Saturday, February 20, 2010

Handcrafted

Handcrafted:
"Made by hand or using the hands, as opposed to by mass production or using machinery." - some internet dictionary site.

I was reading consumer responses on a wine blog the other day and the word "Handcrafted" got kind of bashed a bit. It is a term that is used a lot in wine marketing materials, websites, and labels. I got the impression that most of those consumers seemed to shrug off the word as an "air quotes" term that the marketing department uses to give the illusion of being small or intimate with their product. And I think that these folks are also thinking of very large wineries and not the small craft wineries.

I saw a 5000 case a year wineries use the word handcrafted on their website. Five thousand cases a year is small compared to a lot of wineries, however, I doubt that they hand fill, cork, label, and capsule, their bottles, or use a bucket to scoop out must. I think that as a winery gets a bit larger, you have to use some automation to keep costs in check and speed up production. Is it sill handcrafted? Sure, but the word loses a bit of cache.

A winery that uses machine grape picking, belt-driven sorting, hydraulic bin dumpers to fill the crusher/de-stemmer, pump must to fermentation tanks that are then pumped over as fermentation happens (if red), pumped to aging barrels, pumped through a plate filter on to the bottling line and bottled to the tune of 50,000+ cases a year. Is it still Handcrafted? I would not use the word in their marketing material or back label. However, the vines are farmed, the yeast are cared for, and the product still has some kind of a human touch.

Cedar River Cellars uses the word handcrafted in our mission statement and we believe that the word is a synonym for small, intimate, variable, and unique. In other words, we are so damn small that we have to do things by hand and that our product may have a bit of variance from bottle to bottle as each fill comes from a different barrel instead of a larger blending tank.

Our grapes are hand-picked. The grapes are hand dumped, bucket-by-bucket, into the crusher/de-stemmer, and then hand dumped bucket-by-bucket into the fermentation bins. We kept our red fermentations agitated by hand (yeah..yeah.. I hate that word punch-down), we moved thousands of pounds of grapes and must around with a manual pallet-jack (on a slightly graded crush pad I might add). And we will hand bottle and cork when our product is ready.

As Cedar River Cellars gets a little bit bigger, we will introduce automation to save our backs and to speed up production. But we will still be handcrafted because we care about our operation, we have fun doing the work, and love getting our hands dirty. Our product will be more consistent, and maybe a little less intimate, but it sure as hell will be unique and small.

It is up to the consumer to take a look at some of the marketing terms wineries use and follow-up on their websites and get to know the wine they are drinking. Then at that point is when the consumer can determine the weight of the word handcrafted.

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