A new model for wine companies | AspenTimes.com

A new model for wine companies

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

When most people think of a winery, they conjure an image of a guy who bought a vineyard, built a winemaking facility next to it, set up a tasting room and, voila ” grew his grapes, made his wine, bottled it and sold it.

Well, there are wines that come from places like that, but they are fewer and farther between. In today’s wine world, there are many new models of how winemakers get their juice from the vine to the table and some of the most creative are the ones making the most sense ” and cents.

Recently, I had an opportunity to taste the wines of 585 Wine Partners in Sonoma, Calif. This outfit has risen in the last three years to become one of the top 30 leading wine companies in America, but 585 (for short) doesn’t own a single vine. It produces and markets wines under the labels Red Truck, Picket Fence, Steelhead and Bivio Italia.

The model for 585 was to form strategic partnerships with existing winemakers and brands that have long-term potential and make quality wines at affordable prices. The first foray for the group was to purchase the Red Truck Wine brand from Cline Cellars.

Red Truck was created by Cline in 2002 under the auspices of winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos. The goal was to create a wine that could be savored by experienced drinkers who look for complexity, tannic structure and a full flavor profile, as well as those who like rich, fruit-forward taste experiences, all at an affordable price.

The original Red Truck, a Rhone-style blend of syrah, petite syrah, cabernet franc and grenache, was an immediate success and the popular “red truck” graphic on the label (a painting by Sonoma artist Dennis Ziemienski) helped to make it a consumer-friendly wine.

Now to the 585 group. Dan Leese, his wife Katy, along with their friends Doug and Becky Walker, were wine industry veterans looking for an opportunity to turn their attentions from marketing OPW (other people’s wines) to marketing their own. A deal was struck in 2005 with the Clines and 585 was in business. Tsegeletos still makes the Red Truck Wines (he is the winemaker at Cline as well) and the line has expanded to include a number of varietal bottlings including a Red Truck Merlot, a Pinot Noir and a Petite Sirah (their spelling) as well as the original Red Truck blend. Their white wines are sold under the White Truck label and most recently a Pink Truck label (a blend of zinfandel, grenache and mourvedre) has been introduced.

585, in just three short years, has doubled the production of the red truck wines and has captured a niche in the marketplace producing quaffable, affordable (the blends retail for $10 and the single grape varietals come in at $12) and sophisticated wines for everyday drinking. These are the perfect summer picnic or barbecue wines that everyone seeks out this time of year.

The second foray was the launch of the Picket Fence label, which focuses on pinot noir and chardonnay grown exclusively in the climatologically-cool Russian River Valley appellation. For this venture 585 teamed with legendary Sonoma winemaker Don Van Staaveren and grower Pete Opatz to source fruit from throughout the appellation.

Again, the focus of these Burgundian varietals is accessibility, both in terms of style and price, as the wines sell for $15. Picket Fence also is introducing a unique labeling concept. On the back of each bottle is a small removable tab with the name and vintage of the wine. This is a simple and bright idea to help consumers (and wine writers) keep the wine at the top of their minds.

The first international partnership for 585 is with Italy’s Gruppo Italiano Vini, which owns 14 separate estates throughout Italy. Labeled Bivio Italia (bivio means a fork in the road in Italian), the wines include a Tuscan Red IGT (indicazione geografica tipica) blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, a chiantii DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) and a pinot grigio from the Friuli region. (A future column will discuss Italian wine ratings and designations, such as IGT and DOCG.)

All of these wines, plus the Steelhead wines, were poured in the Grand Tasting tent in Aspen this week.

From zero cases sold in 2004, 585 Wine Company has gone to 320,000 shipped last year. As I said, they own no vineyards and have no production facilities of their own. Using a model that began with an acquisition and grew through partnerships, 585 is an example of how fluid the business of wine has become.

Pun intended.