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A-list artisans: Winemakers who define ‘artisanal’ winemaking: An introduction

May 7, 2020
“An Artisan winemaker cares about the land and honours the produce thereof: From vine to bottle with as little interference as possible”. – Thomas Bachelder, Winemaker

The term “artisanal”, when applied to the practice of winemaking, is somewhat of a hot button topic these days. How an artisanal wine is viewed by the public is sometimes blurred, twisted and manipulated by advertising and public relations.

It can be argued that if the words “artisan wine” are applied to a label or used to describe the wine itself, it can evoke an emotion or a certain romance that the consumer can connect with. If those two words suggest that the wine was made with extra care by people who are deeply committed to their work, putting love into each and every bottle, then by all means you should buy it over that other, mass-produced one, right?

An artisan wine usually comes from a small producer, made in limited quantities using traditional winemaking practices. The production of these wines is strongly linked to the local terroir, the specific soil and climate conditions of the vineyard. The wine styles made are driven by the producer’s interpretation of what is ‘best’ from their vineyards and perhaps even made to reflect their personality – and in that, you really are getting a unique product.

Read Also: Ann Sperling: A winemaker with a clear vision of the future

The one particular challenge these winemakers face is that, by definition, they do not make wines in mass-market, supermarket-friendly quantities, and so, are not able to offer the types of (value) rates you might typically see on bulk produced wines coming out of such places as Bordeaux, Italy or Australia for example. Therefore, a constant challenge – aside from the weather and the changing climate – is persuading people to pay a bit extra to buy these truly personal wines.

I’ve tried to wade through as much of the artisan wine market as possible – especially here in Canada. I understand that the competition is fierce and that business owners will do what they must in order to outsell and outlast. But it’s obvious to me that it’s also a space that is becoming saturated and marketed (perhaps) under false pretenses.

artisan winemaker

Deep thought discussions with Thomas Bachelder while visiting Domaine Queylus for a tasting back in 2018.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many winemakers making exceptional wines and although not everyone I have come across fits the billing, there are those select individuals, whom I believe, really do seem to define the term artisan, whether their branding suggests it or not.

So, for the selected individuals, I wanted to throw the artisan question at them to see how they would respond. It seems that they agree that if one is to be labelled as such, it has much to do with the care of the product and how it is produced, using time-honoured techniques.

After all, there’s no metric by which a wine can be declared “artisanal”, and so, the debate will go on. But I will provide some insight into what these talented winemakers are doing and why their wines deserve to be explored and labelled as truly artisanal accomplishments.

This series will unfold by taking a closer look at each winemaker and the wines he or she makes, one article at a time, and will continue onward.

On no set schedule, VineRoutes will spotlight the following winemakers, with the list to be added to throughout the year and beyond:

Next A-List Artisan posts: