Even in a world increasingly dominated by large, often international brands, there are still thousands of small family wineries. These boutique, or artisanal, wineries harken back to an earlier era, when producers were more likely to check every barrel and take chances with unfamiliar varietals or let grapes hang on the vine longer to achieve extra ripenessrisks the larger outfits tend to avoid.
Boutique Defined The traditional production limit for what are called boutique wineries is 10,000 cases, but many of the wines featured here are made in much smaller quantities. As a result, they are rarely cheap, though many compete favorably with more expensive wines from much bigger wineries.
Artisanal Style Most top artisan producers make wines in a way that emphasizes the uniqueness of their grapes and vineyard sites; they typically harvest the grapes from low-yield vines, handle them minimally and often bottle the wines unfiltered and unfined.
10 TOP BOTTLES
2001 Georg Breuer Riesling Rauenthal Nonnenberg ($33) In Germany's Rheingau region, Bernhard Breuer is considered a bit of a rebel for practicing environmentally conscious biodynamic viticulture. His Nonnenberg vineyard, planted with 50-year-old Riesling vines, produces a subtly powerful wine.
2000 Kracher Nouvelle Vague No. 7 Chardonnay Trockenbeerenauslese ($80) Alois Kracher, Jr., head of this Austrian family winery, hand selects the Chardonnay grapes that go into this astonishing dessert wine.
2000 Domaine Ostertag D'Epfig Gewürztraminer ($24) Alsace artist-visionary-whirlwind André Ostertag tends his family's vineyards using labor-intensive biodynamic techniques to produce wines that combine elegance with head-turning flavor. This well-proportioned white practically billows out of the glass.
1995 Kalin Cellars Livermore Valley Sémillon ($22) Terry Leighton, who's lionized by wine critics but virtually unknown to the public, makes his wines in a Marin County office park. This white, aged for eight years, is an intense, richly layered wine.
2002 Teusner Joshua ($27) A lush blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Shiraz, this is the first wine by Australian winemaker Kym Teusner to be sold in the U.S.
2001 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval ($43) Washington State winemaker Chris Camarda makes beautifully supple reds, such as this sumptuous Bordeaux-style blend.
2001 Copain Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch ($40) Wells Guthrie learned his craft from winemaking masters Helen Turley and Michel Chapoutier before creating his own wineslike this sophisticated, generous Mendocino Syrah.
2001 Dominio de Tares el Bierzo Bembibre ($48) A handful of pioneers have rediscovered this once-proud region of northwestern Spain and its Mencía grape, from which this briary, berry-inflected red is made.
2001 Muri Gries Lagrein ($16) The Benedictine monks of the Muri-Gries order harvest the grapes for this spicy, peppery Italian red entirely by hand.
1999 Cronin Cabernet Sauvignon ($23) Retired computer consultant Duane Cronin may just be the most talented small winemaker in America. His wines have Old World balance and proportion coupled with beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains fruit.