What does it mean?
By Scott Elliff.
The minimum requirement for wine to be classified as made by a Virginia farm winery is that at least 51 percent of the grapes come from land owned or leased by the named winery. Some limited trading of grapes between wineries is allowed, for blending purposes primarily. At many smaller and older wineries, the figure is at or near 100 percent, meaning all the grapes are farmed by the winery, mostly at on-site locations. But such purity is less common today due to new winery business models, industry growth, related shortages of grapes, and limited land on existing vineyard/winery sites.
A handful of mostly larger wineries in Virginia operate under a different classification, with their requirement being that 75% of the grapes must come from within the state, but not necessarily grown by the winery itself.
Traditionally, leased land meant off-site land that the winery farmed and controlled, but the term is sometimes being used as a mechanism for a winery to buy the fruit from the leased property without actually farming the grapes themselves. Location of leased land and extent of involvement by the named winery is not indicated on the label, though it is sometimes included in describing the wine to customers at the tasting room.
A label reading Virginia or Virginia White (or Red) Wine means at least 75 percent of the grapes were grown in the Commonwealth.
A label reading American means that less than 75 percent of the grapes were grown in the Commonwealth and thus are supplemented with fruit or juice from California or elsewhere. But at least 51percent of the grapes were grown on land owned or leased by the winery.
The front label will also include the brand for the winery operating the tasting room that is selling the wine.
The specifics of who grew the grapes and made the wine are on the back label.
Bottled By … : This simply denotes who bottled the wine and where. This designation is typically used when the grapes were not grown by the named winery. If the town listed is where the winery is located, then the wine was made by someone else, bought as bulk wine from them, and bottled by the named winery. If the town listed is not where the winery is actually located, then both the winemaking and bottling have been contracted out to others, regardless of the brand name printed on the front.
Produced and Bottled By … : “Produced” is the term for making the wine (i.e. fermenting and aging), and the winery name and location indicate who did it and where. This is the most common designation and represents the traditional situation where all or most of the grapes come from the winery’s property and the winemaking and bottling were done on-site. As above, if the town located is not where the winery is actually located, then the grapes probably were grown by the winery but the winemaking and bottling have been contracted out to others, and the winery has put their brand name on the finished wine.
Grown, Produced, and Bottled By … : This is the “purest” situation, and means that 100 percent of the grapes were grown by the named winery, in the town named, with winemaking and bottling done on-site. Some wineries who qualify for this phrasing use the Produced and Bottled By designation above, as a convenience so that they don’t have to change the label wording and print new back labels if they happen to use some off-site grapes in some years.
Estate Grown: If you see this on the front label, then that means the winery is located in a designated American Viticulture Area (AVA) and nearly all the grapes were grown on the named winery’s property, in the town named. Usually this is used together with “Grown, Produced, and Bottled By” on the back label, meaning winemaking and bottling were also done on site.
The AVA name (“Monticello,” “Shenandoah Valley,” etc.) is usually included on the front of the label, and its inclusion means that virtually all of the grapes come from that AVA region. In other parts of the world and much of the U.S., designated areas are tightly defined and connote specific grapes and wine styles. In Virginia, they are broader geographic areas with more diversity of grapes,wine styles, and quality, and are to a significant degree more marketing and political designations.
Anyone who has read all the way to here needs and deserves a glass of wine!