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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, November 14, 2011, 6:30 am

Winery Exchange revamps Echelon with North Coast grapes

Also: Boisset adds Lockwoodo; Huneeus plans Napa office; CapaBunga capsule builds sales

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    Jeff QuackenbushAfter acquiring the Echelon Vineyards brand from Diageo Chateau & Estates Wines early this year, Novato-based Winery Exchange has revamped the brand inside the bottle and out.

    Winery Exchange re-releases Echelon with higher-quality tier.

    The Novato-based producer of private and national wine, beer and spirits brands for a number of major retailers released a new Collection Series for Echelon, the first of the company’s own national brands. Winemaker Kurt Lorenzi has significantly expanded grape sourcing to include Napa Valley, Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley appellations. The California Series retails for $13–$14 a bottle, and the Collection Series, $15–$18.

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    Boisset Family Estates, whose U.S. portfolio of brands includes DeLoach, Buena Vista and Raymond, formed a “strategic partnership” with 75,000-case-a-year Lockwood Vineyard in Monterey County. Johnson and Butch Lindley will remain owners of their estate vineyard, and Boisset will “propel” brand marketing.

    “Monterey’s future is only beginning,” said Jean-Charles Boisset, president. “The partners that began Lockwood — Paul, Phil and Butch — dedicated themselves to a very unique terroir and making wines that harness its diversity and express its potential.”

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    Part of the makeover of the Main Street Exchange building at 1040 Main St. in downtown Napa, are tenant improvements to accommodate 22 employees of Huneeus Vintners. The Huneeus family wine company plans to relocate accounting, sales administration and marketing personnel from the Quintessa winery in St. Helena to 5,800 square feet in Napa around the beginning of next year, according to spokeswoman Gwen McGill

    “These offices were never designed to hold a growing company with multiple brands in multiple countries,” Ms. McGill said. “Downtown Napa is a fantastic location which offers more now than ever has, with a number of new restaurants and services. It provides a great dynamic for a company with a youthful culture.”

    The portfolio includes Quintessa, Napa Valley brands Faust and Illumination, Flowers Vineyards & Winery on the Sonoma Coast and Chilean wineries Veramonte and Neyen Estate.

    The conversion of the early 1900s Napa building from hotel to office building over the years has covered over architectural elements that building owner Joe Keebler is looking to restore or complement, according to the property marketing agent, Michael Moffett of Coldwell Banker Commercial Brokers of the Valley. That includes restoring the 9-foot-high windows on the back wall of the building, the pressed-tin ceiling of the ballroom-turned-offices and skylights in the atrium.

    “They were looking for something unique and not standard,” he said about Huneeus Vintners.

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    Máire Murphy and Walt Averill with their CapaBunga silicone capsules.

    What started as a novel packaging idea to distinguish their 400-case-a-year Rua wine brand has turned into a business in its own right for Windsor-based wine sales and marketing veterans Máire Murphy and her husband, Walt Averill. In the past year since launching CapaBunga — a surfer-esque play on “capsule” and wine barrel “bung” — they’ve sold 117,000 of the stretchable food-grade silicone bottleneck capsules. That’s small compared to the tens of millions of plastic and foil capsules produced for the wine industry each year.

    Some of the more than two dozen wineries that have purchased CapaBunga capsules are using on casegoods. But most of the winery buyers, as well as restaurants, businesses and wine shops, see their value in as a promotional wine accessory, according to Ms. Murphy. The capsules come in a number of colors and can be printed with a company logo and information and embossed. given out a trade shows, to clients or sold in tasting rooms. They retail for $3 to $5 each or $1.50 wholesale, depending on volume.

    The shape of the capsule and its elasticity are designed to fit on most any 750 milliliter wine bottle, stand up to dishwasher cleaning, keep the bottle from leaking while stored horizontally, go on and come off easily, and still fit into the confines of a refrigerator.

    Ms. Murphy and Mr. Averill run Wines West, a wine sales and marketing firm. They started Sin E Wine Co. in 2001 and sold it to Billington Imports in 2006. Rua, which retails for around $48 a bottle, was released a year ago.

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    Tony Linegar, 46, Mendocino County agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures for nearly three years, will move to that role in Sonoma County on Jan. 3. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved his appointment Tuesday.

    “Tony brings his wealth of knowledge of Sonoma County’ issues from working in the neighboring and other northern California counties,” said County Administrator Veronica Ferguson. “Whether it is European grape vine moth, sudden oak death or issues facing the Russian River watershed, Tony knows the issues and will ready on day one.”

    Tony Linegar

    From 1995 to 2001, Mr. Linegar was a standards specialist in the Shasta County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office. In 2001 he joined the Mendocino County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, first as an agricultural and standards specialist then as assistant commissioner and then commissioner in January 2009.

    His salary will be $138,000 a year.

    Dave Witmer, Napa County’s ag commissioner, has been serving in that role in Sonoma County on a part-time basis since May, following the Sonoma County board’s removal of previous commissioner Cathy Neville.

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    With harvest mostly over in the North Coast, it’s the start of wine business conference season. Napa Valley Grapegrowers will be holding its Wine & Grape Expo (www.napagrowers.org/events/tradeshows/wine-grape-expo) on Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Hangar 1 at Napa Valley Airport. The nuts-and-bolts seminar topics this year include impact of geology on wine quality, grape-sorting methods and berry vs. cluster sampling for gauging maturity.

    On Thursday morning, the Lake County Winegrape Commission (www.lakecountywinegrape.org) plans to hold its 10th Sustainable Winegrowers Seminar, themed “Why Certified Sustainable Vineyards Matter,” at Ceàgo Vinegarden in Nice. Ann Thrupp, sustainability manager for Fetzer and Bonterra Vineyards, will be the keynote speaker.

    On Nov. 29 and 30, Wine Industry Symposium Group will hold its fourth Green Wine Summit (www.greenwinesummit.com) at Napa Valley Marriott in Napa. The first day will have an afternoon showcase of green-related products and services. The second day has morning seminars and afternoon breakout sessions.

    Coming up at the start of 2012 are Sonoma County Winegrape Commission‘s 21st Dollars & Sense Seminar (www.sonomawinegrape.org/event/2012-dollars-and-ense-seminar) in Santa Rosa on Jan. 19. 

    Free the Grapes! and Coalition for Free Trade plan to hold the fifth Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium (www.dtcwinesymposium.com) on Jan. 18 and 19 in San Francisco. Keynote speaker David Blum, a marketing and digital media expert, is set to deliver the keynote on “The Experience Economy: The Five New Truths of Branding in the Digital Age.”

    The giant Unified Wine & Grape Symposium (www.unifiedsymposium.org) is set for Jan. 24–26 in Sacramento.

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