CEO of Francis Ford Coppola's wine pursuits talks reading the consumer Zeitgeist
Forward-thinking has served Francis Ford Coppola in his pursuits in film, wine, hospitality and now cannabis.
At the helm of much of this business is Corey Beck. Early last year, he was promoted to CEO of The Family Coppola, which runs Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, Virginia Dare Winery (formerly, Geyser Peak), Domaine de Broglie vineyard and tasting room in Oregon, Great Women Spirits, film production company American Zoetrope, art and literature magazine Zoetrope, Mammarella Foods pastas and sauces, and Cafe Zoetrope in San Francisco.
Coppola himself leads luxury Napa Valley winery Inglenook. Late last year, he started a personal venture, The Grower's Series, a cannabis-focused brand produced with North Coast partners.
Beck came to Francis Ford Coppola Winery in 1998 as assistant winemaker, then rose to winemaker, general manager and finally president and director of winemaking. He's also a partner in Safe Harbor Wine Storage, a Napa company that offers 3.5 million gallons of bulk storage for area vintners.
Wine production is estimated to be 1.8 million cases annually, according to Wine Business Monthly.
Ahead of his panel discussion at the Business Journal's Wine Industry Conference on Thursday, we talked with Beck about the company's long-running venture into the some of the hottest trends in premium wine (rose, sparkling wine and cans), the velocity of demand for upscale wine, the rise of Gen X and millennials, and winery destination marketing.
As the economy goes, sometimes, so does people's choice in terms of wine, in terms of moving up the ladder. So we've seen this growth within price points. The price point right now that seems to be doing well is $15 retail - doing extremely well.
Part of that is growth we've seen on the on-premise side and with some of the (wine brand) purchases, wanting to get into that segment. Some of the wineries that maybe haven't played in that segment before. It takes a few large wineries and all of a sudden, they can push into the retail world and make it a little more accessible for our customers.
Over the course of the last 10 years, and maybe a little bit longer in California, technology (has increased) in the vineyards and wineries. The wines we're making now as an industry are incredible, from the low end to the mid tier to the high end. We're continuing to evolve and make our products, plus our packaging, more unique and different. All of those things add up, and they can warrant higher pricing.
It's been a journey. These things don't just happen overnight. Think about Sonoma County and the pledge that (Sonoma County) Winegrowers made to make all 60,000 acres (of grapes) grown here 100% sustainable. We're 97% there now; in 2020 we'll be 100% sustainable, the first (American Viticultural Area) in the United States to do that.
All of those little things that we're doing are working. We're continuing to tell a story. We're continuing to add value to our customers, and that will help warrant a higher price.
You mentioned technology that's come along with different types of packaging. You have been out on the forefront with wine in cans, starting with Sofia. How challenging was it to get that started and moved along?
We launched our Sofia in minis in 2003. We were the only one the time. And so we were for the longest time trying to get people to get into the market, so it would help not just with our sets but also being able to have a category. And now - be careful what you wish for - everybody's coming out with a can.
It's all about timing and progression. If you think about the majority of the people consuming the cans - specifically, the millennials and some of the Gen Z - they have all been raised that you can get anything quality in a 250-(milliliter) can.
Think about Starbucks and Peet's coffee. For me growing up, I couldn't get a latte macchiato in a can. But now all of a sudden, all things premium are coming in cans. Perrier sparkling water: It used to be in the nice big glass bottle. San Pellegrino (sparkling water). With the consumers, they are willing to pay for convenience - and then also sleek, good packaging.
There's a lot of factors within this. Boomers: still consuming. My generation, the Gen Xers: We seem to be the lost (generation of wine consumers), but we are also still consuming. The millennials: Everyone's trying to figure (them) out. But the big thing with the millennials is how do we market to them?
When the baby boomers were in their 20s, they didn't start off drinking first growths (the best of Bordeaux wine). White zinfandel was a huge part of getting people over that hump. And then as people started to make a little bit more money, they graduated into, maybe, a Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve chardonnay in the mid-'80s. As your income level goes up, so do some of your (spending) habits, and wine parallels that.