by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte Rosé)
When I look over my highest-scoring wines in Wine Enthusiast’s database, it’s hard not to notice the prevalence of vineyard-designated bottlings. About 90-95 percent of my top scorers have borne either the name of a vineyard, or had the word “estate” or “estate-bottled” on the label. – Steve Heimoff
The gist of the Heimoff posting (http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2010/03/23/its-all-in-the-vineyard/ ) is that working with the grapes from a single vineyard allows the vineyardist and the winemaker to concentrate on the vines in a way not otherwise possible.
When I read this, I had a reaction I so often have when I see a conclusion drawn from a premise. The Latin phrase, “Post haec, propter haec” says it ail (“After this, because of this.”) It’s the statement of a fallacy. That something follows from something else doesn’t mean it’s caused by that something else. Or, stated another way, a correlation does not mean causation.
And I think when it comes to vineyard designations, Steve’s conclusion is a fallacy. It may be true that vineyard designated wines score better, but there can be lots of reasons for that besides the assumption that single vineyard wines are better wines.
Most obvious is the possibility, or more likely probability, that many producers reserve a vineyard designation for wines they consider to be superior. They may in fact have lots of vineyard specific wines, but choose only the best ones for that special “vineyard designation”. There could be twenty different vineyards, each processed with the same meticulous care, but of which only a few are judged to be good enough to warrant a designation. The rest get relegated to a cheaper wine. It may even still be from a single vineyard, but isn’t designated as such.
I think something else in the Heimoff article tips us off that this is in fact the case. For not only vineyard designated, but estate bottled, wines score higher. Estate bottled may be from many different vineyards, the only requirement being that the winery controls (and control can be pretty loose) the growing, and the wine is made on-premise at the winery. A winery is far more likely to designate a wine as “Estate Bottled” if it considers that blend (and it probably is a blend) superior. So, again, it is the winery’s assessment of the quality of the wine, not the fact that it came from a single vineyard (or winery controlled multiple vineyards) which explains the superiority of the wines.