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Monday, May 20, 2013, 6:15 am

Wine Industry: Boutique vintners find different courses for growth

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    Jeff Quackenbush, Business Journal Staff ReporterCarlisle Winery & Vineyards (707-566-7700, carlislewinery.com) has outgrown its Santa Rosa custom-winemaking facility, so it is sort of swapping places with Windsor-based Robert Mueller Winery (707-837-7399, muellerwine.com).

    For Mueller, the winery ended up being bigger than the family originally thought would be needed when it was built in 2001 and too out of the way for tasting room traffic, said Mueller WineryLori Mueller. They decided not to expand the brand.

    “Staying this size allows us to make everything on our own and lends itself to consistency and quality,” Ms. Mueller said.

    Conversely, production of Carlisle needed to grow to maintain brand momentum, according to winemaker and co-owner Mike Officer.

    Carlisle Winery & Vineyards“The waiting list was getting so long that we were concerned that people might be losing interest,” he said.

    If production had remained in the 5,000- to 6,000-case range as it was in 2009-2010, then it would have taken eight to 10 years for those on the waiting list to get orders, Mr. Officer said. Production increased to 7,300 in 2011 and 9,300 cases of 25 wines made from the bumper 2012 crop.

    Ninety percent of sales are to the mailing list, 5 percent is sold directly to California retailers, and the rest goes to five distributors. Carlisle wines sell for $25 to $48 a bottle.

    Starr Road Properties, LLC, led by Carlisle owners Mike and Kendall Officer, purchased the Mueller winery at 6301 Starr Rd. from the Mueller family on April 16 for an undisclosed sum, according to public records.

    The Robert Mueller brand and inventory is set to move to the Punchdown Cellars custom facility, and the Carlisle brand is scheduled to go from Punchdown to Starr Road by this year’s harvest, according to the proprietors.

    With the shift to its own winery, Carlisle is installing 19 tanks, including 10 it already had, as well as a press and destemmer-crusher. Winemaker-viticulturist Jay Maddox will remain.

    The Starr Road winery is allowed to produce up to 10,000 cases a year, but Mueller only makes 4,000. Punchdown allows a great amount of control over production, Ms. Mueller said. That’s part of the reason Carlisle has been there for 15 years, Mr. Officer said.

    Mueller is set to relocate its tasting room in June to a 1,000-square-foot location in Healdsburg. The Muellers built a large custom winery in Healdsburg in 1991 and started their own brand in 1994. The winery was producing 250,000 cases annually by the time they sold it to Silver Oak Cellars in 2001.

    Three-quarters of Mueller brand sales are direct to consumers via the wine club and tasting room. Most of the rest is sold to California restaurants, and a little goes to distributors. Wine bottle retail prices range from $23 for sauvignon blanc to $48 for the best-selling Emily’s Cuvée.

    ***

    Spelletich Family Wine Company of Napa Valley is moving its operations into 16,180 square feet in the Napa Valley Commons business park in south Napa to fulfill its need for expansion. That’s more than twice the amount of space at its previous location.

    “We now have a facility zoned for wine production and consumption, allowing us for the first time to have a tasting salon on site,” owner Kristen Spelletich said. “We are now much closer The Meritage Resort & Spa and to other wineries located at the Commons, many of whom are longtime friends.”

    ***

    Michelle Berger, Kathleen Inman and Mike Sai of Inman Family Wines

    Windsor-based Inman Family Wines, maker of Russian River Valley pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris wines, hired Mike Sai as marketing director and promoted Michelle Berger to director of direct to consumer sales.

    “I have run Inman Family Wines as a one-woman operation since founding the winery in 2002,” said winemaker and General Manager Kathleen Inman. “Today marks the next chapter in the winery’s history.”

    Mr. Sai previously served as marketing manager for Benchmark Wine Group. Before making the jump to wine in 2009, Sai spent a decade in marketing in the footwear business.

    Ms. Berger joined Inman in January 2012 as direct-to-consumer operations manager. Previously, she worked in direct sales for 10 years in various high-net-worth luxury product industries.

    ***

    The second North Coast Wine Industry Expo (707-433-2557, wineindustryexpo.com) is still seven months away, but organizers say they are more than two-thirds toward the goal of tripling the number of registered vendors.

    The goal is to have 320 booths for more than 300 exhibitors at this year’s event, set for Dec. 5 at Sonoma County Fairgrounds, according to George Christie, president of expo presenter Wine Industry Network.

    The goal for attendees of the trade show and conference sessions this year is 4,000. A second building was added to accommodate the additional vendors, and the conference was moved closer to the trade show.

    The first expo, last December, had more than 100 exhibitors and 2,000 attendees.

    The conference is set to have four sessions — vineyard management, production, sales and marketing, and finance. Speakers will be announced in July.

    Attendee registration is $20 a person for the trade show and $75 for each conference session, with discounts for multiple sessions.

    The Business Journal is a media sponsor of the event.

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    Send items for this column to jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4256.

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