WineInk: ‘Vin de Sandwich’ at Jimmy John’s |

WineInk: ‘Vin de Sandwich’ at Jimmy John’s

Kelly J. Hayes


JETSUNCORKED 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

One of my favorite bottles of wine, not that I have opened or tasted it, is a private label offering the New York Jets had produced by Marco DiGiulio in 2008 to commemorate the reopening the Meadowlands Stadium. I am fond of it because on the label is an embossed diagram of one of the most unique plays in Jets history. A touchdown pass from the 2000 “Monday Night Football” season to offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott that culminated the Jets 23-point 4th quarter comeback to beat the Miami Dolphins in what became known as the “Monday Night Miracle.” Yes, I was there. And no, I will not drink the wine. This one is a keeper.

So this story began on the Saturday morning of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this past June. As I was walking to a wine seminar I came across three guys attired in black-and-white checkered Western shirts and jeans, carrying a box of wine.

“Where are y’all from?” I asked the gents, who were clearly a team.

“Jimmy John’s!” they answered in unison.

Not what I expected to hear at the nation’s premier culinary event.

But what made it interesting was the wine. It seems that Jimmy John’s, a sandwich emporium that has grown from a single Charleston, Illinois, location in 1983 into a 2,800-store-strong franchise, has a new creation called ‘The Frenchie.” It is a simple, Parisian style sandwich with salami, capicola and salted butter on a baguette. As a way to promote “The Frenchie,” the Jimmy John’s folks decided to produce wine. And, in order to promote said wine, they took a booth at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic.

Later that Saturday afternoon I made my way over to the booth manned by the boys in checkered shirts to sample both “The Frenchie” and the wine. And, in all honesty, both were pretty good. The sandwich tasted fresh and the wine – a passable pinot noir – was full-bodied, fruit-forward and tasted like any of a number of lower-priced, perfectly quaffable pinots that can be found in the $15 to $20 range at your local wine shop. It was certainly nothing to turn your nose up at.

Creatively christened “Vin de Sandwich,” the wine was made for the sandwichery by a winery in Santa Rosa, California, called The Folk Machine.

Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong sourced pinot noir from the 2017 vintage of the Chalone AVA on California’s Central Coast to make about 600 cases.

You couldn’t get it at Jimmy John’s because that would have opened a whole bottle of legal worms, so they sold it online for $30. And, by all accounts, they were happy with the promotional bang they got for their buck.

“While ‘The Frenchie’ stands on its own, we thought it was so good it should be enjoyed with wine,” said John Shea, chief marketing officer at Jimmy John’s. “So, we created one to show customers just how serious we are about our sandwiches.”

The Jimmy John’s experience is just one example of how the business of producing private-label wines for clients has become a booming part of the wine industry.

For years, some wine producers were willing to make inexpensive wines for private clients. Some were for individuals who wanted a specially labeled bottle for a wedding or promotional purposes. Maybe a restaurant chain that wanted to sell something that is proprietary at their own locations or a company who, like Jimmy John’s, wanted to create their own brand. But in the past that simply meant buying bulk fruit and bottling what was usually lower quality wines that had not received the care and attention a wine labeled from the maker might receive.

But more recently it has become a huge business: some say up to 10% of the American wine market consists of wines that are made and sold under private labels to other entities, though figures are hard to assess. That’s why they are “private” labels. The largest purchasers of the wines are the big box stores and supermarkets like Costco, Target, Kroeger and Trader Joe’s. These are huge retailers of wine in the U.S. and Costco’s last fiscal year showed $4 billion in sales of wines, beer and spirits, making them one of the largest sellers of alcoholic beverages in the world.

Their Kirkland brands of wine including a Kirkland Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($8 a 1.5-liter) and a Kirkland Signature Asolo Prosecco ($7) that are huge-selling wines and available only at Costco. And that is part of the attraction for both the seller and the buyer. These exclusive arrangements allow the wines to be extremely affordable, everyday wines that consumers can buy by the case at great prices and not think too much about.

This week at the International Bulk Wine and Spirits Show in San Francisco, there are a plethora of companies showcasing their wines for sale as private label products. The quality of many of these wines has improved and will continue to improve as the market increases in volume. Companies from all over the U.S. and Europe, where private label sales are a huge portion of the market, will look for ways to enhance sales.

You can even have a Frenchie.