Home Wine Business Editorial Wineries See Challenges and Opportunities in Expanding Market for Beer, Cider, and...

Wineries See Challenges and Opportunities in Expanding Market for Beer, Cider, and Distilled Spirits

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By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

Alex Villicana
Alex Villicana, Villicana Winery & Re:Find Distillery

A recent article in the business section of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat has depicted the California wine industry wringing its hands over the defection of millennial drinkers into the alluring fields of craft beer, hard cider and fancy cocktails.

While statistics and studies might corroborate this trend, many in the wine business view the millennial movement as an opportunity to expand their own enterprises, rather than a foregone conclusion of doom and gloom for wine.

Take Alex Villicana, owner of the Villicana Winery in Paso Robles, CA for example. Incidentally, Villicana is also the proprietor of Re:Find Distillery, a handcrafted spirits company that, literally, has its roots in wine.

In 1991, Alex and his wife Monica began on a journey to what became their successful Villicana Winery, a feat they managed through sheer willpower and a fierce passion for the industry.

“I didn’t get the memo that said you needed to have a fortune to get started in the wine business,” laughs Villicana. “For years it was just us – or a volunteer running things, like a sister or brother or our parents.”

Their hard work paid off, however, and several years ago the Villicanas found themselves in a position to look for ways to expand the business. Their search happened to coincide with the initial wave of renewed interest in artisan, distilled spirits, especially among younger adults.

The brainchild for their business growth centered on saignée, the free-run juice from red wine grapes that is often discarded before fermentation or used to make rosé.  It occurred to the sustainability-minded Villicanas that the juice had a higher calling  – and that it could actually be utilized to make distilled spirits.

“We realized that 30 percent of the raw material for our wine was going to waste,” Villicana says. “I thought, man, that’s fantastic juice!”

The result? In 2011, the two became owners of the first, licensed distillery in Paso Robles. And, their handcrafted Re:Find vodka and gin are selling like hotcakes.

“It was definitely a stretch for us,” Villicana admits. “We were going out on a limb. As it turns out, we sold (our vodka and gin) as fast as we could put it in a bottle.”

NCWIE 2014 session 3
Pet Projects in the Cellar: Wineries Explore Beer, Cider and Distilled Spirits as Additional Revenue Channels. December 4. 2014, Sonoma County Fairgrounds

Alex Villicana will be sharing the details of his inspirational story at the upcoming 2014 North Coast Wine Industry Expo, where he is a featured speaker on a panel titled “Pet Projects in the Cellar: Wineries Explore Beer, Cider and Distilled Spirits as Additional Revenue Sources.”

Villicana will be joined by Jim Crooks, Master Blender at Firestone BarrelWorks, who will explain how his brewing team’s experiments grew into a valuable extension of the Firestone Walker brand and Paul Scotto, co-founder of Pacific Coast Ciders, who works in tandem with his brother to develop a dedicated line of handcrafted, hard ciders.

Alyssa Rapp, founder and CEO of Bottlenotes, Inc., one of the leading, interactive media companies in the U.S. for the wine and craft beer industries, will moderate the panel. Bottlenotes is dedicated to educating and entertaining consumers via email newsletters, large-scale interactive events, social media platforms and video content. Rapp was named in Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” coolest entrepreneurs in America and one of the wine industry’s 100 most influential people by Intowine.com in both 2012 and 2013.

Rapp says she has immediate plans to incorporate more of what she calls “the cocktail culture” into her business model, especially as it relates to female consumers.

“We know our audience doesn’t just drink wine,” Rapp says. “Wine consumers are 70 percent female, to 30 percent male. But from our own internal Daily Sip records, we see that nearly 70 percent of women who drink are also intrigued by and frequently enjoy spirits and cocktails.”

Rapp is impressed that the 2014 North Coast Wine Industry Expo is dedicating one of its premiere conference sessions to a comprehensive, best-practices discussion that can be shared across all beverage categories.

“The fact that (the Wine Industry Network) was clever and wise enough to put together this session says to me they have a finger on that pulse,” Rapp notes.

Visit the North Coast Wine Industry Expo for more conference information and registration.

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