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Emerging Washington Wine Player Aquilini Brands Has Big Ambitions

November 25, 2020

Washington wines continue to make inroads among U.S. consumers, with total shipments totaling approximately 13 million cases annually. While Washington is led by the 8-million-case Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, it also boasts a wealth of emerging players making their mark on the business. Among them is Aquilini Brands USA, the new wine group founded by the Vancouver, Canada-based Aquilini family, which also owns the Vancouver Canucks NHL team, among other diverse interests.

Aquilini has just under 550 planted acres on Red Mountain in Eastern Washington and 104 planted acres in the Columbia Valley, as well as about 1,120 acres in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, of which 460 are planted. The portfolio ranges from grocery-driven brands like Be Human, Dixie & Bass, and Chasing Rain in the $15-$25 tier to Cabernet Sauvignon and a red blend from the Red Mountain-based 10,000 Hours label, which sells at around $30. At the top of the pyramid is Aquilini Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, positioned at $110.

“We shipped our first official bottle of wine on June 1, and in spite of being new, being in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest, we’ve had rapid growth,” says Robert Chin, the longtime Gallo executive who serves as CEO of Aquilini Brands USA, adding that Southern Glazer’s has the bulk of the company’s markets, alongside other distribution partners like Breakthru, Empire, Martignetti, Fedway, and Bacchus.

Chin declines to disclose initial volumes for the company but says Aquilini believes it’s already among the 50 largest wineries in Washington, out of the state’s 1,000 producers. “Our longer term objective is to be among the state’s top five largest producers,” he adds. “We want to be a key player in driving growth of Washington wines globally, and especially Red Mountain, where the region is spoken in the same breath as the world’s best winegrowing regions.”

In the meantime, Aquilini is focused on continuing to grow its presence in both chain and independent retail with its volume brands while readying the Aquilini and 10,000 Hours labels for an on-premise push when the time is right. Portfolio expansion is also on the docket, Chin says, including “a category first with an innovation in sparkling, and a spirits-based single-serve cocktail brand” slated to launch in the first quarter of next year.—Daniel Marsteller

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