Types of Wineries in the US


When most people think about a winery, they imagine the typical picturesque palatial or farmhouse-like building set in the countryside, with sprawling vineyards all around.  These wineries are usually inspired by the centuries-old bodegas, villas, and chateaus that are found all over Spain, Italy, and France.  However, you might not realize that these are not the only types of wineries that exist, and that not all the wine made there is for that winery alone.  This week we will talk about different types of wineries and how that may dictate how the wine is made within.


Rural Winery: These are wineries set in the rural areas outside of the main urban centers of towns and cities.  They are usually, but not always, surrounded by vineyards (either their own or someone else’s), and may be outside city limits.  If they have their own vineyards, those vineyards are said to be Estate vineyards.  Estate vineyards do not have to be adjacent to the winery, they just have to be under the direct control of the winery owner(s).  As vineyards are expensive to maintain, it’s not uncommon for a winery to buy all their grapes or have a combination of bought and estate grapes.  A wine has to be made from 100% estate-grown grapes in order to have “estate” on the label.  A rural winery may or may not have its production facility on site, but it usually will have a tasting room on site, and may have satellite tasting room(s) in other areas.  Rural wineries are built in a variety of different architectural styles such as French chateau, farmhouse or ranch, contemporary, or even castle-like.  Many rural wineries also have lodging on site and/or offer agritourism retreats.


Urban Winery: Aside from the typical wineries described above, which are set in a rural area, there are also urban wineries.  These are wineries located inside an urban zone of a city.  They may not have the pastoral charm of a rural winery, but can be just as impressive, as many are designed in a modern industrial style.  Many times, these locations are in industrial parks or warehouses, and will usually have the production area and tasting room under the same roof.  Some of these wineries have estate vineyards, but most do not.  Urban wineries are not only more accessible to consumers, but usually have less red tape to go through to get licensing.  The cost of rent or mortgage may be lower, as well.  The setting is usually more relaxed than at a large rural winery, and often the tasting room or lounge has later business hours than a rural winery to take advantage of nightlife that may be nearby.

Virtual Winery: A virtual winery does not have a production facility, and sometimes not even a tasting room.  They are usually just a licensed, but can also be bonded as well, and the wine can be either made by the owner or winemaker at another winery’s facility, or entirely by another winery.  Sometimes they will have a tasting room or storefront, and other times they may do tastings by appointment only out of their home or other zoned location.  A virtual winery’s wines are made by either custom crush or alternating proprietorship.  They can also buy bulk wine already made or bottled by another winery and put their own label on it.  Many people choose to have a virtual winery because of the high cost and legal responsibilities of owning a facility with lots of employees and overhead.


Custom Crush Facility: A custom crush facility can be either a winery that makes their own wine and also makes wine for other wineries, or just makes wine for other wineries only.  Custom crush is where a winery is contracted to produce wine for a client (i.e., a virtual winery) to their specifications, and the client does not do any of the hands-on work.  All the equipment, supplies, and labor is provided by the custom crush winery, and is billed to the client, who is essentially buying back a finished product.  By law, the label can have the client’s name as the vintner, but can also have the custom crush winery’s name instead.  The custom crush facility is responsible for all paperwork, taxes, and expenses for making the wine.


Alternating Proprietor Facility: An alternating proprietor, or AP, facility is one where the facility is owned by one winery, but the use of the space and equipment is shared and rented out to other wineries.  There are designated areas that can be used for wine production and storage by other wineries, and the equipment is used on alternating days by the different wineries to do their work.  In this case, the visiting wineries are responsible for their own paperwork, record-keeping, and taxes, as well as the host winery.  This is attractive to a person who wants to make their own wine, but doesn’t want the high cost of buying their own facility and equipment.  

Boutique Winery vs. Large-Scale Winery: A boutique, or micro, winery usually makes around 6000 cases a year or less.  A large-scale winery can make tens of thousands, and some over a million, cases a year.  Boutique wineries are often times winemaker-owned, have few employees, and mostly local customers.  Large-scale wineries have many employees, usually a team of winemakers, and customers all over the country if not the world.  Most large-scale wineries also own all of the vineyards they get their grapes from, but most boutique wineries do not.  Because of the high volume of wines that large-scale wineries make, they can have more control over the consistency of their wines from year to year, whereas a boutique winery’s wines are likely to taste somewhat different each vintage.  As with anything mass-produced, a large-scale winery will usually follow the same production protocol with each vintage.  Boutique wineries will often be more likely to experiment more and try different methods and products as they’re not as committed to consistency for a large customer base.  Because boutique wineries don’t have the case numbers that large-scale wineries do, their bottle prices are usually higher to offset their production costs.  Their facilities are often smaller, and their employees do several different tasks.  Some smaller wineries prefer to stay small so they can have more hands-on control and focus on their winemaking.  Both types can be solely-owned or part of a corporate conglomerate.

Hopefully I have been able to shed some light on the different types of wineries in the US.  All of them have their attributes, and all can produce a superior product, no matter the method.