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Looking for a red blend that’s just $12 to $20? Head to Paso wine country, expert says

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The Paso Robles wine country is “ground zero for quality and price point” in the industry’s hottest segment — red blends in the $12 to $20 range.

That’s what spurred O’Neill Vintners and Distillers to invest in Paso Robles, Jeff O’Neill said Wednesday as part of the keynote address at the WiVi Central Coast trade show and conference.

“The price of land is right, the workforce is terrific and the quality provides amazing value for consumers,” O’Neill’s founder and CEO told about 1,100 people attending the region’s largest gathering of wine professionals.

Fresno County-based O’Neill, the seventh largest winery in the state, purchased Paso’s Robert Hall Winery, including its stately hospitality center, production facilities, brands, 160 acres of vineyards and 19,000-square-foot caverns in August for an undisclosed sum.

The company’s portfolio spans about a dozen national brands, premier custom and bulk wine production, contract brandy production and controlling interests in 15,000 acres of vineyards across the Central Valley and Central Coast.

O’Neill said Paso stood out over other wine regions in producing quality cabernet sauvignon and red blends in that $12 to $20 range driving today’s retail market.

“Consumers want to be there, retailers want to be there, we want to be there,” O’Neill said.

There’s been a sea change in the quality of wines coming out of Paso in the past dozen years, he said, with a number of hot brands emerging from the region.

And with more than 1.5 million people visiting Paso’s wineries each year, it provides a great opportunity to use the tasting room to boost direct-to-consumer sales, which now make up the majority of most wineries’ business.

“The long-term economics make great sense,” he said.

International wine writer Elaine Chukan Brown, also speaking as part of the keynote, contended that the Central Coast has the potential to grow from one of the best wine regions in the state to one of the best in the world.

“It’s still very much a wine frontier,” she said. “You’re still discovering what’s possible, but with time beneath you to know the effort is worth it, that it’s possible to make great wines.”

The region’s diversity of unique growing conditions is a huge advantage that has spurred innovations such as blends combining cooler and warmer climate grapes.

“Those are really unique to the Central Coast,” she said. “It’s so common here to take that for granted.”

But the region’s diversity also creates challenges in establishing its reputation worldwide.

“It makes it hard for people to understand what the region is all about,” she said.

The region should work to spread the word through coordinated education and marketing efforts coordinated by vintner groups, she said, but also look globally to hone what the Central Coast can do best.

“Study the successes and challenges elsewhere, taste globally, bring in outside influences and make incremental improvements” across all operations, she said. “It’s going to take chasing perfection in small, small steps over time.”

Christian Roguenant, winemaker for Niven Family Wine Estates, demonstrates an explosive way to remove sediment from sparkling wine bottles.

Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at sallybuffalo@gmail.com or on Twitter@sallybuffalo.

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