Harvard Business School
Rev. March 24, 1994
Freemark Abbey Winery
In September 1976 William Jaeger, a member of the partnership that owned Freemark Abbey Winery, had to make a decision: should he harvest the Riesling grapes immediately, or leave them on the vines despite the approaching storm? A storm just before the harvest is usually detrimental, often ruining the crop. A warm, light rain, however, will sometimes cause a beneficial mold, botrytis cinerea, to form on the grape skins. The result is a luscious, complex sweet wine, highly valued by connoisseurs.
Freemark Abbey was located in St. Helena, California, in the northern Napa Valley. The winery produced only premium wines from the best grape varieties. Of the 25,000 cases of wine bottled each year (about the same as Chateau Lafite-Rothschild), most were Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. About 1,000 cases of Riesling and 500 cases of Petite Syrah were also bottled. (A case contains 12 bottles of wine.)
The Napa Valley extends for 30 miles, from Calistoga in the north to Napa in the south. The average temperature decreases as one moves south, closer to San Francisco Bay and the cold ocean waters. Freemark Abbey’s grapes came from an ideal climate in the central and southern parts of the valley.
Wine is produced when the fruit sugar, which is naturally present in the juice of grapes, is converted by yeast, through fermentation, into approximately equal molecular quantities of alcohol and carbon dioxide. Sparkling wines excepted, the carbon dioxide is allowed to bubble up and dissipate. The wine then ages in barrels for one or more years until it is ready for bottling. By various decisions during vinification—for example, the type of wooden barrel used for aging—the winemaker influences the style of wine produced. The style adopted by a particular winery depends mainly on the owners’ preferences, though it is influenced by marketing considerations. Usually, as...
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