Roy Cecchetti has been creating and building brands for three decades, and now he guiding a new branded-wine effort by one of California’s largest producers.
After selling his Cecchetti Wine Co. brands — Line 39, RedTree, Austerity, Backhouse and Exitus — to Larkspur-based O’Neill Vintners & Distillers in February 2014, Cecchetti became the leader of O’Neill’s national brands initiative. Though it is among the top 10 producers of wine, O’Neill had been mostly a producer of bulk wine and spirits for sale to other vintners or creator of brands exclusively for certain clients.
Case sales last year are estimated to be 760,000, according to Wine Business Monthly, but national brands now make up 500,000 of that.
Cecchetti got into wine brand-building in 1985 with Cecchetti Sebastiani Cellar, known for launching the Pepperwood Grove and Smoking Loon brands. He sold his interest to his nephews in 2001. After a short stint at the helm of what’s now Vintage Wine Estates’ Langtry Estate winery in Lake County, Cecchetti started his own wine company.
He is set to be part of a panel on wine mergers and acquisitions at the Business Journal’s Wine Industry Conference on April 28. He spoke with the Journal about the importance of production and sales infrastructure for building an efficient, scalable brand and how O’Neill Vintners helped make that happen.
How did the Cecchetti Sebastiani and Cecchetti Wine Co. brands grow over time?
ROY CECCHETTI: Cecchetti Sebastiani Cellar’s flagship brand was Pepperwood Grove. That brand in a five-year period — late 1990s to the early 2000s — went from literally zero to about 400,000 cases. That was led by pinot noir and several different varietals.
It kind of hit a nerve. At the time, the industry there wasn’t many, if at all, pinot noirs at the $6 price range at the time. If there were, they probably didn’t taste like pinot noirs. We kind of broke the mold a little bit.
That took off and led the brand to the point where we started introducing other varietals. That was a pretty wild ride.
It gave us the opportunity to build our own bottling facility, which we didn’t have. Because of our shear growth, our winemaker was having difficulty getting space for bottling at other facility. That forced our hand to build our own facility, which we did in the late 1990s. That became the Don [Sebastiani] & Sons facility at [Napa Valley Commons].
We really didn’t have any other brands because we didn’t have a lot of horsepower with a sales team. We introduced the Cecchetti Sebastiani Napa Valley brand later on. That brand was very high end — $40–$50 bottles of [cabernet sauvignon] and merlot and cabernet franc. We couldn’t keep up with demand on that. We only did a few thousand cases at the rollout.
Before we built the facility, we introduced the brand Smoking Duck and started shipping it. It was wildly accepted by the trade. Unfortunately, there were trademark infringements with Duckhorn [Wine Co.]. Fortunately, it was early enough in the game for us to change it, so we dropped it.
After the facility was built, that brand morphed into Smoking Loon. Once I sold my interest, my nephews at Don & Sons took it from there.
How did you build Cecchetti Wine Co. and those brands?