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Huneeus Awaits Increased Supply To Unlock “The Prisoner”

September 28, 2012

Two years after being acquired from Orin Swift, Huneeus Vintners-owned The Prisoner, a Napa Valley Zinfandel-based red blend retailing at $40 a 750-ml., is in strong demand. But two straight light vintages have kept volumes from truly taking flight. With the current vintage looking more robust and new grape sources on the horizon, the brand’s future growth prospects are strong.

“2010 and 2011 were two of the most challenging Zinfandel vintages known to man,” says Agustin Francisco Huneeus of Huneeus Vintners. “In 2010 we had a heat wave, and last year we had heavy rain. The quality has been there, but not the volume. Production on The Prisoner ($40) has stayed about flat (at around 70,000 cases) the past two years.”

Still, Huneeus says output could increase this year if the current vintage stays on track. And with bigger Zinfandel brands like Diageo’s Rosenblum and Constellation’s Ravenswood reducing their focus on single-vineyard wines, supply of high-quality Zin grapes will likely rise for smaller players looking to tap the high end. “As those contracts run out, it creates a lot of new opportunities for us in terms of sourcing fruit,” Huneeus says.

Huneeus’s The Prisoner Wine Co. also includes the Saldo Zinfandel brand ($30) and a new label, Cuttings, which is a Zinfandel-Cabernet Sauvignon blend priced around $50. Across its three brands, The Prisoner Wine Co.’s volume will be around 100,000 cases this year.

Among Huneeus’s other California brands, its high-end Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay label Flowers (with production of around 25,000 cases) continues to prosper, as does Napa Cabernet Sauvignon label Faust ($55, around 20,000 cases) and Napa Meritage blend Quintessa ($145, around 8,000-9,000 cases).

The company’s Chilean business, anchored by the Veramonte brand, which depleted 130,000 cases in 2010, according to Impact Databank, is now seeing strong progress at the premium end. Veramonte’s Primus red blend and The Ritual (a collaboration with Paul Hobbs that includes Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc) both retail around the $20 mark and have benefited from strong critical acclaim recently, Huneeus says. Meanwhile, Veramonte’s venture with Viña Neyen in the Apalta region of Chile’s Colchagua Valley—formed in late 2010—has offered a new grape source for Primus and also brought Neyen’s highly-regarded namesake Carmenére/Cabernet Sauvignon blend ($50) to Huneeus’s U.S. stable. Since entering the U.S. with the 2003 vintage, Neyen has received five 90-plus scores from Wine Spectator.

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