the food and wine.

Consumers want wines with a history and that express someone’s vision. And so the marketing departments of corporate wineries dig into the archives of the wineries they swallowed and trot out stories that give the impression the operation is still family run. In fact, 6 wine companies produce around 66% of all wine produced in the U.S.The top 30 wine companies produce 90% of American wine. These are not family wineries but global corporations. The situation in Australia is similar. You wouldn’t know that by looking at the supermarket shelves or the winery websites.

If the wine is good, what’s the harm?

Mr Hill-Smith said these corporates were portraying themselves as family companies, undermining the validity or provenance of the genuine article — real family-owned businesses.

The comparative advantage a real family winery has is wiped out by these fraudulent claims. And consumers are getting ripped off as well if what they are looking for is authenticity.

I doubt that there is anything to be done about this. We have never been good at regulating false advertising. And as the linked article points out, family members often stay involved in wine operations when a winery is sold to a corporation.

But I don’t blame genuine family winemakers for complaining. It’s hard enough to make a living making wine; having to compete with the fraudsters makes it much more difficult.