Good Fruit Grower

September 1

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18 SEPTEMBER 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Wines of lesser-known varieties can be profi table if marketed creatively. by Melissa Hansen W ashington State is blessed with a climate that can grow scores of wine grape varieties. Although it's a chal- lenge for wineries trying to sell wines of lesser-known varieties, these varieties with unfamiliar names can also help wineries distinguish themselves and strengthen customer loyalty. The wine market in Washington, with more than 850 bonded wineries, is crowded, and it can be diffi cult for small wineries to be remembered or recognized. Lesser- known varieties are one way a winery can stand out in the crowd if they are marketed creatively, says Marcus Miller, winemaker and owner of Airfi eld Estates. Airfi eld Estates is a family owned and operated estate winery in Prosser, with tasting rooms in Woodinville and at the Prosser winery. The family's fi rst vines were planted in 1968 and today the vineyard includes 27 dif- ferent wine grape varieties—17 red and 10 white. Five of the red and fi ve of the white varieties are what Miller calls major varieties. The rest are lesser-known cultivars like Counoise, Cinsault, Dolcetto, Barbera, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Muscat Canelli. About a decade ago when Miller returned to the family business and became winemaker, he used the shotgun approach to expand their varietal acreage. He planted small blocks of lesser-known varieties with the idea that some wouldn't be successful. Ten years later, he hasn't been able to weed out many. "As soon as I get ready to rip one out, it wins a double gold in wine competitions," he said during a meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. He made 41 different wines last year, a number he admits is too many. "We're trying to fi nd focus amidst the chaos," said Miller, who added that even with more than 40 wines, every wine has its place. They produce some wines for wide distribution, some for their wine club, only, and some are bottled specifi cally for sampling and sales in their tasting rooms. Benefi ts Miller shared three ways lesser-known varieties can be profi table for a winery: 1. Sales revenue per customer—Lesser-known varieties can help maximize winery sales. Tasting room customers are like hostages. When they are in your tasting room, no one else can sell to them. "If you only offer big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon, the husband may like the wine, but the wife probably wants something softer and sweeter, and you're missing a sales opportunity." His highest profi t wine is a sweet, late harvest wine. 2. Wine club offerings—Lesser-known varieties add a nice element to wine club shipments and can help keep club offerings fresh. "You don't want wine club members to get bored and receive the same wine three times in a row," he said. 3. Scarcity—Most wines sampled in tasting rooms are major varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Lesser-known varieties are not frequently seen on tasting lists and can add scarcity and unique- ness to the tasting list. "If you have only one Cinsault or Barbera to taste, that may be the only opportunity for someone to buy it. Because it's not sold anywhere else, you create scarcity. You can take advantage of the fact that they haven't tried 20 of them that weekend and their knowledge of the varietal is limited to your tasting room." Initially, Miller used the lesser-known varieties as blends to gain complexity in his wines. Because Airfi eld strives to be 100 percent estate fruit, he often has limited blocks and styles of fruit to work with. Lesser-known varieties can add diversity to his wines. Accent wines But more and more, he uses the lesser-known variet- ies as stand alone varietals and blends for wines he calls "accent" wines. These accent wines are made for their tasting rooms and as a basis for their wine club. PHOTOS BY TJ MULLINAX/GOOD FRUIT GROWER Dolcetto, a dark wine grape from northern Italy, is one of 17 minor varieties grown in the estate vineyards of Airfi eld Estates. Last year, winemaker Marcus Miller produced 41 different wines. Selling lesser-known WINES Grapes TURBO 96 • Turbo 96 2-PT • Dome deck • 8-ft. cutting width • Adjustable offset w/cyl. • Cutting height 1.5 to 12" w/cyl • Blade overlap 4" • Divider box center: 120 HP; outboard: 110HP • Blade tip speed 17,004 FPM • Cutting capacity 2.5" • Side skirt .25" x 10" RHINO TURBO SERIES ROTARY CUTTERS YAKIMA IMPLEMENT & IRRIGATION 1922 S. First Street • Yakima, Washington 509-452-5867 • 1-800-572-2239 VALLEY TRACTOR & RENTALS 4857 Contractor's Drive • East Wenatchee, Washington 509-886-1566 • 1-800-461-5339 VALLEY TRACTOR & RENTALS 4857 Contractors Drive East Wenatchee, Washington 509-886-1566 1-800-461-5539 VINE TECH EQUIPMENT 169208 West King Tull Road Prosser, Washington 509-788-0900 YAKIMA IMPLEMENT & IRRIGATION 1922 S. First Street Yakima, Washington 509-452-5867 1-800-572-2239

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