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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What does the term “proprietary” mean when a winemaker gives that name to a wine?
—David, Kirkwood, Mo.
Outside the world of wine, “proprietary” means something used or marketed under the exclusive legal right of the maker or inventor, often used to distinguish drugs or patents. It’s a similar concept in wine. A “proprietary” wine or blend is a one-of-a-kind (to be fair, however, all wines are one-of-a-kind, and calling a blend "proprietary" is essentially a marketing tool).
To be clear, the term doesn’t have a legal definition as pertains to wine. I see the term itself most often used in conjunction with the word "blend": A "proprietary blend" simply means that the percentage of each type of grapes blended into that particular wine is the "unique" selection of that winemaker. Does that mean it's the only wine that has a blend of those grapes from those places in those percentages? Not necessarily.
And sometimes a winery makes a specific bottling with a fanciful name, like one of the first cuvées with a proprietary name, Joseph Phelps' Insignia bottling. That's a type of proprietary wine that is actually legally protected. You could make a red wine with the same blends of grapes that goes into Insignia, but you definitely could not call it "Insignia."
That "one-of-a-kindness" is pretty important when you’re trying to sell a bottle of wine. Many wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, but there’s only one Dr. Vinny’s Hoocharino (which is what I’m calling my fictional proprietary Cabernet).
Besides indicating that the wine is "special," a proprietary blend gives a winemaker flexibility in blending from year to year and creating a house style.
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