Artisan Winemakers – Who and What are They?

What does the Term ARTISAN mean?

The dictionary definition is ‘A person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson; A person who makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods.

The authentic meaning and application of artisan has it’s origins in a simpler time when people took pride in their craft. The term Artisan is about the ingredients or material used and the special process used to create the products.

There are Artisans who make jewellery, pottery, furniture, clocks, glassware, quilts and rugs. They may use artistic skills to render these items aesthetically pleasing, or they can adopt utilitarian designs that place function above form. There are also artisans who produce food and wine.

What is an ARTISAN Wine?

An Artisan wine usually comes from a small producer with their own vineyards, produced in limited quantities using traditional winemaking practices. The wines are different from year to year, and have characteristics that set them apart from the vast majority of other wines. The production of these wines are strongly linked to the local terroir, the specific soil and climate conditions of the vineyard. The wine styles made are driven by the producer’s interpretation of what is ‘best’ from their vineyards.

For an artisan producer, whatever they produce has to be fit for purpose. For a furniture maker, a table usually has three or four legs of equal length because most customers reject wobbly furniture. Another essential quality expected of artisans is consistency. Even when they are blowing glasses by hand, they still have to produce a set of goblets that are almost identical. For an artisan wine producer, the wine has to be a pleasure to drink, to be consistently high in quality, and have the potential to age if desired.

At Whicher Ridge, we practice what the French call ‘Elevage’ and it’s a term which very neatly explains our artisan approach to growing and making our wines.

Elevage when applied to wine means to ‘bring up’ or ‘to raise’. In many ways, ‘raising’ the wine, is a bit like raising a child. Elevage takes into account the complex processes and work needed to bring out a wine’s characteristics, qualities and potential. it expresses the great care taken during the winemaking process and the careful attention and expertise of the both the winemaker and the vineyard manager, who both nurture a wine along through its various stages, from the vineyard, through fermentation, storage, aging and into the bottle.

The Biggest Challenge of Being an Artisan Winemaker?

Artisan wine-makers face one particular challenge in that, by definition, they do not make wines in mass-market, supermarket-friendly quantities yet they are not able to command the kinds of price premiums that are attached to top Bordeaux or Burgundy, Barossa or Margaret River wines for example.

Our biggest challenge, is not the weather, or the changing climate, it is persuading people to pay a bit extra to buy our wines. Artisan wine producers also, sadly, do not have deep pockets to spend on expansive and expensive marketing and promotion campaigns.

So, in summing up, Artisan winemakers have a genuine passion to make wines that are related to their personality and to their land. The story of any artisan producer you will find is about culture – why and how it’s made, and nature – what it’s made of.

My suggestion? Actively seek out genuine artisan wine producers and embrace the magic and the story that lives within each glass!

(PS – Remember also to spread the word to others once you do discover an artisan winemaking gem)