Gary Bannerman writes
Bounty Cellars' founders Ron Pennington and Wade Rains
salvation of an industry
Négociants may prove to be the salvation of
the premium-price sector of the wine industry. Scientific
advances in agronomy and viticulture, and related technology
has dramatically raised the quality and consistency of
low-priced wines, in an era when the number of
boutique-sized wineries and speciality labels have literally
exploded world-wide. The marketing and promotional costs
associated with a boutique product, if it is to achieve a
market identity worthy of the price, is about the same as a
label with a production volume 100 times larger.
The paradox is that the scores of new,
small-volume wines are entering the market (often former
grape growers who used to sell to the majors, but who have
cashed-in on breaking up their acreage, selling plots to
multiple owners), while the public is amidst a mass
evacuation from the premium-priced market. Tanker trucks
full of wine that had been destined for $50 a bottle and up
retail, are now selling as Charles Shaw ("Two Buck Chuck")
in the U.S., Yellow Tail from Australia or the litre boxes
of Don Pepe in Spain for less than one Euro. Veritable
oceans of great wine are being dumped.
Négociants can build value for a specific
label or brand and achieve a standard of quality that can
only be delivered from top grapes or outstanding juice and
first class winemaking. Selling this basic stock to a
prestigious négociant for a premium price may deliver a
better net return without the cost of bottling, labelling,
packing, transporting and marketing
It has been a privilege of mine
during a long media career to have met, interviewed and/or dined
with some of the legendary names in the world of wine: Hugh Johnson,
Robert Mondavi, Leon Adams, Alexis Lichine, Paul Bouchard, Brother
Timothy of Napa, the Baroness Rothschild and many others. A few
became great personal friends, such as the late Leigh Knowles Jr.,
the former Glen Miller orchestra member who managed the
distinguished Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) of Napa Valley, and Robert N.
Lindeman, a direct descendant of the founder of the Australian wine
industry who had been honoured world-wide, including a special award
presented by the President of France.
Through these contacts, travel and
some investment, I have also had an opportunity to taste at least
one vintage of just about all of the world's greatest wines, and
obtained case lots of a few of them.
It goes beyond the word "admiration"
(astonishment would be more accurate) to describe how I view the
courage and persistence of Harry McWatters, Tony von Mandl, Dr. Joe
Peller and hundreds of smaller players who have metamorphosed
British Columbia's Okanagan into a prime wine growing region.
I was at a business associate's
private party early in 2005 and discovered an amiable chap in the
corner pouring glasses of red and white wines. I grabbed a glass of
red and carried on to my next conversation. My friend was in
mid-sentence when I took the first sip of wine, blurting out "wow,"
the factor that means the most to me - the very rare wine that
commands attention. This was my first taste of Bounty Merlot. Merlot
is the workhorse varietal that is the winemakers' blending dream
world-wide, but which is otherwise the ultimate vin ordinaire,
rarely better than mediocre. Occasionally, such as in the State of
Washington, the merlot rises to greatness.
That is what I tasted in the Bounty
Merlot that evening in 2005. I met Ron Pennington that night, the
Bounty Group president. He, his partner Wade Rains, a group of
investors and an extraordinary winemaker, Todd Moore, set out on a
different direction from all of the boutique wineries of the
The Bounty Cellars plan was in the
tradition of the great French négociant, using the best grapes,
juice and wine from throughout the Pacific Northwest to produce a
portfolio of top-quality wines year after year. Négociants have
operated in France for centuries. Some own vineyards but most don't.
Instead they buy grapes, juice and wines at various stages of
fermentation and aging, and the winemakers create house brands to
meet the criteria on the label. More than 190 négociant wineries
operate in the Bordeaux region alone. Some négociants, such as
Georges Duboeuf, have a recognizable house style and have become
world famous for their wines. Many négociants also own vineyards. In
Burgundy for instance, Duboeuf and Louis Jadot, are the largest
owners of vineyards.
The Bounty Group set out to create
special label wines for specific clients or events, as well as house
brands. Despite Bounty's relative youth as a business, both the
client list and an impressive number of prestigious industry awards
have added ever-more confidence to both the initial vision and the
long-term business plan.
* * *
Since that chance encounter in 2005,
the Bounty Group have been suppliers of promotional gifts to this
company's friends and clients. They never cease to please and win
compliments. We are now proposing to take this relationship to
another level, business development joint ventures on behalf of our
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