Well Hung Vineyard

Making a Dream Come True

Late last year a man by the name of Peter Marlin contacted me (not his real name for reasons I’ll explain in a moment). He told me he had read and enjoyed my book—already I like him a lot—and wanted my help in marketing a wine brand called Well Hung Vineyard. Now he really had my attention.

Peter has a full-time job as a business advisor, doing quite nicely, but his dream was always to go into the wine business. So, he bought a brand in Virginia, kept it under the radar, and set out to develop it until such time as he was ready to go at it full time.

It didn’t take very long for him to realize that part-time is no time to build a brand in the booze business.

How the Name Came About

As the story goes… There were three women in Virginia, all close friends, and they loved their late afternoon wine sessions. One of them owned a small farm that was just perfect for cultivating grapes and, over time, the vineyard grew and flourished.

One day, as the three ladies were touring this 2-acre vineyard, one of them grabbed hold of a cluster of grapes, laughed, and remarked, “girls, these grapes sure are well hung.” They had a good laugh. But, after a second or two, they looked at each other and had a eureka moment. A visit to a trademark attorney followed and a brand was born.

These grapes were made into wine at a local winery and sold each weekend at farmer’s markets, wine festivals, small retail outlets, and other venues around the state.

Over time, things began to change. One left for personal reasons and the others grew weary of running all over the state each weekend. It was time for them to move on. What began as a hobby—you might say a labor of love—was becoming difficult to manage.

So, reluctantly they began to investigate a sale of the small vineyard and, especially, the brand name.

Peter and His Dream

Eventually, through a friend of a friend—you know how that goes—Peter heard of the opportunity and negotiations began, were discontinued and back on again—you certainly know how that also goes. Finally, he bought the brand.

Peter, like most entrepreneurs, saw an opportunity for this brand to be bigger than it was and perhaps with a national footprint. His strategy was to continue to sell the wine locally, but also bought wine from producers and marketed them under the Well Hung Vineyard label.

From the website:

Founded in 2008 by three women who recognized the value of a good joke and a great glass of wine, Well Hung® Vineyard has a proud heritage and a bright future. Today, Well Hung® Vineyard is all about growth. Working with winegrowers across the country, we are able to source the best fruit to go into our up and coming wines.

An unexpected dividend cropped up. It turns out that the women who created the brand were savvy enough to also register the brand for clothing, nuts, and other items. And, these were and still are selling well.

Where do I Come in?

The call with Peter was candid. He saw great opportunities for his brand (and dream) but faced many obstacles—not least of which was the time and effort to build a brand and get the best wine available. In addition, despite the “I got to try this wine” attitude of consumers, finding distributors was more than just a challenge (see the previous article on LibDib), it was a major obstacle.

Peter wanted to enlist my aid in making his dream come true. As we talked a few things occurred to me.

First, in a cluttered wine market, name and packaging can cut through and quickly gain awareness in stores and on menus. In a world of Barefoot, Cupcake, Layer Cake, Little Black Dress, we also have provocative labels like Bitch, Fat Bastard, Old Fart, and more. The idea is to buy the first time because of the name/label and buy again because of the wine itself. Of the one billion wine gallons sold in the US, most are sold to non-maven and non-aficionado consumers who enjoy wine, the experience, and, yes, the label.

Come on… compared to the lame names cited above, you have to admit that “Well Hung” is amusing, a double entendre, a play on words, and a fun way to offer someone a glass of wine. A smile and a conversation are bound to follow.

Second, while I liked the idea of helping, this was more than I could handle in my consulting practice, even if I knew more than I do about the wine business. So, I needed a partner.

Enter Rob Warren

Rob and I knew each other well at Seagram and also worked together when he was with Diageo and I was an advisor to Jose Cuervo International, which they distributed at the time. We think alike and have lots of mutual respect. Besides, he has a great sense of humor and in between moments of marketing and brand building excellence, we laugh a lot.

It didn’t take Rob and I long to figure out that without money, resources, and the need for much time, building a wine business was more than just an uphill battle. Think Mount Everest. And so, the idea of licensing the name, Well Hung Vineyard, came readily to mind.

Peter was already selling wine from winegrowers around the country and it’s not a big leap to enter into a business arrangement with a company who initially can produce a red, white, and others. Eventually, varietals and vintage could be added to the mix. In the right hands and with the right wines, this brand could be a winner.

The clothing and other items under the WHV brand would only add to the allure.

