Wine Business Monthly has identified today's most exciting top 10 brands from small and medium-sized wineries during 2006. Some are from up-and-coming wineries that have achieved success by delivering on quality. Some represent ostensible overnight success stories that were, in fact, years in the making. Some have employed unique packaging. Most have put an emphasis on developing relationships with distributors. Each of them stands for something.
7. Bedell Cellars Merlot Makers are Long Island Pioneers
Bedell Cellars was founded 25 years ago by Kipand Susan Bedell who were among the first to plant vineyards on Long Island. In 2000, the winery was purchased by Michael Lynne, a native New Yorker, and the chief executive for New Line Cinema (producers and distributor of Lord of the Rings Trilogy, About Schmidt, the Austin Powers films, Shine, The Player and Wag the Dog).
The winery typically makes about 10,000 cases a year and has no plans to produce larger quantities of wine. But Lynne has invested in the winery, updating it with new equipment, including custom open-top fomenters sized for different vineyard blocks and a Pellenc Harvester, the first of its kind in the Northeastern U.S.
Founding winemaker Kip Bedell is still with the winery. The consulting winemaker is Pascal Marty, who served as director of winemaking for Baron Philippe de Rothschild, S.A. for more than 14 years and was an integral part of the company's global expansion. Winemaker John Irving Levenberg, previously with Paul Hobbs, Cuvaison and others, joined the winery in 2004.
"John believed as we do and Pascal does, that on Long Island you have the opportunity to make wines with a strong mid-palate, low alcohol, combined with the fruit forward drink ability of California," says Trent Preszler, chief operating officer at Bedell Cellars. "We've been able to make some incredible wines."
While the Estate bottled Merlot is an approachable $20 per bottle, other wines are priced at $30 to $60.
"Volume is not really where our focus is," Preszler says. "Our intention is to make our wines better and better, and improve."
"We believe we are quality leaders on Long Island but we strive to be a leader on Long Island and in the world, and we've worked hard to put the region on the map," Preszler says.
Though it is known for Merlot, Bedell is starting to produce more blends, not just varietally labeled wines. "We launched several new blends," said Preszler, "We believe they have merit because they allow the full-creative abilities of your winemakers to be revealed."
"I think definitely we have shifted our focus to blended wines but it has not diminished our love or Merlot," Preszler said. It's still the largest amount of acreage, and a key component of all our red blends. It's performed very well on Long Island. You can drink Merlot young and understand the wine and you don't necessarily need to cellar it for years before it releases its full charm. It has a soft approachability, but on Long Island it has a strong backbone, a real tannin structure. On Long Island, they joke that you need to use Merlot to strengthen your Cabernet Sauvignon blend."
We will be serving the top 10 chosen brands at our Unified Symposium party on January 23 at the Pyramid Brewery in Sacramento, California. For the full top 10 list, see "The Hottest Small Brands of 2006" article in the February issue of Wine Business Monthly. Click here to subscribe or call 800-895-9463.
Editor's Note: This list of "hottest small brands" does not include brands selected in previous years, though some of them have gone on to be even more successful in the market. We avoided larger, more established growth brands, and steered clear of new labels from large wineries. We also excluded virtually unattainable wines that draw high scores but aren't widely available, and focused more on wines that deliver value and execute their vision particularly well.
This is the fourth consecutive year we've assembled this list. We initially defined hot small brands as labels from U.S. wineries making less than 150,000 cases per year that experienced the most volume growth in a single year. We later broadened our criteria to include wineries and brands we think are happening.
The list includes not only brands from small wineries with big sales increases, but also wines we are excited about. Some are from producers that have emerged as leaders within the wine regions they represent, while others are from ventures that have exploited new niches. These brands have momentum.