Evaki banks on rise of a sparkling wine

For 13 years, Evaki Imports in San Luis Obispo has focused on connecting wineries with stores looking for wine to fuel their own brands. Now it’s banking on a branded wine from Argentina that won accolades at a recent international competition.

“We’re kind of under the radar,” said Ken Jacques, president of Evaki. “We create private labels for large retailers. It’s a very big part of our business that’s growing.”

With a staff of four, his company handles about 1.5 million cases a year. Its retail customers include Sam’s Club, Walgreens, Meijer and Save Mart Supermarkets. Others Jacques can’t name because of confidentiality agreements.

Currently, Evaki represents wineries in Spain, South America, California and Oregon.

Retail chains purchase excess wine from producers, relabel it and sell it at discounted prices. One of the best-known examples of such a control brand might be Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw, nicknamed “Two Buck Chuck” because it originally sold for $1.99.

In some cases, wines intended to sell for $25 or more might go for $9.99 under a different brand that the store can price and promote at will.

“The consumer doesn’t know it’s a control brand unless they get on the Internet and try to find the winery,” Jacques said.

He estimates American retailers devote about 15 percent to 25 percent of wine shelves to such brands. In Europe, the practice is much more common. In Germany, for example, private label wines make up roughly 80 percent of shelf space.

But lately, Jacques has been most excited about the 2011 Raza Dolce Torrontés, a sweet sparkling wine that Evaki is importing from an Argentine winery.

The $10 bubbly won Best Demi-Sec and Best in Show Sparkling honors at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in June. More important to Jacques, every buyer who has tasted it so far has bought it.

This year’s U.S. allocation of 150,000 cases is already sold, but Jacques plans to have double that amount from the 2012 vintage.

“It’s one of those products,” said Jacques, who has worked in wine and brewing since 1982. “You go your whole life hoping for one of these, and it’s one of those.”

Locals top competition

Of the 4,184 wines entered in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, three from Paso Robles hit the top of their categories.

Hearst Ranch Winery won Best Tempranillo with the 2009 Chileano ($30).

The Best Rhône Blend title went to Austin Hope’s Troublemaker, a multi-vintage combination of syrah, grenache, petite sirah and mourvèdre ($18).

Best Premium Bordeaux honors went to Grey Wolf Cellars’ 2008 Lineage, a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc and petite verdot.

Wastewater seminar

Elutriate Systems in Arroyo Grande will host a presentation on wastewater systems for wineries at Holiday Inn Express in Paso Robles on Aug. 4 from 10 a.m. to noon.

The engineering firm has specialized in wastewater treatment for more than a decade. Recent clients include champagne producer Korbel in Guerneville and Shale Oak Vineyards in Paso Robles.

Owner Glenn Wensloff and others will offer demonstrations and discuss rebates available from PG&E.

Attendance is limited to 25. Register at

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