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Wine,Wine Importer,Winery

The Economics of Importing: Regency Wine Group Sees a Bright Future

Two favorite links for this week:

  1. Winemaker Jeff Miller: Will This Wine Age?
  2. Winewriter Nikitas Magel: Grapes & Gastronomy

Regency Wine Group

While wanting to learn and write about wine importers, in order to better understand this side of the wine business, I expected to hear about how bad things are out there in light of our current economy. It was very refreshing, however, when I came across Hayden Guridi of Regency Wine Group. Based in Santa Rosa, California, just a stone’s throw away from my own office, I recently met with Hayden, and his partner English Knowles Olney. I wanted to not only focus on the import business, but I also wanted to learn more about the fine wines and spirits that they represent from around the world.

ABOUT REGENCY:

They’re a small group of wine business professionals with over 80 years of collective experience in growing, producing, marketing, and selling premium wines.

Regency Wine Group was founded from a concern for the future of family-owned wineries and vineyards in California. In the face of increasing corporate consolidation, they believe that it’s crucial to preserve the diversity and craftsmanship represented by small wineries. Their company offers independent wineries the benefits of an elite sales, marketing, and branding team that’s typically enjoyed only by larger companies. Through collaborative partnerships, they’re able to help their wineries master the art of branding and sales in a methodical and comprehensive way: on the distributor, direct-to-consumer, and market levels.

Their product line ranges from high-value everyday table wines to extravagant, luxurious special-occasion wines, but they are all hand-selected, scrutinized for quality, and delicious. Their portfolio has something for every niche.

ABOUT THE GLOBAL IMPORT MARKET:

When asked about the current conditions of the global market, and how it’s impacting the import industry, Hayden believes that it’s currently an importer’s market. I should have known that this would be the case, having first gone to my friend and former colleague, Dwayne Shockley of Select Brands. Dwayne and I worked together while I was at Belvedere Winery. He was our Louisiana broker, and is based in Slidell, Louisiana. Yes, he was there three and a half years ago with his wife Charlene and their entire family, as they experienced and survived Hurricane Katrina… I should have known that by picking my own source so carefully, it would lead me from one optimist to the next, as it did.

In the current economy, one would expect an importer, when asked, “How is your business faring?” to give answers that would be filled with doom and gloom. That wasn’t what I found, however, when I called Hayden. From where he’s sitting, things are pretty good. Regency Wine Group gets many, many calls each month from global brands, all of whom desperately want to get into the US market. This over abundance of wine brands wanting a US placement, as compared to the select few groups of US importers that currently exist in order to place those wines, allows these companies to form discerning partnerships; and this is done with global wineries that offer the most promise with products that fit perfectly in an importer’s portfolio.

In a meeting with Hayden and English, I was able to learn that imported wine brands have the potential to be doing very well, if the brands have a singular focus… extreme value. While this is true for all wine right now, it’s even more important for brands wanting to launch themselves in this country.

Wines that fit into Regency’s wine portfolio have a sense of  being “home grown.” They cannot be mass produced wine that fall into the commodity category; i.e., large acred vineyards with generalized flavor profiles that appeal to middle-of-the-road palates on a Wednesday. They must be backed by a micro ethic that’s extremely valued oriented, a sophisticated palate that can’t be tricked by plonk, and that have a $15 or under price tag.

In that meeting, I tasted one such wine, the 2008 Grÿphus Sauvignon Blanc. It was so delicious that we didn’t need to go through opening any other bottles of wine. Hayden intuitively knew that I was hooked on the first taste, because as we talked he just kept offered me more of the Grÿphus, and I was happy to enjoy more of it. I was feeling a little bit guilty, though, that I wasn’t even a mildly curious about his other wine, because this one was so satisfying. (I have to admit that I love SB, and have my own scoring system for it.)

  • 2006 Grÿphus  Sauvignon Blanc, Chile: this wine exhibited a beautiful color, the aroma was lemony citrus with star fruit notes, and it really had the “meow factor” going on, both on the nose and following through onto the palate… I give it Five Claws! (Remember, I’m the one who introduced Winery Cats long before the Winery Dogs came along. I won’t do wines that are dogs, though.)

It was so varietally correct that I couldn’t do my usual swirl, sniff, savor, and spit. I usually do, but the flavor of this wine caught my palate straight away. It was so good, in fact, that I gave Hayden and English a lead with a wine writer that I know, because this would fit as a no-brainer wine recommendation that he does for a lifestyle magazine. This shining example, the 2008 Grÿphus Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, told me that what Hayden and English professed about their brands’ ethos is  delivered through the wine… From their Website: Grÿphus • From a beautiful microclimate in the Valle of Rapel, this exceptional Sauvignon Blanc brings Chilean wine to a new level.

Their portfolio is very niche oriented, so if you’re a brand outside of the US, this is something to consider… In an importers’ market, you must offer the following:

  • Find your niche, and set yourself apart for all time
  • Lower priced, value wines are more palatable for everyone from every perspective
  • Wines that are varietally unique are gaining an audience, especially with the younger wine consumers
  • Find a different approach to marketing, with an eye toward the younger demographic, because they’re more inclined to wines these days, versus the beer bacchanalian days gone by

According to Hayden and English, import brands that already have a place on wine shelves and wine lists  are doing really well… . Younger people haven’t yet established brand loyalty, so this emerging wine demographic will gravitate more toward the art on the label (as we all did when first starting out… the visual art outside the bottle leads to the liquid art inside the bottle). Make your package as appealing as you can, because your competition is as huge as the number of brands in the world.

I look forward to bringing you more examples of Regency’s wines. Please be advised that Regency also has domestic brands as well as the imports. We’ll be doing a tasting later this week, and next week I’ll be giving you the details of the wines that we’ll be tasting in the office.

  • 2007 Calistoga Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
  • 2007 Home Grown Family Harvest Red, California
  • 2005 Calistoga Cellars Zinfandel, Napa Valley
  • 2006 Castillo de Monséran Garnacha, Cariñena, Spain
  • 2004 Roberts + Roberts Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley

Stay tuned for details on these wines. I look forward to tasting them and sharing their profiles and price points with you.

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