The Only Wine – the Italian festival specifically focused on small wineries and young producers – reminded me the recurrent debate about the comparison between small producers and large companies. A topic that could probably be extended to the entire food&wine sector as often traces the comparison between the big (even starred) restaurant with a certain service and the small ones, like the Italian Trattoria, where the owner welcomes you personally while the grandmother is making gnocchi by hand in the kitchen.
More specifically, the core question would be: which wine is “better”, the one produced by small wineries or the wine produced by big companies? The answer, however, is not immediate as affected, inter alia, by a subjectivity that goes even beyond the personal preferences related to color, grape variety, wine style and production area. Because the deriving question, in turn, is: what does “better” mean? It could be the easy-drinking and well done wine or the most “authentic” wine; the wine with the best value for money or the “rarest” one. And this is not trivial because the consumer often looks for a “unique, excellent and genuine” wine but then complains if the price goes inevitably up to meet those coveted characteristics.
In my opinion there is a lot of confusion burned as we are from globalization that has often demonized the “Big” regardless. For sure when a production is limited in numbers the price rises up along with its (perceived) value. Therefore, nowadays, in the wine sector there is a sort of “reverse machismo”: all producers tend to reduce their size (acres, number of bottles produced) in order to appear “small” and even “rustic” as also pointed out by David Williams on The Guardian, who defines the small as “beautiful” and the big as “useful”. Indeed, large producers have enough resources to be invested in marketing strategies (thus carrying their own brand and also the whole appellation all over the world) but even to invest in experimentations (with new techniques or machineries) or even in long aging that implies the use of additional physical spaces as well as a risk and the loss of (immediate) income. Actually this is heavier for small producers who, perhaps, produces only one line to cash from. Banally, Champagne could be an example as it basically is a wine obtained from a blend of several wines also from previous vintages (vin de reserve) to guarantee a consistent product year by year; many Champagne experts tend to underline how large companies have more opportunities thanks to the availability of more vin de reserve, stored and processed in different ways in order to guarantee not only consistency but also a certain complexity and a given style.
These comments do not play against the small ones, on the contrary, they support the work of those independent producers who achieve extraordinary results with great effort and sacrifice. In fact, interviewing independent producers I have often spotted a common consideration: the desire not to enlarge more than a certain limit in order to keep a control over their daily operations, which guarantees that unique style, that personal and unmistakable signature. Personally, I have drunk wines of big companies perfectly done and also “territorial” along with wines by small wineries poorly managed as well as wines of large companies without any fault but “standardized” in presence of wines of small producers exceptionally “genuine”.
Also Madeline Puckette on her Wine Folly, dealing with the same question, states: if you love a wine produced by a large company then it is likely that they produce other wines you may like; if your favorite wine is produced by a small independent producer then enjoy its unique essence.
To conclude what is for sure: large companies or multi-brand groups have a more branched distribution and have higher resources to promote their brands. The little or young ones do not have the numbers (in terms of bottles produced) to be widely allocated, an element that nurtures their own charm I would say. So, events such as the Only Wine Festival are more than welcome, as focused on small wineries and young producers who, once met, can guarantee a unique experience not only in terms of wine production but also in terms of human relationships!