What is Boutique Wine?

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Most people define boutique wine as “small production”, “artisanal” or even “cult”.  But what does it really mean for a wine to be boutique?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve tried to highlight wines from lesser known areas, like New Mexico or Jasnieres.  We’ve also tasted some wine where only a few hundred cases are made each year.  But recently, we’ve asked ourselves a pretty fundamental question… Is the number of bottles a winery makes or the simple fact that the vineyards happen to be in the middle-of-nowhere enough to make it boutique.

The short answer is probably yes.

But we’ve also been to plenty of large wineries that produce tens of thousands of cases and thought of them as boutique.  The winemaker was still passionate about his/her craft, the vineyard manager knew every vine, exactly when to harvest the grapes, how delicately they should be crushed… the whole wine operation just had a sense of purpose that transcended the “business” of producing wine.

Perhaps boutique is more a state of mind than a number of bottles.  It’s more of an attitude than a location.  Of course, this makes discovering boutique wines a bit more difficult.  It’s rare to turn around a bottle and across the back label read “We really care about what’s inside here”.  But, in our opinion, it also makes seeking out and tasting these wines thoroughly rewarding.

So, what does it mean to you for a wine to be boutique?  Do you expect it to be better, worse, different, new, strange… or maybe nothing at all?  Does it matter to you if the wine is boutique or not when you buy it?

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Comments

  • http://drinksareonme.net Dale Cruse

    There's no official definition, but the term "boutique wine" *generally* refers to passionate winemakers who produce less than 2,000 cases per year.

  • http://www.chezus.com Chez Us

    Boutique – for me that means small out of the way wineries. Definitely not the power houses. I want the story to be interesting as well as the wines. Usually small production. I guess you could say like a mom & pop operation. Two of my favorite boutique wineries are located in the central valley – Saxum & Pipestone. Amazing wines and small production.

  • http://www.wearenotmartha.com Sues

    It doesn't matter to me all the time, but I definitely think it's fun to try out new, different wines that a lot of people probably haven't tried. I'm all about experiencing new wines, no matter where they're from. Do you think a lot of boutique wineries strive to become bigger and would if they could? It's the same kind of thing with craft breweries.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/merrygourmet merrygourmet

    For me, a boutique wine is often one that comes from a smaller production or an "out of the way" winery as Chez Us mentioned above. Seems that in Napa/Sonoma, boutique = expensive (based on my limited experience(. I expect a boutique wine to be delicious and/or unique, preferably both!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/seabeard seabeard

    Thanks for the comments!

    I like the combination of small production (like Dale mentioned) plus some kind of intangible (like Chez Us described) – like a family operation or wine with a story. BTW – I love Saxum wines too (never had Pipestone).

    Sues – interesting question about striving to grow bigger. From a practical perspective, I think people pay a premium and are very loyal to hard to find, boutique wines… to get bigger and produce more bottles even if they had the money might end up backfiring on a small winery attempting to grow. But it's a great question… what do you think?

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  • alicia

    great article in Sunset magazine about screaming eagle and why the costs are higher. Boutique wineries are vulnerable with so many great wines. I suppose its a choice and whether you have the income to purchase a boutique wine.