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Interview: Wente Family Estates Aims For Rebound After 2017 Price Hikes

February 12, 2018

After years of solid progress, Livermore, California-based Wente Family Estates hiked prices by about 4% last year across its portfolio, and as a result saw total depletions slip by around 10% to 740,000 cases, excluding its private label business. Now, the company is looking to hold the line on pricing, debut new innovations and position the portfolio for long-term growth. SND associate editor Shane English recently spoke with CEO Carolyn Wente to discuss the winery’s plans for the year ahead.

SND: After increasing prices last year, where does the core Wente Family Vineyards brand sit on the shelf? What kind of volume performance are you expecting for 2018?

Wente: Our core Wente Vineyards and Murrieta’s Well wines are now at $15–$35. (Wente was down 10% to 513,000 cases last year, while Murrieta’s Well rose 11% to 23,000 cases.) We had fully planned on having some volume decline due to price elasticity in the market. In 2014, when we last took price, we rebounded with over 30% growth the next year. I don’t know that we’ll see that much growth impact in 2018, but having taken price in 2017, we’ll certainly look to hold price and see a rebound in volume.

SND: Which of your higher-end wines are performing best?

Wente: The real standout this past year was our Single Vineyard Riva Ranch Pinot Noir ($30), which grew at 11%.

SND: Do you have any new products in the pipeline, either new brands or extensions?

Wente: After a decline on our Entwine brand last year (now at 113,000 cases), we have some new innovation coming: cans. Entwine is very much a retail, chain-driven brand for us. We’re going to do a Pinot Grigio and a red blend in cans and test that in the first quarter and then probably roll it out to more markets after that. Initially, we’ll be rolling out mixed cases featuring twelve 375-ml. cans of each variety. Later we’ll launch full cases of each wine. They’ll retail at $5.99 a 375-ml. can.

SND: What other areas of the business are a key focus right now?

Wente: We’re continuously investing in our vineyards. Of the 3,000 acres currently planted, we keep a note of the life span—which is about 30 years—and we’re constantly planting at least 100 new acres every year and rotating out older, declining vineyards. We’ve been able to transform the vineyards for the impacts of doing business in California over the long term while facing key issues, like water scarcity. The cap on water usage during the drought was a good wake-up call for everybody in the industry. For us, the restrictions turned out to be very achievable, and we’ll continue to invest and strive to grow better quality grapes with fewer inputs, such as water, moving forward.

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