Follow-Up File: Red Soles runs strong in recession

Name: Randy Phillips

Job: Owner and winegrower

Business: Red Soles Winery

What he said then:

In July 2007, The Tribune’s Wine Notes focused on Randy Phillips, who has grown grapes locally since 1991.

With his wife and co-owner, Cheryl Phillips, he had just opened the doors of Red Soles Winery to sell wines made from his grapes commercially. They’d hired winemaking consultant Signe Zoller to oversee the process.

“She’s done a great job for us,” Phillips said. “The rest of us become cellar rats, carrying out her directives to the letter.”

The wines also became a key marketing tool for Phillips’ bulk grapes.

What he says now:

Even in what Phillips calls the “most challenging” wine market in a decade, Red Soles’ higher-priced wines are on track to sell out earlier than usual this year.

Zoller no longer oversees winemaking for the Red Soles label, as her winestyling business has taken off. With the 2009 vintage, Amy Butler came aboard as consulting winemaker.

“We use a very small fraction of the fruit that we grow,” he said. “We still are farmers first.”

The wines use only 2 percent of Phillips’ grapes, but their sales harvest about 35 percent of total revenue.

Almost all his fruit goes to long-time customer Constellation Brands. Its labels include Robert Mondavi, Estancia, Blackstone and Wild Horse.

For three years, Phillips has also contracted with EOS Estate Winery, but he’s not sure it’ll take its share of grapes this fall.

“There’s almost zero activity in the bulk grape market this year,” he said, as many wineries struggle to sell the rest of previous years’ vintages.

Red Soles wines consistently sell out, and he limits commercial sales to just 2,000 cases annually. About 15 percent of wine is set aside for tasting room samples and bulk grape customers.

“Even the big guys want to be able to sample wine from that fruit,” Phillips said. Because of that, “we make wine from every block of the grapes that we grow.”

That means nine reds, three whites, a rosé and three dessert wines — from 75 to 150 cases of each per year.

They’re priced between $20 and $42 a bottle — a category that for many wineries is a tough sell these days.

His extremely limited production helps keep sales strong, Phillips said. Its wine club is at maximum capacity with a waiting list, while two of its reds released in March are sold out.

Many club members, he added, buy as much as they can afford of their favorite wine as soon as it’s released.

“There’s an exclusivity attached to that,” Phillips said. “The strongest price point in the market is $4.99 to $7.99. It really drops off for anything over 20 bucks. That’s a luxury.”

— Raven J. Railey