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That’s where things stand at the moment—a search for a business partner interested in licensing the name. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how things develop.

Oh, by the way, Peter also owns the trademark that should help with an Australian wine producer. It’s called Well Hung Down Under.

Disclaimer: While Rob is calling the shots, and taking the lead, I’m along for the ride. Hey, who says I can’t also have a dream or two?

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Napa or Sonoma: Which to Visit?

Perhaps Both

A number of friends and readers have asked me about which California Wine Country is most worth a vacation visit. I’ve gotten this question many times and since it persists year after year and this time struck close to home, I figured I ought to look into it further and write about it.

So, I contacted an internet buddy (what we used to call ‘pen pal’ back in the day) and asked him about it. What follows then, is a conversation between me and Mark Davis, the managing partner of Tango Tours.

Photo Credit: Brocken Inaglory via Tango Tours

Tango Tours

Mark has been running the company since 2014 after 20 years in the travel industry. He was also in the Tango Trading Company which specialized in wines of Argentina. Tango Tours is a luxury travel company that offers exclusive culinary and wine experiences in Argentina, Chile and Napa Valley. Who better to ask than someone whose business is tourism and hospitality.

When I first posed the question of which one to visit in California, Mark pointed out that he loves both then went on to say, “If you have to choose between the two, the decision should be based on your preferences. The two have very distinct features, and you may prefer the qualities of one over the other.”

This interview is aimed at just that—the basic differences between Napa and Sonoma Valley so that you can make an informed decision.

Let’s start with some basic differences. What are they?

“Napa” may refer to the City of Napa or Napa County. “Napa Valley,” however, is the wine grape-growing region, which is an American Viticulture Area (AVA). When we make reference to “Napa Valley,” we mean the Napa Valley AVA, which includes 16 sub-AVAs, and over 400 wineries.

Likewise, “Sonoma” or Sonoma County may refer to the City of Sonoma, Healdsburg or Santa Rosa. Sonoma County includes 17 AVAs, including the Sonoma Valley AVA.

How are the wineries different?

Sonoma and Napa Valley have nearly the same number of wineries. However, the ones in Napa are a lot closer together than those in Sonoma, which are spread out throughout the region.

Napa Valley wineries exude the glitz and glamor of the American wine scene. The names of some Napa wineries even come up when talking about the best wineries in the world. At the famous, “Judgment of Paris” in 1976, two Napa Valley wines were rated the best in their respective categories, beating out their French counterparts.

Wine tastings can be pretty expensive in Napa, with the costs going up if the wines are served with food.

Sonoma Valley wineries, on the other hand, are much more laid-back and relaxed. Also, expect fewer crowds, and the prices to be much lower in Sonoma. The tasting fees tend to decrease as you get farther from the main roads.

And the wines themselves? How are they different?

Napa Valley mainly focuses on the production of different varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Of course Cabs and Chardonnays can be found in Sonoma Valley. But Sonoma Valley, on the other hand, produces everything from Charbono (also known as Douce noir) to Gewürztraminer, and from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel. So, if Cabs and Chardonnays are your thing, you may want to try a Napa Valley wine tour. But if you want a more varied wine tasting experience, head to Sonoma.

What about food?

Napa Valley has the highest per capita concentration of Michelin Starred restaurants of any wine-producing region in the world. Napa Valley focuses more on fine dining, with a large number of restaurants offering refined exotic dishes.

Yountville, a town in Napa, provides the biggest culinary punch of the region. In the city of Napa you can visit Oxbow Market, which is a covered market hall, to pick up some snacks, like freshly baked bread and cheese or herbs and olive oil. Or if you would like to have a picnic at a winery, try the Oakville Grocery or Dean & Deluca for sandwiches and prepared foods.

The culinary scene in Sonoma is quite different. However, it has its own unique standards in terms of food. The Shed in Sonoma Valley is the counterpart of Napa’s Oxbow Market. Sonoma also has a Michelin Starred restaurant in Forestville, which gives Yountville’s finest restaurants some tough competition.

However, while Napa is all about fine dining and celebrity chefs, Sonoma offers a simpler experience having most of the dishes prepared from seasonal ingredients.

Aside from eating and drinking, which are my two favorite pastimes, are there differences in what to see or do?

When it comes to activities, Napa Valley is far ahead of Sonoma. But that doesn’t mean you will find nothing to do in Sonoma other than wine tasting.

In Napa, there is the famous Wine Train that takes you on a ride around some of the County’s wineries and town centers. You can also go for a hot air balloon ride, or paddle in the Napa River.

