What’s Wrong With “Craft Wine”

craftWineWhat’s the best label to use to describe a small, hands-on, privately owned, high-quality oriented winery?

It’s interesting, what with the explosion in interest in “craft beer” over the past two decades, that the wine industry has not explored using the “craft” prefix. “Craft Wine!” That sounds good to me.

Is it possible, given that it’s beer, spirit and cider producers that most often use the term “craft”, that wine producers see the term as too downscale? In fact, I’m certain this is an important reason why wineries have chosen not to adopt the term “craft”. Still, I can’t stop wondering if the embrace of the term “craft” being such a positive for beer producers and beer drinkers, that wine shouldn’t rethink it’s position on adopting the term. There are reasons for wineries to consider use of the term:

1. “Craft” is associated with “small”, “Handmade” and “artisan” and that’s all good
2. “Craft” is associated with higher quality whether its beer, spirits or cider and that’s all good3. There is a direct correlation between the word “craft” and higher price points in the beer, spirits and cider worlds.

That said, the wine world does already have something of a synonym for the “craft” moniker. We have both “boutique wines” as well as “garagiste wines”. Like “craft beer” or “craft spirits”, both “garagiste wine” and “boutique wine” suggests small, handmade, limited and the like. Furthermore, I they are also terms that suggest quality.

Also, while those adopting the “craft” label have used it to push up their prices, what’s important to understand about wine is that there is no need to push up prices and work to get the wine drinking public to accept higher price points. Lord knows, wine long ago broke through any psychological barriers that might have prevented wine drinkers from paying higher prices for fermented grape juice. So, there is no need for adopting any new term to help push prices up in the wine world.

Labels are important. They help communicate often complex ideas in very few words. The question is, do America’s small, “craft-oriented” wineries need a new word to distinguish them? Should they adopt craft? Are there other words that might work better for wine?


14 Responses

  1. Stanley Yucikas - June 29, 2015

    IMO “Craft” implies something done by a crafts-person. Wine makers, again IMO, think of themselves more as artisans.

  2. Alison Crowe - June 29, 2015

    Our minds must be aligned…I’ve been musing on a blog post about this very topic. I personally have worked w/ a national retailer on making (the part I did) and marketing wines with a “craft” bent- they thought, hey, it works for our beer and booze sales, so why not promote wines the same way? A handful of brands participated in this promotional effort. Funny thing: beer and spirits sales got a great boost and wine sales did not move a needle. My take- beer and spirits have historically had to fight the image in the public’s mind of being big corporations churning out liters of consistent but perhaps uninteresting product (think Coors, Johnny Walker, etc) so for them “Craft” is a new story and movement. I can see why drinking a “craft” gin made from locally-grown ingredients by a bearded be-spectacled dude working out of a barn on his grandparent’s ranch might be compelling to the consumer. It’s a new story to hear and something new to talk about. Unfortunately, wine just can’t benefit in the same magnitude because it’s the same story we’ve been telling for years.

    • Stanley Yucikas - June 29, 2015

      Love the image of the be-specked dude making up gin in a barn. In that vein, Craft might work for those wine makers who are also fiddling around with “Brandy”. I like the idea of getting my hands on some Craft Brandy. Hummm, Artisan Brandy also sounds pretty good.

    • Carl - June 29, 2015

      I think you are spot on Alison.

  3. Michaela Rodeno - June 29, 2015

    Personally, I prefer “artisinal” to craft or boutique for small wineries. It has a rural feel to it that aligns nicely with wine country.

  4. Amy Bess Cook - June 29, 2015

    Sigh. A couple of years ago, we had this same conversation about “artisanal”. Everyone was hating on the word “artisanal”, because it was overplayed. Yet the word still meant something to actual artisans, just like “craft” means something to actual craftspeople.

    We can’t really erase that significance, or the word, simply because we’re tired of reading it in press materials. I know it’s frustrating to see words hijacked for vapid marketing purposes (believe me) but please don’t hate on legitimate and meaningful verbiage.

    By the way, in this excellent analysis of wine descriptors, “handcrafted” was one of the most effective adjectives used on labels. http://markallenthornton.com/blog/wine-back-label/ So the word does mean something to consumers.

    Disclaimer: I work for a boutique, artisanal, craft wine producer (!). Cheers, guys.

  5. Wine Curmudgeon - June 30, 2015

    This discussion also has legal repercussions given the flurry of lawsuits related to how craft is used. The wine business has a chance to do the right thing before the lawyers show up, but as long as million case wineries use terms like handcrafted, the lawsuits will get here sooner or later. And then a court will decide what the terms mean.

  6. doug wilder - June 30, 2015

    I think the use of craft doesn’t apply to winemaking for the following reason. A winemaker is restricted to one opportunity (dependent on harvest) a year to make a particular wine, whereas the concept of craft is not constrained by availability of a raw material that has a uniquely short viability after selection before processing starts. More to that point a brewer or distiller (or custom furniture maker) can begin a project at any time during the year. Crafting is done in batches or small scale from raw materials that are mostly shelf stable. Winemakers have one shot. If one must, referring to a small high quality winemaking effort as “boutique” is more accurate, although few winemakers would describe themselves that way.

  7. Blake Gray - June 30, 2015

    It’s worth a shot, maybe for wine’s overall image, though I don’t think it will help.

    There’s nothing to stop Constellation from calling its mid-priced bulk wine products “craft wine,” just as Blue Moon and other “craft beers” are actually giant production corporate products.

    Maybe it will give a quick answer to wine haters who publish these “Why Wine Is Stupid” posts and videos. But I suspect it will just give them more ammunition. “We tested a craft wine against Two Buck Chuck, and guess what?”

  8. Larry Schaffer - June 30, 2015

    Love the concept, but it just won’t ‘take’. Consumers are weary of the wine biz and our ‘marketing’, whereas the beer biz simply does not have that stygma. How do we change this overall ‘feeling ‘ that wine is intimidating but beer is not?

    To me, THAT is the question . . .


  9. Thomas Pellechia - June 30, 2015

    “How do we change this overall ‘feeling ‘ that wine is intimidating but beer is not?”

    Have some joker in a TV spot at the beach roll a cold bottle of Haut Brion across his forehead while all the girls swoon with their glasses held out.

  10. One Simple Step to Removing Wine's Intimidation Factor - Fermentation - July 1, 2015

    […] least this is the way it was put by Larry Schaffer, owner of Tercero Winery, commenting in this post about “craft wine”. In fact, this is the same question that I’ve heard asked ever since I got in the wine […]

  11. Doug Minnick - July 1, 2015

    For the last five years, we’ve gone to great lengths to associate the term “garagiste” with high-quality, artisanal, hand-crafted, small-lot winemakers and to help them find their audience.

    It’s been working. We’ve seen usage of that term increase exponentially in the wine press and public alike since our first Garagiste Festival five years ago.

    All those other words are much easier to pronounce and spell and therefore not unique enough to matter 🙂

    Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick
    Co-Founders, The Garagiste Festivals

  12. JC - July 8, 2015

    Some say ‘craft’ applies to the winemaker, or brewmaster – however, even the Brewers Association defines craft in terms of the brewery, not the brewer. It isn’t the individual, it’s the process and an enforced ownership/size that defines the moniker ‘craft’. And, disappointingly, they can not decide whether to be ‘traditional’ or ‘innovative’ so they leave themselves the option of being whichever they choose!

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