What makes a wine "artisanal"?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

How would you define "artisanal wine producer"?

—J.K., Los Angeles

Dear J.K.,

I'm not comfortable using the term “artisanal.” It's one of those marketing buzzwords that don’t have a technical meaning, but are thrown around to invoke the perception that a wine made was either made on a very small scale in a traditional, non-mechanized way, or both. Like “handcrafted,” I find the word “artisanal” to be pretty meaningless in terms of quality. There are plenty of wines made in small lots without modern equipment that I’m not fond of, and there are plenty of mass-produced wines that are terrific.

I get why wines are referred to as "artisanal"—we want wine to be romantic, to be made from picturesque vineyards on the coast by people who are deeply committed to their work, putting love into each and every bottle. It’s a good story with an emotional tug to get us to connect with the wine, but there's no metric by which a wine can be declared "artisanal."

—Dr. Vinny

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