Industry Veteran Predicts ‘Best is Yet to Come’ for Eastern Wine Region
By Elizabeth Hans McCrone
Eric Guerra has a lot of optimism about where the eastern U.S. wine industry is headed – and he’s in a position to know.
With more than 14 years in the business, Guerra has managed an impressive number of iconic wine brands, including industry icons like Kendall-Jackson and Mumm Napa, as well as Gary Farrell in the Russian River Valley, Campo Viejo in Rioja and the prestigious Maison Perrier-Jouët Champagne.
Recently, Guerra was the Chief Sales & Marketing Officer with Terravant Wine Company in Santa Barbara County, and is credited with growing the business from seven thousand cases annually to more than 500 thousand. In addition, he has developed exclusive wines and labels for some of the largest retailers in the US, like WholeFoods, CPK, Trader Joe’s, Darden, Albertsons and the luxury Loews Resorts, representing over 50 million bottles sold worldwide.
In 2016, he launched a video series called Reserve Tastings with Eric Guerra, focusing on educating the wine consumer through travel, reviews and how to’s.
Guerra’s journeys as marketing executive, blogger, wine educator, investor and winemaker have led him through some of the world’s least hospitable places to produce fine wines. Through it all he’s been consistently impressed by the passion exhibited by wine enthusiasts all over the globe.
“I’m fascinated by how nuts people are,” Guerra exclaims. “I saw a field of holes in a vineyard in Santorini, Greece and I thought ‘what the heck?’ It turns out that due to the harsh Mediterranean climate, they train the vines circular like baskets that grow in holes to protect the grapes. I was blown away at the desire to practice viticulture in such a difficult place.”
“Let’s face it, in most areas of California it’s not that hard to grow great grapes,” he continues. “But many of the regions outside of the western US have much more difficulty in terms of the weather or soils to deal with. They love what they do so much they work hard everyday to figure out what would make the best wine, regardless of the terroir.”
Guerra believes regions that have overcome climatic hardships, such as arid landscapes or freezing temperatures, as well as marketplace isolation, have followed certain, common sense principles to achieve success.
“People have to experiment with trial and error to learn what will work within a particular area, then focus on that,” Guerra opines. “In Baja, it turns out Cabernet Sauvignon grows very well there. In England, it’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Now they’re making sparkling wine that rivals that of France. It’s great. They learned this from years of trying, failing then ultimately succeeding.”
Guerra points out that individual excellence is important, but banding together as a region to promote tourism and marketing efforts is critical. He says the eastern U.S. is well on its way to regional distinction.
“The East Coast, as in other regions I’ve visited, has experienced some formidable odds. For these people to look at what they are given and then make those incredible wines, it’s absolutely amazing to me,” Guerra attests. “Regions are starting to separate themselves, the Finger Lakes, Virginia, Michigan … they’re really on their way to greatness.”
Guerra believes the smallest of details with every potential customer that walks through the door matters.
“Wineries have to take care of their own house to make sure people have an unforgettable experience when they visit … when you raise your own game, you raise everybody’s game around you.”
Guerra will be sharing his marketing insights at the third annual USBevX Wine & Beverage Expo taking place February 21-22 in Washington D.C. during a conference session called “The Eastern Wine Industry’s Pursuit of Excellence: Winning Against All Odds.” Dr. Damien Wilson, Chair of the Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute, will join Guerra.
Guerra hopes the conference session instills participants with the same sense of confidence he’s experienced in similar regions that have gone on to achieve greatness.
“I want people to say ‘I can go back and make this happen at the highest level,’” Guerra laughs. “I want them to think ‘we believe in making great wines that can rival the world’s finest, and we won’t stop until we get there.’ Though there’s been great success on the East Coast, I believe the very best is yet to come. What a wonderful time to be involved.”
For more information and conference registration, go to www.usbevexpo.com.