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Purple Wine + Spirits Eyes Expansion In Whiskey, Pinot Noir

February 13, 2018

Since selling the Mark West brand to Constellation in 2012 for about $160 million, Sonoma-based Purple Wine + Spirits, led by founder Derek Benham, has been building its wine portfolio and expanding its presence in spirits with its Graton Distilling Co. offshoot.

Last October, Graton Distilling launched its debut whiskey label, Redwood Empire ($45 a 750-ml.), a blend of two-year-old rye whiskey distilled in-house, two- and three-year-old ryes sourced from Indiana’s MGP Ingredients and four-, five-, and 11-year-old Bourbons also sourced from MGP. The three-year-old, MGP-sourced rye was finished in Port barrels for three months. While volume remains small, Purple Wine + Spirits president Aaron Webb says the initial response to Redwood Empire has been strong from both trade and consumers.

Following up on Redwood Empire, the company plans to launch a number of additional whiskies over the next few years, including a grain-to-glass rye and a blended rye that includes both own and purchased liquid. As Purple looks to tap the growing market for California whiskies, Webb says, “You might call us craft, but eventually being known as a luxury whiskey producer is more our goal.” Graton Distilling Co.’s portfolio also includes D. George Benham Sonoma Dry gin and Vodka Vodka, which is currently being redeveloped.

In wine, Purple is targeting growth in Pinot Noir, with a number of its brands adding new Pinot extensions. Russian River Valley-sourced Raeburn, which is at roughly 60,000 cases, was long a Chardonnay-only line before introducing a Pinot Noir late last year. “The non-compete for Pinot Noir from the sale of Mark West is no longer in place,” Webb notes. “So we’re back in the Pinot Noir business, which is exciting because the varietal has as much momentum today as it’s had over the last decade.” Among the other Purple Wine + Spirits brands getting a Pinot Noir are Avalon (at around 200,000 cases) and Four Vines (about 100,000 cases), which were previously Cabernet Sauvignon- and Zinfandel-led, respectively. Avalon was up 9% in Nielsen channels last year, while Four Vines grew by 3.6% and Raeburn doubled in size.

Purple also recently launched Scattered Peaks, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon retailing at around $40. A collaboration between Benham and longtime winemaker Joel Atkin, Scattered Peaks has driven on-premise placement through a partnership with the Del Frisco’s steakhouse chain.

Along with its new product launches, Purple Wine + Spirits is busy developing tasting rooms and consumer experiences at both the Graton Distillery and Raeburn winery. “Consumer experiences are something we haven’t really done much of in the past, so we’re working on making that happen within the next six to 12 months,” says Webb. “In addition to a tasting room at the distillery, we’re manning a tasting room at Raeburn. Sonoma’s got a lot of great places to drink wine, and we want to be one of them.”—Julia Higgins

 

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