Wine: Purple Wine gets Cryptic post-Mark West

Following the $160 million sale of its nearly 600,000-case-a-year Mark West pinot noir-focused brand to Constellation Brands, Graton-based Purple Wine Co. is back with the Cryptic zinfandel, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon blend.

The launch of the Cryptic brand, retailing for $18 a bottle, is part of Purple Wine's shift into the fast-growing $15--$20 price category, according to Lisa Ehrlich, vice president of marketing. Sales of wine $15--$20 increased 16 percent in the past 12 months, according to IRI data. The initial 15,000-case Cryptic release this fall will be in a to-be-announced nationwide upscale restaurant chain.

"One of the things (owner Derek Benham) learned is you're only new once," Ms. Ehrlich said. "We're going back to our roots. Mark West in the last several years had a tremendous explosion in retail and mas-market channels, but it was built on-premise and at smaller accounts."

Between the now-combined portfolio of Purple Wine, which includes Avalon, BEX and Four Vines, and Wheelhouse Wine Cellars, annual production is about 600,000 cases. Another 150,000 to 200,000 cases a year are made for private-label clients by sister operation Sonoma Wine Co., which makes a 3.8 million cases annual for various custom-winemaking clients. The two companies have 191 employees, including 16 Purple Wine salespeople.

Purple Wine also is looking at adding one or more import brands to its portfolio to fill gaps in varietal offerings and long-term domestic grape supply. ***

Also new to the $15--$20 category is a release from Napa-based Hess Collection. The Hess Select line was extended with the Next Generation pinot noir and red blends into that segment. A malbec wine sourced from Hess family vineyards in Argentina is planned for early 2013.***

Flash Wine Technologies (707-310-4925, flashwinetechnologies.com) is targeting smaller-scale flash detente wine processing services with a new company based at Kunde Estate Winery, located at 9825 Sonoma Hwy. in Kenwood.

In the past two years, Carneros Vintners and Lodi Vintners have been installing such machines with capacity for 20 tons of grapes. Flash Wine Technologies targets Northern California wineries with grape lots as small as 10 tons. Della Tofolla USA of Windsor is supplying these units.

Flash detente has been used outside the U.S. for two decades to greatly improve wine flavor, color and overall quality. The process uses extreme heat followed by rapid cooling in a vacuum chamber, literally exploding grape berries and the cell walls that contain pigments and flavonoids.

Flashing the grape must -- fresh juice with skins, seeds and stems -- can correct viticultural problems, such as shaded vineyard sites, north or west facing slopes, heavy soil sites or vineyards with declining health or virus issues. The processed must can be pressed immediately to ferment as juice or left on the skins.


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