Wine labels often include descriptions with hidden or unclear meanings. Beyond the type of wine, such as red versus white, or cabernet sauvignon versus sauvignon blanc, other descriptions try to relay the quality, flavor, or origin of the wine. A couple of examples might include “estate grown” or “estate bottled.” What do these terms mean and why would this impact your decision to buy a bottle of wine?
Estate bottled means that all of the grapes used to make the wine were grown in a vineyard owned and controlled by the winery that made the wine. The same winery will make the wine and bottle the wine themselves. Estate grown, however, differs in that it means the grapes were grown in a specific appellation, or region, and labeled with that region.
We’ll explain which each definition means and what impact it might have on your choice in purchasing a bottle of wine.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Board (TTB) regulates the term “Estate Bottled” in the United States. They require that 100 percent of the wine came from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery, and both the winery and the vineyard must be located within the boundaries of the labeled viticultural area. The wine must have been produced entirely on-site at the winery, meaning that at no time did the wine ever leave the premise of the winery.
First, estate means that the winery and the vineyard are owned and controlled by the same entity. While a winery might own a vineyard, another winery might have control over decisions on the growing and harvesting process of the grapes. For a winery to own and have control over it, the winery must be able to make its own decisions on how much harvest the grapes should yield, how much to water, how much to prune the vines or amend the soil. All of these decisions can impact the flavor of the final wine.
Even though it may not seem intuitive that wine might have to leave the winery where it is made, some wineries may not have all the equipment necessary to make and finish the wine. They might outsource parts of the process to other wineries or companies, such as a grape crushing facility or a bottling facility.
The labeled viticultural area must be provided on the bottle if the bottle is labeled as an estate-bottled wine. An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is a specific type of appellation of origin used on wine labels. An AVA is a specific region where grapes are gown that produces grapes that are distinctly different from other geographic areas. AVAs are used to help buyers know what to expect from the bottle of wine.
Each AVA is recorded and documented with the Tax and Trade Board. Maps can be found online for each specific region. Larger AVAs may encompass smaller AVAs. If you see a bottle labeled with a larger region, such as North Coast California wine, or South Coast California wine, the grapes may have come from anywhere within that larger region. However, if the bottle is labeled with a smaller region, such as Dundee Hills within the larger Willamette AVA in Oregon than you know a more specific area where the grapes were grown.
A broader appellation can be used if the grapes are grown by vineyards owned by a single winery but may lay outside of a smaller AVA. For example, an appellation might include an entire state, such as Oregon Pinot Noir, or a California Cabernet Sauvignon.
Estate grown wine is not a regulated definition by the TTB. However, similar to estate-bottled, the term should mean almost the same. You could draw the conclusion that the grapes that made the wine were grown by the winery themselves and then produced into wine by the winery without leaving the site. From a legal point of view, though, the term is meaningless.
However, if the winery does not have the facilities to complete make, age, bottle, or distribute their wine, the wine may need to leave the premises of the winery. A winery might produce a wine with all estate-grown grapes, make the wine on-site at the winery, but then have the wine bottled at another facility. If that happened to be the case, the wine could not be labeled with the regulated term “Estate Bottled.” The term estate-grown might used instead with the addition of another note that indicates who the wine was bottled by.
Another reason why a winery might use estate-grown instead of estate-bottled is if the winery had to supplement their own supply of grapes with grapes grown from another vineyard, or from their own vineyard in another appellation. For example, they had a slightly lower quality of grape and wanted to augment it with a small percentage of better quality grape. Though the wine could be made from almost all estate-grown grapes, it would not qualify for the regulated term.
Estate bottled does not necessarily mean that the wine will be higher quality or better tasting than a wine that does not have the designation or even one that is labeled as estate grown. While some vineyards may be well known for their quality and flavor, differences in climate each year during the growing season can have an impact on the flavor. Diseases and pests can wreak havoc on the harvest, as well. Even accidents, mistakes, or unexpected results can produce unexpected results in the finished wine.
If you are curious to know where your wine originated from, do look for labels that indicate estate bottled instead of estate-grown, since estate-bottled can legally be regulated while estate-grown may not.
Ultimately, use your discretion about other qualities of the wine while making your purchasing decision. Using the Estate Bottled designation might allow the winery to command a higher price point for their wine. Understanding the details between the labels can help inform your final decision.