This month Member InFocus speaks with Tom Rappe, global development manager, Bear Creek Winery, Lodi, California
For our latest member’s profile we travel to Lodi in California and catch up with of Tom Rappe, global development manager for Bare Creek Wines. If you are a VINEX member and like to be featured in our member’s section then please email Richard Siddle at email@example.com.
Tell us about the winery?
We are 100% bulk wine producer, 40% of which we now export, which is a growing part of the business. We export mainly to northern Europe, including Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium,and the Netherlands. We are seeing value as well as volume growth for our exports. The UK is a very strong market for us, but more in volume than value.
How about China and Asia?
They are interested in US wine but we are not working there directly at the moment. But we are supplying wine to US producers who are.
How was the 2018 harvest?
The volume was pretty much average but the quality was probably the best in our history. The grapes have got good flavours and taste profiles. We are really seeing the benefits of the improvements being made in the vineyards, but also how the grapes are being handled when they come into the winery in terms of the new technology and presses we have. We now have the capacity to handle 60,000 tonnes, or 60m litres.
How do you work?
We work on a customer by customer basis. We have very loyal customers and it allows us to forecast better in terms of our production. We don’t look to make wine on a speculative basis. So we can allocate our production to our customers. We are buying in less and less grapes - say 10-15% - and try and work with our own production as much as we can. But it also depends on what demand and opportunities we have. That will determine how many grape buying contracts we have.
What are the key grape varieties that you grow?
We have 18 varieties and our production is split 60% red and 40% white, using stainless steel fementation. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay is very good for us with a good range of flavours. We also have white Zinfandel and then on the reds we have Pinot Noir, Merlot, all the Bordeaux varietals and Zinfandel.
What trends are you seeing in bulk wine?
The bulk wine market is changing in the US. Traditionally we have seen producers buying components to put into their own brands. We are now seeing a lot more virtual brands (like The Prisoner) where they are simply brand owners, who don’t own land or wineries. There are a lot more different routes to market now.
How about pricing?
We expect the per litre price to be maintained during 2019 in the US. Which means we are going to be less competitive internationally. We know we are a comparitively expensive region for bulk wine. But there is no pressure to lower prices in the US as consumers are continuing to trade up. That said we have always been focused on trying to serve the needs of our international customers.
You have just been to the IBWSS show in London and ProWein. How
important are those kind of events for you?
They are where you can go and meet all your customers in one place. It’s hard, though, to find new buyers at Prowein as it is just so big and busy and you are only really seeing your existing customers. The IBWSS show worked well for us. We came last year to the first one in London and have done well at the San Francisco show as well.
What do you see as your point of difference?
Lodi bulk wine seems to hit the sweet spot in terms of the style of wine people are looking for. It is a little more expensive, but not too much. Our wine is going into wines that retail on shelf between $12-$20. Internationally we we are selling at $1.45-$2 a litre. We are not playing in the lower end of the market.
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