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Mendocino County’s Fetzer Vineyards changes corporate name to Bonterra Organic Estates to emphasize environmental shift

While the Fetzer name will live on, the corporate group that major U.S. wine brand is part of is getting a new name to better connect the company with a growing consumer trend toward sustainable products and producers.

Fetzer Vineyards, the U.S. portfolio of Chilean wine group Viña Concha y Toro, is changing its name to Bonterra Organic Estates, after the Bonterra certified organic brand, the Mendocino County-based operation announced Tuesday.

“What we see as the future is that organic is not a niche,” U.S. group CEO Giancarlo Bianchetti told the Business Journal. “It's something that is becoming more and more mainstream, especially in younger generations.”

Three reasons for the move are the consumer shift toward environmentally sensitive products, the Fetzer group’s long-standing approach to organic farming and winemaking, and internal company discussions about taking a more public advocacy role for regenerative agriculture, according Bianchetti.

“This is a bold message,” Bianchetti said. “It states where we’re heading as a company.”

The organic wine market in the United States is still small, with estimates ranging between 1% to 2% of the overall market. One perennial problem has been wineries opting to use different terms to describe their wines, ranging from biodynamic to sustainably farmed to natural wine. “Unlike with other products, the use of the term ‘organic’ has mixed consumer responses when it comes to wine,” according to a report from Silicon Valley Bank issued earlier this year.

Yet, there is potential. The organic U.S. wine marker stands to grow at 10% annually through 2030, according to Grand View Research Inc., a market research firm based in San Francisco. It placed the 2021 value for organic wine at $769 million.

The Fetzer family started their eponymous brand in 1968, and they became one of the pioneers in the U.S. wine business for a more holistic approach to viticulture. In 1987 the company starts farming vineyards under organic standards for what would become the Bonterra brand, launched in 1993.

Brown-Forman Corp. purchased the company from the Fetzer family in 1992. Viña Concha y Toro picked up Fetzer from Brown-Forman in 2011 for $238 million, the company’s largest acquisition by that time.

At the time of the purchase, the U.S. brands accounted for sales of 2.2 million cases annually, dominated by Fetzer. While the total production from the group remains about the same, the Bonterra brand’s contribution to it has more than doubled, from nearly 220,000 cases a year to 550,000 now, according to Bianchetti.

That plan since 2012 to grow Bonterra required more organic grapes, the chief executive said.

The Fetzer brand group earned its first Biodynamic certification for its vineyards in 2000, and the Hopland winery was certified for organic production in 2010. The group achieved Regenerative Organic Certified for all of its Mendocino County vineyard holdings and winery around the beginning of this year.

In 2020, the winery declared a climate emergency and committed to becoming climate positive in its operations by 2030.

Today, all 960 acres of vines that Bonterra Organic Estates owns or controls under long-term lease are certified organic. That accounts for upwards of half of the group’s grape supply, Bianchetti said.

And getting the other half of the grape supply certified organic involved helping the over two dozen growers that the company buys from to make the transition.

“When I started trying to convince growers to move, it was not as easy,” Bianchetti said. “There are challenges in learning new ways, but we want to continue to grow the brand and we will continue to need organic grapes for the brand.”

Part of the shift to emphasize Bonterra involves what has come to be called in the wine business as “premiumization,” or a move toward a bigger percentage of higher-priced wines in the portfolio. Increasing costs because of inflation in the past year also has made this shift more of an imperative, Bianchetti said.

“We’re starting to develop new brands in higher price points,” Bianchetti said. “Some of the new brands are in the $40 to $50 price point are Biodynamic single-vineyard wines, and they are doing well.”

Press Democrat Business, Beer and Wine writer Bill Swindell contributed reporting to this story.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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