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rhythm in blue Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

kevin_brown_flippedBB: Everybody else does!

KB: …because everybody and his brother makes Chardonnay, and the last thing in the world that anybody needs is another Chardonnay — unless you're going to make a really different statement about what you're doing. It's a somewhat crowded field, and there are some folks out there who do make some very good Chardonnays. Although my personal preference is more of a French style, maybe if I could make something that was along the lines of White Burgundy — leaner, crisper, with more minerally tones coming through. Which is exactly where we go with our Sauvignon Blanc, so it's almost in a more Sancerre style, [rather than an] herbaceous, grassy kind of style; or [one with] up-front, almost over-the-top citrus, tropical fruit. I mean, some of those elements are there, but they seem to assimilate into a mineral kind of character, which I think is so attractive in white wine.

NM: So the varietals themselves are ones that you like and wanted to produce. Can you tell me, though, what went into the decisions to produce and release the wines at these vastly different price points?

KB: The Reserve Cabernet was the first thing we made. And when we first released it, it was $75 a bottle. And that's pretty rarefied air, you know, when you think about it. The consumer base that you're appealing to at that level is very, very small. Especially when you're not known. But there's always new people that come to the market — and that's one of the great things about wine drinkers: they have a tendency to want to try 'new' all the time. It's like with people who like to go to new restaurants; they always want to check out what's the new thing, what's the hot thing. Wine drinkers tend to do the same. But when we decided we were going to do the Zinfandel — and we decided to do the Syrah at the same time, then the following year we came out with the Sauvignon Blanc — it was an intentional choice to want to position things in the more everyday price range. Because, having experience with the rarefied and realizing how few people are really going to be looking at your wine, I wanted to do something that allowed us a much broader spectrum. And what I really wanted, is for people to go, "Whoa, this is a fantastic bottle of wine for ten bucks!" Then, by logical extension, go, "Man, if this is this good — the best ten bucks I spent on a bottle of wine — I mean, do I see god when I try the Cabernet?!" {laughter} I think that there's probably too few bottles at ten-to-fifteen dollars that you can really say, "Wow, that's a really good bottle of wine." I mean, there out there, but the old saying is, Ya gotta kiss a few frogs to find a prince!

NM: I would exaggerate that even further! I think that especially when it comes to California wines, when you're looking at the ten dollar price point {shaking head}…

KB: It's hard to find really good stuff out there at that price.

BB: Well, we're now at $11. We started out at $10 [through the 2005 vintage], and it's just the '06 now that we've gone up to $11.

"We're here to be making something that we can sell to people, and that they can say is really good value for the dollar. When you're a new brand, over-delivering is almost de rigueur."

KB: And I think it's a great spot. The other nice thing is for restaurant-by-the-glass; there's a real opportunity to get the right price point so that restaurants will want to be able to take it on. And the reality is, there is the romantic side of what we do, the artistic side… but there's also the business side. The business side of what we do is that we're here to be making something that we can sell to people, and that they can say is really good value for the dollar. When you're a new brand, over-delivering is almost de rigueur. You can't just be like an also-ran; you have to be where people say, "Wow, that's incredible bang for the buck!"

NM: Absolutely! And you only have one chance to make a first impression.

KB: Right. The labels, the packaging: we get a lot of great compliments about that. And that's 80% of the battle. With wine labels, you've got so many all competing on the shelf, that if you have an attractive package, then at least someone could say, "Well, I was thinking of spending ten bucks and I was going to get a Zinfandel and… Wow! This a cool-looking label; I've never seen this one before!" Rather than looking like everybody else.

[This point of the interview presented a perfect opportunity to segue into a more general discussion of market trends and consumer buying behavior. Given Kevin's experience in wine sales — a point of his career that preceded winemaking — I encouraged him to share a few of his more market-oriented speculations and suggestions.]



 

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wine in the news

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Aspinal of London (US)