Also, the Golden Haven Spa offers healing mud baths for visitors. The wine blending lessons at Conn Creek Vineyards, or the cooking classes at Whitehall Lane are also popular with visitors. As is shopping on the main street of St. Helena in Napa.

Sonoma also offers a number of outdoor activities, like navigating the county’s waterways in kayaks, attend cooking parties, zip line or hiking through the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve. You can also spend a day at Safari West seeing African animals.

Despite these attractions, Sonoma is a lot quieter than Napa, which is always buzzing with activities.

If you want your wine tasting experience to be a grand adventure, and you’re ready to spend more, take a trip to Napa Valley.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed time, plan a trip to Sonoma. Also, since it is less expensive, you can spend more days in Sonoma Valley.

Thank you, Mark. You can reach Tango Tours here.

For more information about the differences between the two, you might want to visit Wine Folly.

Image Source: By traveldudes via Tango Tours
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Altaneve Prosecco

A distinctive product deals with marketing challenges

Sparkling Wine in the US has grown twice as fast as the overall wine category over the past five years. Within sparkling wine, the non-champagne segment accounts for over 90% of sales (See earlier post on Booze Business) with prosecco leading the charge.

In fact, in a recent article in Shanken News Daily:

“The Prosecco DOC Consortium recorded a 34% increase in exports to the U.S. market in the first half of 2014, with volume reaching 1.27 million cases.” 

In effect, prosecco has challenged champagne for the top of the sparkling wine domain. In so doing, prosecco has changed the occasions for drinking sparkling wine. While champagne is for celebrations and special occasions, prosecco is for everyday and any time. Further, at $12 to $15 per bottle, prosecco has an advantage for everyday use.

But, just as there are $12 bottles of wine as wells as $20, $30 even $40 still wines, can an upmarket prosecco capture a significant share of that market?

Enter David Noto with Altaneve Prosecco

David Noto
David Noto

It’s quite an interesting story. David’s family has been making wine for 10 generations in Italy and he grew up with a passion for prosecco, particularly the high quality end. So he changed his career from engineering and finance technology and brought this product to market a few years ago.

According to David, “The US market is not deeply familiar with the broad range of prosecco, so we felt it was time to introduce the best.”

In addition, the brand has an interesting story to tell. Altaneve means high snow in Italian and is a reference to the snow capped peaks of the Dolomite Mountains that can be seen from the vineyards in Valdobbiadene where the prosecco is produced. The production facility is the second oldest in the town where the production of prosecco dates back to 200 BC.

In short, Altaneve has it all, provenance, terroir, heritage and high quality. Taste? I’m a huge prosecco fan and, while I’m far from a connoisseur, I think it’s the best tasting prosecco I’ve ever had. It’s versatile (any occasion with or without food), and unlike other

Presecco production area
Presecco production area

prosecco I’ve had, it’s consistent from bottle to bottle.

Altaneve sells for roughly $29.99 a bottle and therein is the problem.

The marketing challenge

I suppose it’s because the prosecco category in the US market is still in its infancy. Or, maybe the current image for the category is that it is generally low in price. As a result, David faces an uphill battle getting the message across that high end prosecco is worth the price. After all, all wine categories segment by price, why not this one?

I can understand the consumer reluctance to trade up. The category is still evolving and they came to it originally for an inexpensive alternative to champagne, so why pay for top shelf. That perception will change gradually over time but for producers like David Noto, accelerating a change in perception will take marketing muscle and lots of money. Altaneve is a startup brand.

The hesitation by the trade (especially bars and restaurants) is baffling to me. The mark up and profitability from Altaneve would make the brand more than worthwhile. Yet, the reluctance to change, to accept a segmentation of the prosecco category, not to mention lack of knowledge, all make it an uphill battle. To me, it defies logic.

Bottle_5I guess the bright side is twofold. First, slowly but surely, better retailers like Sherry Lehmann and important chains like Capital Grille are stocking Altaneve. Then there is David Noto himself. If you’re a follower of this blog, you know I often write about startups and the entrepreneurs behind them. Add David Noto to the list of passionate, smart and committed.

As to the Altaneve product itself, try it and let me know what you think. Unfortunately, it currently is only available in NY, NJ and CT, but also online. I’m betting you’re going to love it.

While you’re at it, check out what Wine Spectator had to say about Altaneve, as well as other info from their Facebook page.

Altaneve products
Altaneve products
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