Washington Wine, Part 1: Key Players on a Hot Streak

Copyright 7.13.15 M. Shanken Communications

Washington state wines have made impressive progress in the U.S. market lately, with the category now accounting for more than 12.5 million cases overall. The state’s easy-drinking red blends are gaining traction, including brands like Composition ($14 a 750-ml. bottle) from E.&J. Gallo’s Columbia Winery and Pendulum ($18) from Precept Wine. Another key red blend label, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ 14 Hands Hot to Trot ($10), earned Impact “Hot Brand” honors with a 21% advance to 1.7 million cases in 2014, following two consecutive years of more than 30% growth.

Far and away Washington’s leading player in terms of volume, Ste. Michelle boasts 12 Washington wine brands and shipped 6.5 million cases of wine from the state last year. Besides 14 Hands, which recently saw the opening of its own winery and tasting room in Prosser, Ste. Michelle enjoyed strong shipment growth for its core Chateau Ste. Michelle label in 2014, which rose 10% to 3 million cases. “We’re seeing the most growth in red blends priced from $9 to $17,” Ste. Michelle president and CEO Ted Baseler tells SND.

Andrew Browne, president and CEO of Precept Wine, says the magic price point for Washington is currently around $15. “You can find unbelievable quality for $15,” he adds. Precept has over 30 Washington brands, more than half of which are sold exclusively through specific retail outlets like Total Wine & More. Precept’s Washington labels include Waterbrook, the Total Wine exclusive Radius and Skyfall, an on-premise focused offering made in partnership with White Plains, New York–based Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. Overall, Precept shipped 900,000 cases of Washington wine in 2014, a 15% increase over 2013, with Waterbrook Chardonnay as its top seller.

Another rising Washington player is Walla Walla-based Charles Smith Wines, whose approach combines traditional winemaking techniques with contemporary packaging. The company produces a number of brands, including K Vintners, Wines of Substance, the Chardonnay-only Sixto and Charles & Charles, a collaboration with winemaker Charles Bieler that’s marketed by Trinchero Family Estates. Charles Smith Wines shipped 750,000 cases of Washington wine in 2014, and its sales have increased 25% to 30% annually for several years.

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