Small Winery Fever Rages in America

Wine professionals realize that wine education for consumers is vital to the success of both individual wineries and wine regions. Americans traditionally have bought wine just for festive occasions, like special suppers, weddings, or parties.  Most Americans are confused and intimidated by wine. There is a vast array of choices on the wine shelves.  Many consumers have very incomplete knowledge of wine and the confusing array of descriptive terms. Wine is a complicated tasting experience that is different for every person. The higher prices for wine than other beverages make it riskier to try something you have never tasted.  Thus, consumers are quite likely to buy brands they have had before or that the wine press has given good ratings. Since the American wine industry separated its brand from European wines by using grape cultivar names (called varietal wines, an interesting marketing story for another conversation), consumers may buy one of two or three varietal wines familiar to them. They tend to ignore unfamiliar varietal wines or blended wines, or wine from wineries they do not recognize.

Consumer wine education brings us to the subject at hand: the amazing proliferation of small wineries across the USA in the last fifty years (under 500 in 1960 and over 6000 in 2010), and especially accelerating the last two decades (about 250% growth in winery numbers in the USA since 1990). This amazing growth was fueled mainly by the desire of many people to open small farm wineries. This was aided by legislators who thought that growth of these small agriculture wineries would yield jobs and tax revenue. Most importantly, the small wineries discovered that educating customers in their winery tasting rooms and selling on the winery site provided an enormous competitive sales advantage (25-50% more of each customer dollar goes to the winery instead of to the distribution system) for them with both novice and experienced wine drinkers. Why? Because visiting local wineries has become a fine entertainment venue, combining wine tasting before purchasing with information on the wines and the winery that makes customers part of the story of the winery.

Now there are wineries in all 50 states and grape varieties have been developed that will grow in almost every part of the USA. The number of US wine drinkers is growing by about 3.5% each year. Wineries are geographically dispersed over the US, so that almost everyone can drive to a winery within an hour and a half drive or less. The bottom line is that anyone who wants to can try local wine very cheaply or free at a local winery.  In addition, they will be informed of how the wines are made and with what foods they pair. Often the winery tasting room personnel can ascertain what wines you will like from other wineries, based on what you like at their winery. Small farm wineries make wine education fun, and thus make wine buying more fun.

Almost every state has a wine industry website that guides you to the location of wineries and often provides links to the wineries’ websites. For example, if you put “Colorado” and “wine” in the search box, one of the first websites is Colorado Wine.Com, which is Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, and there are links to every Colorado winery and maps for wine regions and wine trails. Many wineries now have Facebook and Twitter and other social media links, so you can find them easier while traveling.

So buy wine and get your wine education from small farm wineries! Eat local seasonal food from small farmers that pairs with these wines! You will be happy to find wines best suited to your tastes, and small farm wineries will thrive and make their communities more stable and interesting.

Wine Picks:

2005 Vintners Select Seyval, St. James Winery, MO: low price, excellent semi-dry wine, tasted 2010.

Winery description: Aromas of pear, green apple and melons with a subtle tropical fruit twist. Flavors of citrus, fig and dried apple pop in your mouth then ease into a mellow, long finish. Terrific with appetizers like goat cheese, veggie dishes and dips as well as Thai food.


Winery Recipe Pairing:

Easy Seyval Chicken


4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts

2 Cloves Garlic Crushed

1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes



1/2 Cup Vintner’s Select Seyval (semi dry white wine)

3 Green Onions sliced


Season chicken with salt & pepper.

Place in a sprayed non-stick frying pan.

Brown on both sides.

Add garlic & pepper flakes.

Pour wine into pan cover & simmer about 15 minutes or until chicken is done.

Wine will reduce.

Top with onions and plate.

Serve with 2005 St.James Vintner’s Select Seyval

…more wine picks:

2006 Cabernet franc, Mesa Park Winery, CO (moderate price, excellent quality, tasted 2010)

My Description:  This wine has an underpinning of intense ripe fruit, with accompanying Cabernet franc varietal spicy/tobacco aromas and taste.  Well balanced fruit and oak tannins, with complex aroma and bouquet.  Slight caramel tones, but fits in well with overall aroma and taste structure.  Pairs wonderfully with roast leg of lamb or pork loin roast.


Dr. Menke is the Associate Professor of Enology; Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Colorado State University.

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One Response to “Small Winery Fever Rages in America”

  • Maria says:

    Small wineries are popular for the same reasons that the “buy local” food movement is growing in popularity. People are eager to feel connected to the food they eat and the wine they drink. As you point out, we get an education with our purchase; but we also acquire a level of trust in the products we consume.

    It is so much more satisfying to chat with the local winemaker, or the local grower. You get to love the product for its taste and quality, as well as for the personal connections that we make. We associate the taste with the experience of visiting the winery, probably with friends or family. Those pleasant memories stay with us, and are revisited every time we consume that particular product.
    We just don’t get that experience when we shop at the huge grocery store!

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