Recently, I was listening to an interview with Chris Carpenter the winemaker of some of the Jackson Family Wine properties in Napa, labels like Mt. Brave, Cardinale, Lokoya, etc. (It is the most recent episode of the Inside Winemaking Podcast hosted by Jim Duane of Seavey Vineyards for any who are curious) He has experience with some of California's top vineyards, a thorough understanding of winemaking and tradition, as well as that classic down-to-earth craftsman way of talking. I have total respect for him and the work that he does.
And yet, I find myself less interested in his wines simply because it is all part of the Jackson Family bubble. And funny enough, it sounds to me that Jackson Family is one of the best large wine companies because they allow their brands to have a decent amount of autonomy. So I don't really have much of a criticism of what they make, yet I find myself biased against them.
I wanted to post this here to see what you all think. Is it reasonable and/or healthy for our industry for us to be biased against large brands like Jackson Family wines, even if they can produce solid wines, which are sometimes at better prices due to the economy of scale?
My best defense of my prejudice is that I work for a small business myself and think that small businesses help to spur creativity and can lead to better outcomes for workers (fully recognizing that some small businesses also screw over workers). It is also easier to sell a wine with a good story like "a husband and wife team who sold everything and took a chance by planting..." as opposed to "Jackson Family made investments in key land and produced high-quality wines from there."
Anyone have any opinions about this? Is it reasonable for me to prioritize small producers?
It's correct to support responsible producers. What does responsible mean? It means that they farm using regenerative agricultural practices, make wines with as few additives as possible, and provide consumers with an appropriately priced, quality wine. Do most large producers follow these tenets of responsibility? The answer's simple: Not unless the market persuades them to. The big guys just follow the money, and money doesn't have anything to do with ethics. If you're struggling to sell small production wines in your shop or restaurant because your guests are timid and you respond by buying more mainstream (and therefore less responsibly produced) wines, you're part of the problem. The goal of education (which I assume is why we're all on GuildSomm) is to give us, the "experts", the ability to make the guest feel safe, like they're in good hands, even if they are trying something new and different. If you're having issues providing your guests with that feeling it's definitely not the fault of the wines or their producers, it's you and your staff. Just like quality farming takes more work, so does quality wine stewardship. It's our obligation to represent the producers who are NOT motivated by money, but are instead motivated by their love for wine, or for the earth, or for the piece of ground they've lived on their entire lives, or for making something delicious AND ethically produced, or for cultural preservation through ampelographical experimentation. This answer to your question is so simple and the issue here is so incredibly important. By supporting not necessarily small, but necessarily responsible producers we could maybe, just maybe see the wine industry (and the rest of the agricultural industry with it if consumer trends in food change, too) affect the planet positively. The earth's dying y'all! Bye!