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Exclusive: Moët Hennessy Launches New Upscale Sonoma Wine Brand, Smoke Tree

September 30, 2015

Known as an aggressive acquirer of leading luxury brands, Moët Hennessy has started from scratch with the creation of a new super-premium Sonoma wine franchise called Smoke Tree.

Rolling out to market tomorrow, Smoke Tree includes a Sonoma County Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The brand will retail around $24.99 for the Pinot and $19.99 for the Chardonnay, but a primary focus will be the on-premise by-the-glass segment, where the wines will likely sell around the $12-$15 range. Smoke Tree initially will launch in eight markets—New York, California, Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.—before expanding nationally.

“We have a distinct strategy to give this brand its foundation in the on-premise initially,” says Moët Hennessy USA president and CEO Jim Clerkin. “We have a capacity in the first year of only 30,000 cases. After that we expect to bring production up to 40,000 cases and above and we’ll look to go national.” Billing the wine as a balanced, cool-climate style of Pinot Noir, Moët Hennessy says a key consumer target is the experienced wine drinker age 35-50, but the company also expects to draw in Millennials, who are gravitating to the $14-$25 price point.

Pointing out that the California category accounts for more than 60% of U.S. wine sales—and has an on-trade share of 85%—Clerkin says Smoke Tree fills a gap for Moët Hennessy in one of the hottest areas of the market, California Pinot Noir. The super-premium segment, ranging from around $14-$25 a bottle at retail, is growing several times faster than the overall wine category, with Pinot leading the charge.

The debut of Smoke Tree marks a major innovation initiative for Moët Hennessy, whose last completely new wine brand, Terrazas de los Andes, launched in 1999. Best known for its flagship Moët & Chandon and Hennessy brands from France, the company has also had a presence in California for more than four decades with its Domaine Chandon sparkling label—now at around a half-million cases in the U.S.—as well as Newton Vineyards. Joel Burt, who has served as winemaker on Domaine Chandon’s small-production Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines since 2009, handles winemaking for Smoke Tree.

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