“Boutique” ~ You might as well drag your fingers down a blackboard

When I entered my freshman English class in high school, Miss Mary Samway immediately said to us, “Don’t ever use the word ‘nice’ in anything you write in this class. I have one idiosyncrasy, and it’s the word ‘nice!’ Make sure you find other adjectives to describe things that are pleasant.” (“Aha,” thought I… “The alternative.”)

In true Miss Samway tradition, I’ve got an idiosyncrasy, too. It’s the word “boutique,” so I hear it come up a lot in this business.

When I hear this word used to describe an artisan winery, “boutique” just seems to denigrate all that one’s trying to explain… at least to me. I can’t get past the word to hear anything else that’s being said.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a time when my mother bathed herself in Faberge perfume before going out with my dad. It was a time when beehive hairdos and poodle skirts were in… (We even had a poodle named “Pepe.”) Patent leather pocketbooks and mink stoles… All images of a time when someone went to a boutique salon to buy all those kitschy things.

When a winery is called ‘artisan,’ that seems to make it clear that there’s an artist on board; someone who’s devoted to his or her craft, and only the best will do. He or she is not focused on pleasing the entire universe with flavors, aromas and/or oddities that are over the top. Artisan wineries have devoted, cult followers. Quality over quantity reigns. When you read this, does ’boutique’ make any sense at all in this equation?

Well, it’s a free country, and you can use any word you like, really, because I’m not Mary Samway. I don’t have a class, and you don’t have to worry about avoiding the use of a word that makes me feel like I’ve just heard fingernails screeching down a blackboard, again.

You can do your own thing. It’s America, after all… Just know that you won’t find that adjective in anything I write. Unless, of course… someone really does have one…

In that case, I’d have to tell the truth. Better yet, I just won’t write about it. Okay, so… this is the first and only time I’ve brought up “boutique.”

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9 Responses to ““Boutique” ~ You might as well drag your fingers down a blackboard”

  1. Rich says:


    Thanks for this – one of my pet peeves as well – I have a very small wine biz and I never use the word “boutique.” I also steer away from the other tired, worn out, and over used phrases, such as “our wine is made in the vineyard…” or “hand crafted…” or “the best grapes…” Well who doesn’t make their wine and associate it with a vineyard? and unless you are mass produced (even if you are), it can be hand crafted… and just once I would like to see “we use the worst grapes and turn them into something drinkable that’s cheap…” So, thanks again!


  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Rich, Very funny…

    I’m so happy that I’m not the only one that thinks “boutiques” belong on Rodeo Drive and the like.

    And now I have to come up with something else besides Hand crafted, because you’re right… Someone’s hands were involved in the making of any wine in its process from being on the vine to ending up in the bottle.

  3. El Jefe says:

    Nice article. 😉

    Rich, you really should use that line. It’s brilliant and will get attention, and if you don’t I will. (NB: I do have a tasting note for a wine that “…has a lovely acidity that is best paired with calcium deposits in your bathtub…”)

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, El Jefe!

  5. Rich says:

    Thanks El Jefe – with apologies to Jo, you could always try: “Our boutique wine is from the vineyard’s worst grapes that we have hand crafted into a drinkable wine that’s really cheap…” You know, I would do it, but I’m afraid someone might believe it! But, you’re right, I bet it would generate loads of publicity… so feel free to use it!

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    “Our boutique wines have the nose of your mother’s old perfume that’s been dragged through our worst vineyards… where all the funky grapes with phylloxera live.”

  7. Kathy says:

    Boutique is a store in French. Is this a code word that the winery ships direct? (Where applicable, Tom…).

    Artisan means doing the craft by hand (or not) and delivering quality, savoir faire and tradition. There’s a great poetic waxing about Medoc cru artisans (in French) here (http://bit.ly/g1XScX). They use the words alchemist and author – more options.

    Anyway, Jo, every time I see “boutique” I will think of Faberge and that poodle skirt.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Kathy, good laugh… Now you, too, are hooked on Faberge and poodles skirts.

    I’d love to think that this was invented for those who have a store front, but it was used in our business before wineries were shipping wine as blatantly as they are now over the internet. At my first wine job (1993), everyone then was shipping via fax orders. And we were shipping to states where we knew it was “supposedly” illegal. The first wine shipment that was stopped (mid 1990), my winery was one of the wine companies caught in that sting. (Now that I think of it, it was my job to pack and ship the wine back then… Well…)

    Some companies still have a form that people fill out on line, and then the wine gets shipped that way, versus an on-line store… But, it was never a code back then.

    Best code during Prohibition – because codes have existed in this business as you suggest, was at Robert Biale Winery. When a customer would call and ask for their Black Chicken, Also Biale knew that you were ordering wine. Also, dehydrated bricks of grapes were shipped across country with this one the package, “Do not add water and sugar (and it gave the amounts, because an alcoholic beverage will occur.”

    Somebody, somewhere came up with “boutique” and the lemmings followed ;^)

    I love alchemist, and use it on occasion. I never thought of author, but it does have a more professional slant… Thanks!

  9. Cherolyn says:

    when i hear the word boutique all i imagine is small store selling flowers, not anything wine related. good point. there are some words that i feel are not used properly also.

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