Saturday, March 24, 2018

Craft Wine: Is It The Next Big Thing?

Craft beer and craft cocktails have captured the imagination of a thirsty nation. Is craft wine ready to step into the spotlight?

Roots Of A New Wine Category

Carole Lawson flunked retirement. It might be the best thing that ever happened to small wineries in the US.

Lawson, who retired from Silicon Valley and work with the state of California, moved north. She became a certified sommelier. “My friends have a small winery,” she recalls, “and I saw the struggle they had to get their product to market and get in front of consumers.”

With a digital marketing certificate from Harvard and an analytical mind, she started to grapple with the problem. She considered how to bundle the words “artisan” and “boutique,” a couple of words often used to describe small wineries. Using IBM’s Watson, a supercomputer that uses artificial intelligence and analytic tools, she began to work on word resonance. The word “craft” came up.

The word resonated even when the 25 to 30 age group was removed. Even when beer drinkers were removed from the test parameters, “craft” was a compelling term, fitting nicely with the growing farm to table and farm to fork movements. “I knew I could really do something,” said Lawson.

The Craft Wine Association

According to Wine Vine Analytics, there were more than 9,000 US wineries in 2017, of those 80% produced less than 5,000 cases annually, categorized as very small or limited production. It’s these very wineries that need help with the economic obstacles they face.

A sampling of craft wineries: Lewis Station, La Chouette, and Heritage Oaks
Most Americans are within an hour’s drive of a winery. Many are small, regional wineries. As she talked with winemakers and winery owners, it became clear they needed a helping hand.

Lawson formed a non-profit organization in 2016, did market testing in 2017 and the Craft Wine Association was officially launched in February 2018 with Lawson as the CEO/Founder. There was an almost immediate response.

“This is a completely different way of talking about wine,” said Lawson. “Craft wine is a local, small, handmade product. This is the real deal.”

Certified Craft Wine is a small-production wine made in runs of less than 5,000 cases.For a wine to achieve the designation of Certified Craft Wine, the winemaker must lead production from the process of grape selection through fermentation. Certified Craft Wine must also be produced using grapes from an identifiable vineyard or identifiable vineyards. Wineries whose entire production is less than 5,000 cases and meet the other criteria qualify as Certified Craft Wineries.

Added Muscle For Small Wineries

With the launch of the Craft Wine Association, the establishment of a website and a presentation at the Wine Marketing & Tourism Conference, there are already measurable results. “We can push the market,” said Lawson. “Before we started, ‘craft wine’ wasn’t even a search term. Searches for ‘craft wine’ have now gone up 550%.”

There’s a three-fold purpose for the new organization, says Lawson. The first is education: letting the public know about craft wine and member wineries. Certification and creating visibility is the second piece. Finally, Lawson hopes to create an ecosystem for member wineries, helping to find distributors, suppliers and marketing help. These are most welcome for wineries where staffing and time are often in short supply.

Bikers enjoy refreshments at Heritage Oaks tasting room.
“Our organization can make connections and be the bridge,” said Lawson. “We want to foster an emerging market and raise visibility.”

The new effort is about more than wine, it is about community. “Winemakers bring passion and artistry to a community,” said Lawson. “They create uniqueness as well as jobs.”

Many wine lovers, though, don’t know the story of the wines next door. The Craft Wine Association means to change that by awakening consumers and telling the story of craft wine.

Lawson says the response has been good. While less than a dozen wineries are currently members, she says the organization is ahead of projections. She has a goal of reaching 200 members. More than 60 craft wines are listed on the CWA website. The group already scored a win when Food & Beverage Magazine added a track for craft wine in the inaugural Global Wine Awards scheduled to take place June 2018 in Las Vegas. Craft wines will be judged against each other.

Areas that Lawson hopes to work on in the future include helping members more easily access viticultural research from Cornell, UC-Davis and Texas A&M as well as expanding craft wine availability in area restaurants and retailers.

Are you ready for the craft wine revolution? The Craft Wine Association is waiting to help you discover the amazing bottle of wine just next door.

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