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Crimson Wine Group: Producing Luxury Estate Wines for the Everyday American
Crimson Wine Group (CWG) represents some of the finest luxury wineries in some of the best wine-growing regions up and down the West Coast, and CEO Erle Martin brings passion and a focus to the company to build a portfolio of handcrafted wines with strong identities. “I’m the product of an Italian immigrant family who came over through Ellis Island in the 1920s, so it’s really in my blood,” he reveals. From his earliest days watching his grandfather make wine in Connecticut, Martin learned to appreciate wine’s place in the home and he is committed to bringing wines to the American dinner table that represent the best an appellation has to offer.
CWG started out with a minority investment in Napa Valley’s Pine Ridge Vineyards, which soon grew to include status quo-challenging, expressive boutique labels ForeFront by Pine Ridge, Archery Summit, Chamisal Vineyards and Seghesio Family Vineyards. “We have a very clear focus, strategy and philosophy at CWG, and we strive to bring a certain level of authenticity to the luxury estate-based wine market,” asserts Martin. In total, CWG owns and operates over 700 acres of vineyards across California’s Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Edna Valley, plus in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
According to Martin, the authenticity of a wine is linked specifically to a brand’s history, to its place of origin, and to the strengths of the winemakers, and CWG’s mission is to bolster a winery’s presence in the marketplace without compromising its character or style. Instead, CWG strives to create the best wines possible given the local climate. For example, Archery Summit’s 100-plus acres are exclusively dedicated to Pinot Noir, while Seghesio Vineyards in Healdsburg, Calif., focuses on the old-vine Zinfandels and Italian varietals that are synonymous with the Seghesio family name.
Wines with Character
CWG’s focus on building a family of properties that emphasizes sustainable farming practices and meticulously crafted wines reflects the extra effort of a type that only a smaller-sized company can manifest. CWG maintains an internal distribution channel with wholesaler contacts across the country. In turn, growth is achieved with as much direct consumer business as possible, maximizing profits and growing brand awareness organically in the process.
Though many of its wines are priced for special occasions, the CWG team will work with industry contacts to oversee production of wines that balance personality and are priced to consistently perform well on the market. Under the Pine Ridge label, CWG developed a blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier that retails for roughly $14 that scored a solid 90 points with Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and continues to receive rave reviews from industry experts.
For this wine, CWG sources the grapes from growers with whom the company works closely, and the actual production takes place at a facility near Pine Ridge (where CWG maintains its own 225 acres across five appellations in the Napa Valley). CWG may not have complete ownership of all the estate holdings and facilities required for the Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend, but Pine Ridge’s winemaker oversees the entire process, resulting in a high-quality, accessible wine that what one reviewer described as very appealing at a “preposterously low price.” This shows the comprehensive capabilities of CWG’s staff and the versatility of its strategic partnerships.
Staying Three Years Ahead of the Game
Because of wine’s long production cycle, wineries are continually looking for varietals with market potential years before the wines could feasibly make it to the table. “We’re just now selling our 2007 and 2008 reds, and we’re always looking to compete in popular segments,” explains Martin. A multi-year production cycle means the CWG team has to brainstorm new directions in advance.
In recent years Pinot Noir has emerged as a major player for American and international palates, which is what attracted CWG to Chamisal Vineyards in 2008. With the acquisition of Chamisal, CWG expanded its portfolio of Pinot Noir wines and set the tone to introduce varietal across further brands. Combined with CWG’s Archery Summit label, the acquisition of Chamisal boosted CWG’s presence in the Chardonnay market and extended its already strong selection of Pinot Noir.
Most recently, CWG acquired Seghesio Family Vineyards – 300 acres of preeminent Zinfandel grapes and one of Sonoma Valley’s oldest wineries, operating since 1895. However, the impact of the acquirement was unrecognizable. “Our philosophy allows and encourages independent brands to maintain their own personality,” asserts Martin. Members of the Seghesio family are still involved right down to the crush pad and CWG hopes to maintain its presence in domestic and international markets. When CWG acquired the label the company had a strong export arm and CWG will work to support expand that model to its entire portfolio.
All of these procurements of prime acreage in in California and Oregon have come at a very strategic time, as wine consumption has grown continuously in the country for 17 years running. “The wine industry has shown a great amount of resilience and grew at close to 10 percent in the first half of 2011 according to the Nielsen Company,” explains Martin. In addition, Martin sees wine as inherently associated with fine living and the fact that it is available at so many price points makes living the good life practical for the everyday American.
As the economy continues to recover it will be companies like Crimson Group Winery that make luxury accessible and fun. With great dedication and purpose, Erle Martin and his team will continue to strategize new distribution methods to bring standout wines to market without compromising quality or character on the corporate level or in the bottle.