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Monday, March 14, 2011, 4:45 am

Wine: Cecchetti wine sales rise 39%; top North Coast pruners; what is an intern?

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    Jeff QuackenbushSonoma-based Cecchetti Wine Co. reported that it had its third year of volume sales growth. Roy Cecchetti‘s goal of making lower-priced wines has resulted in 200,000 cases sold in 2010, a 39 percent increase from 2009. The winery is projecting sales of 250,000 cases total this year.

    The California appellation Redtree brand increased 26 percent to 137,000 cases, and the volume of the Lake County-focused Line 39 brand doubled to 63,000 cases. They retail in chain stores at bottle prices of $6 to $8 for Redtree and $9 to $11 for Line 39. Exports expanded to Thailand, Hong Kong, Denmark, Poland, Germany, France, Ireland, Brazil and the Caribbean.

    The company recently launched the Backhouse cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay and pinot grigio wines for sale in restaurants and other on-premise settings. The bottle retail price is $7.

    “Many of our wholesale partners expressed a strong demand for an affordably priced wine that could be offered to restaurants for their by-the-glass programs,” Mr. Cecchetti said.

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    Raul Lau of Welch Vineyard won Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission's 10th annual vineyard pruning contest on March 1. (MendoSocial Media.com photo)

    Winners of Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission‘s 10th annual vineyard pruning contest were, in order, Raul Lau of Welch Vineyard, Alejandro Oliveras also of Welch, Guillermo Martinez of Beckstoffer Vineyards, Cornelio Morales of Middleridge Vineyard and 2010 first-placer Gabriel Navarro of Roederer Estate.

    On March 1, Mr. Lau pruned nearly 30 feet of Clone 1 syrah vines at Jaxson Keys Winery in Hopland in four minutes 11 seconds, winning $1,000. Mr. Oliveras won $500, and Mr. Martinez $250.

    Winners of Sonoma County Winegrape Commission‘s 2011 pruning contest on Feb. 25 were, in order, Juan Hernandez of La Prenda Vineyard Management, Manuel Chavez of Silver Lining LLC, Javier Torres of Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards and Leobardo Lopez of Clendenen Vineyard Management.

    Winners of Napa Valley Grapegrowers‘ 10th annual pruning contest Feb. 10 at Beringer Vineyards’ Gamble Ranch were, in order, Benjamin Vega of St. Supery Vineyards & Winery, Jesus Juarez of Moulds Family Vineyards, Francisco Canseco of The Napa Valley Reserve and Jose Alfredo Segura of Spring Mountain Vineyards.

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    A California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Labor Standards Enforcement opinion letter has added new wrinkles to the quandary over whether student interns have to be paid at least minimum wage as employees, according to Jennifer Phillips, an employment and real estate attorney with Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty in Santa Rosa.

    On the firm’s blog, Lex Vini, she wrote that the department has moved from its own 11-part test to a six-element standard used by the U.S. Department of Labor. The 17-page letter listed those six criteria.

    1. Training parallels that of a vocational school, even though it includes real work for the organization.

    2. Training benefits the students.

    3. Students don’t replace regular employees but are under their close supervision.

    4. Employers derive no immediate advantage from the activities of trainees or students. Occasionally, operations may be hindered.

    5. Trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the end of training.

    6. The employer and the students understand that the trainees won’t be paid for the time spent in training.

    “The bottom line is that there is no bright-line answer to the question of whether an intern is an employee under the law,” Ms. Phillips wrote.

    ***

    Graton-based custom winemaker Sonoma Wine Co., which now produces more than 5 million cases of wine from six facilities in Sonoma and Napa counties, inked a deal with Sebastopol-based Winesecrets to provide services to Sonoma Wine’s 30 clients.

    Options include crossflow filtration, centrifugal clarification, reverse-osmosis spoilage taint removal, alcohol adjustment, Velcorin dosing for battling Brettanomyces, ultrafiltration and electrodialysis instant cold stabilization (called STARS).

    In other news, Sonoma Wine received ISO 22000 quality-control certification for its American Canyon winery. That allows Sonoma Wine to market bottling services for bulk wine from producers in countries that want such certification or require it, in the case of Australia, according to Natasha Granoff, director of business development.

    ***

    Wineries have more direct-shipping options. Alameda-based Golden State Overnight earlier this year rolled out next-day shipments of wine directly to trade accounts in California, Arizona and Nevada. Next month FedEx said it will start offering shipments in refrigerated trucks.

    Napa-based IBG started direct-to-trade and refrigerated shipments in 2009. Wineshipping.com of Sonoma started transporting wine in chiller trucks three years ago.

    ***

    Spring Mountain Vineyard has found happiness in the battle against a bad bug. The grower installed 700 birdhouses on the 845-acre hillside property in 2008 and attracted a now-resident population of bluebirds. The avian air force has kept blue-green sharpshooters, a long-established riparian-restricted relative to the much-feared glassy-winged sharpshooter. The blue-green sharpshooter is just as destructive by spreading vine vigor-vexing Pierce’s disease.

    ***

    After closing out his relationship in the C. Donatiello brand earlier this year, investment banker and vintner Bill Hambrecht is combining that Westside Road winery and fruit from his 100-acre vineyards Floodgate in Russian River Valley and Bradford Mountain in Dry Creek Valley to back an existing wine group in acquiring and marketing brands.

    In 2007 Winery Exchange co-founder Phil Hurst and his wife, Sylvia, together with high-profile green wine business advocate Paul Dolan and his son Heath formed H.D.D. LLC. They make the Truett Hurst brand from 26 acres in Dry Creek Valley.

    Additional partners are winemaker Virginia Marie Lambrix and Mark DeMeulenaere, chief financial officer.

    The Westside Road winery, which was called Belvedere and then leased to C. Donatiello, was renamed this month VML Russian River Winery, after Ms. Lambrix. It has capacity to produce 150,000 cases a year.

    ***

    Dry Creek Vineyard entered a sales and marketing agreement with Sonoma-based V2 Wine Group, which will manage Dry Creek’s distribution nationwide.

    This is the third brand for V2, launched in August by Dan and Katy Leese and Pete Kight with the acquisition of Steelhead Wines of Dry Creek Valley to make wines and offer sales and marketing services. V2 then signed up Toad Hollow Vineyards of Healdsburg.

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    Submit items for this column to Jeff Quackenbush at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256 or fax 707-521-5292.

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