I posited this question out to Twitter last week and received very few responses, so I thought I might bring it up again on the old blog.
I firmly believe that there is a level of wine production where, once exceeded, it is no longer possible to make a wine the best it can be.
First, there are only so many interesting sources of fruit. The sad adjunct to that is there are well-capitalized wineries buying up good fruit from notable vineyards and making inattentive wine out of it, further limiting access to quality grapes for wineries that might actually give half a shit.
Second, a wine maker can only pay attention to so much wine and still be able to ensure that it is being shepherded from place to place at the right time. I don’t believe there’s a particular magic to the wine making process, but there is an exceptional craft to it and even a few too many (or too few) hours of maceration or weeks of barrel aging can keep a wine from reaching its fully realized state.
Third, wine making only scales up so far before the wine making technology has to change. Tanks have to get bigger, sulfur has to be administered more liberally, maybe oak barrels have to be eschewed altogether in favor of steel vats and oak chips. Even something as seemingly benign as the bottling process takes on a different scale and at that scale there are more opportunities for errors, smudges and rough edges that need to be smoothed out with any of the sundry methods of genericizing and homogenizing wine.
But what production level is that, do you think? For me, I think it’s somewhere between 3,000-5,000 cases of a single wine, varying to some degree from wine to wine. That’s based purely on observation and is not in the least bit scientific. Those aren’t minuscule production levels and wines at a broad spectrum of price points can be found in that range, but it’s a far cry from the macro-wineries which produce certain labels by the tens or even hundreds of thousands of cases.
Ideally, I like to drink wines whose case productions are measured in the hundreds, but I also recognize that that’s both a horribly inefficient way to grow your business and that there’s nothing inherent to such a small production level that ensures a quality that can’t be modestly scaled up.
But what’s your experience? Have you ever had wines that are produced by the tens of thousands that you find interesting? Or am I being too generous with my 5,000 case threshold? Thoughts?