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A view of the estate vineyard of Tuscan wine producer Tenuta dell’Ornellaia.

TONY GENTILE/REUTERS

The question

What does "estate grown" mean on a wine label?

The answer

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To some people, and by that I mean mainly small-scale wine producers, it means a lot. But if you have to ask, it pretty much means nada.

"Estate" is a grandiose reference to land owned by the actual winery. Many wineries (a huge number, in fact) produce wine not just from their own vineyards but also from purchased fruit, in some cases even from finished wine supplied from outside. There are even wineries that own not a stitch of land (the vinous equivalent of food trucks) and "virtual" winemakers who own no equipment and who choose instead to rent facilities to crush and ferment products.

Does any of this have an impact on the final product? Sometimes. Producers who bandy about the "estate grown" designation certainly would insist that estate fruit is best, the way that newspapers might insist their staff reporters generate better journalism than relatively anonymous newswire reporters. They're justifiably proud of their dirt, especially after they've paid a half-million dollars an acre for it in places like Napa. They believe that tightly controlling the process from vine to glass ensures better quality. Those same producers in many cases, however, will make additional non-estate wines based on purchased fruit that has been grown on contract to their own specifications. Such wines generally cost less than the estate-grown alternatives. But are they lousier?

In many cases not. There are, I would submit, even many factory-farmed, big-volume blends sourced from numerous growers that surpass many estate wines in quality. Price and pretentious labelling terms are sometimes but not always the best indications of quality.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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