Do you prefer Chevy Camaros or Ford Mustangs, Ralph Lauren or Faconnable, Rolex or Omega? As we walk up and down the aisle of our favorite department stores, we have so many choices among seemingly similar items. Where do you gain your level of confidence in what you are purchasing? I think a lot of it comes from experimentation with ‘brands’ and the trust you gain from using and being completely satisfied with the product. As you walk up and down the aisle of your favorite wine merchant, what do you look for? My guess is you are searching for a specific varietal, or maybe a particular vintage. Are maybe you thinking about the region or whether the wine is Estate bottled or from a single vineyard? Let’s examine the term ‘Estate Bottled’. In an Estate-bottled wine 95% of the grapes must be produced on the Estate and may be from a single-vineyard but the wine can also include grapes from other vineyards controlled by the estate through ownership or long-term leases, however it must be crushed and bottled on the winery property. This allows the winemaker to have better quality control of the juice that gets bottled. I for one, am a fan of Russian River Pinot Noir’s, Alexander Valley Cabernet’s and Santa Barbara County Chardonnays. I also like to narrow down the scope of choice by seeking out specific single vineyard wines. For instance, I am very confidant that if I see a wine on a menu that is from the Bien Nacido Vineyards, or Ritchie Vineyard or the Nielson Vineyard it will be of a top quality. So, to be designated single-vineyard wine, at least 95% of the grapes must come from one defined vineyard but keep in mind that the single vineyard designation doesn’t mean single varietal. One vineyard may contain several different grape varietals. Single vineyard wines give me a level of confidence that the end product will be of a certain quality…for instance, Bien Nacido Vineyards consists of 900 acres of planted vines in the cool-climate region on the central coast. Most of the vineyard is allocated to small producers whose blocks are farmed according to their standards. Bien Nacido planted the blocks and then, because their quality is so good, they were able to farm out the grape production to customers by charging a flat rate for a block or even just a row. This way the winemakers can crop their vines to the volume they prefer. Some Bien Nacido customers have farmed the same blocks of grapes for over 20 years and designate their particular block on the bottle. Since producers who want to make a Bien Nacido wine must undergo an ‘audition’ of sorts, their wines must be tasted and their own characters assessed and approved by Bien Nacido staff before a contract is granted. Given that the grapes over the 900 acres are of a top quality, each winemaker will have the ability to bring out their own expression which is why no two Chardonnay’s or Pinot’s from this vineyard are exactly alike, but my confidence level is that the quality will be consistently excellent here! So have fun exploring single vineyard wines and let me know your thoughts!!