Wine 101: Who made your wine--and why it's important


Can you name five wine producers? Many casual wine drinkers might mention Robert Mondavi, Sutter Home, Beringer, Coppola, or Kendall Jackson. But what about Monchhof, St. Innocent, and Felsina? In the fourth of a series of Wine 101 topics (which includes terroir, vintage, and appellation), we will dive into the role of the producer.

You'll also find recommendations for five great bottles to help you explore this all-important category for buying good wine.

With some wine producers, you might think you were in the center of an oil refinery. Gallo Corporation makes millions of bottles a year under such labels as Barefoot, Louis M. Martini, Mirassou, and Eco Domani. Constellation Brands is the world's largest wine producer and has acquired wineries such as Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois, and Kim Crawford over the years.

Quality within these massive producers varies so widely that it's a wonder some brands are still around. Even well-respected winemakers aren't immune. One of the the most decorated producers in the world, Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), bought Los Vascos in Chile in 1988 and has not received much quality press from the critics and wine geeks. While the 2009 sauvignon blanc was nice, the 2008 chardonnay was borderline undrinkable.

So why do some producers making hundreds of thousands of cases a year make good wine? It starts with terroir, but most important is the wine making (the next blog in the series).

Well-known producers such as Columbia Crest and Louis M. Martini have made solid wines for years and are better options for consumers, vintage to vintage. At Columbia Crest, head winemaker Ray Einberger oak-barrels all his Grand Estate wines to give them more complexity than many similarly priced wines, which tend to be stored in stainless steel.

2007 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon $7.99 on sale at Surdyk's
Dark purple. Nose shows off dust, plum, cherry, spices, and oak. On the palate the wine is balanced and quite complex. 89 points

2007 Louis M. Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon $9.99 on sale at Haskell's
Dark with spice, cedar, blackberries, and mocha on the nose. The palate shows great depth and combines fruit and earth elements. Medium finish. 90 points

On a much smaller scale I recently reviewed the 2007 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett. While the featured name on the bottle is Christoffel, it is not the producer. Today Robert Eymael of Monchhof Winery in Germany bottles the wine for them.

Many celebrities have their names on bottles, but few of them have anything to do with the wine. My favorite value celebrity brand is Greg Norman Estates,  which is produced by the Foster's Group and has worldwide distribution. They make a consistent cabernet/merlot blend, shiraz, and chardonnay from South Australia. As far as this celebrity wine labels list, the highest-quality wines come from former race car driver Randy Lewis. His Lewis Cellars are considered some of the best wines from Napa, and he directly produces the wines, unlike fellow NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

Wine producers always have to define their core clients, and St. Innocent is not for everyone. It only produces 6,800 cases a year. Mark Vlossak makes some of the best pinot noir wines, and in 1988, with a few investors, he founded St. Innocent. Vlossak is not only the winemaker but the head of operations. By not having a board of directors, Vlossak is able to produce the wines he believes his customers will appreciate.

Try these two offerings with duck, salmon, or a hearty vegetable pasta dish.

2008 St. Innocent Temperance Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir $27.99 at Thomas Liquors
A super pinot under $30 with aromas of wafer, spice, forest floor, and raspberries. The palate matches the nose to a T: In other words, a balanced wine. Medium finish. 94 points

2008 St. Innocent White Rose Vineyards Pinot Noir $47.99 at Thomas LiquorsThe gold standard from St. Innocent and sadly the last vintage of this wine. Floral, white pepper, chalk, and strawberries on the impressive nose. Concentrated palate and one of the longest finishes on a wine all year. Wine of the Year? 96 points

One problem for producers such as Fattoria de Felsina is finding marketing dollars for its wines. While Felsina is a top five Chianti producer, it will never have name-brand recognition like Bolla, Da Vinci, and Danzante. However, this is one of the top sangiovese wines I have sampled in a while, and I encourage you to splurge.

2004 Fattoria de Felsina Beradenga Fontalloro $35.99 at Thomas Liquors
Nose of floral, dried herbs, spice, and forest floor. Firm tannins on the palate and a wine of tradition from Tuscany. 93 points

When buying wine, try to find a wine shop that takes producers seriously. If you know half of the producers on the shelf, find a new shop and explore the greatness of quality wine.

Look for future wine blogs on world-class producers.

Also the Surdyk's amd Thomas sales end Saturday!


John Glas

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