Issue Spring 13
After 30 successful years making premium wines, it would seem easy for Merryvale Vineyards to take a relaxed approach to its business and maintain the status quo. Instead, the family owned and operated Napa Valley winery is taking major steps to adapt its operations to the current market and ensure its future.
“What’s good enough today is not good enough tomorrow,” says Rene Schlatter, president of the company, located in St. Helena, Calif., in the famed Napa Valley. “The market is much more competitive now than it was when we started, and brands are popping up left and right every day. We always have to be at the cutting-edge in terms of vineyard sourcing, winemaking and marketing.”
Merryvale Vineyards is taking a few big steps to expand awareness of its wines and grow the company. The company’s largest current project involves further establishing Starmont Winery as an everyday, accessible alternative to compliment its eponymous high-end, limited premium brand.
Starmont, created a few years after Merryvale’s founding in 1983 as a more affordable tier in the company’s product line, is branching out into its own label and independent operation. “We’re giving it its own identity among consumers,” Schlatter says, noting the Starmont line is marketed and produced differently from Merryvale Vineyards’ main label.
Starmont Winery produces around 90,000 cases annually including: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Bottles are typically priced between $15 and $30, and can be found nationwide in restaurants, fine wine shops and select grocery stores. The Merryvale label produces 12,000 cases of signature and prestige wines priced from $35 to $165 for current releases; bottles can be found in restaurants and fine wine shops, but primarily direct through the winery’s tasting room, events and website.
The company recently hired a chief operating officer to focus specifically on developing the Starmont brand. “A lot of consumers still don’t know exactly what `the story of Starmont’ is, so our goal is to further develop and market the brand through the wholesale system and continue working on the marketing side to drive awareness,” Schlatter says. A new Starmont Label, website and tasting room will all be unveiled in spring of 2014.
Starmont Winery is located on the Stanly Ranch, Napa Valley’s first farm planted to grapes. The winery, built in 2006, reflects Merryvale’s commitment to sustainability and “green”-minded practices. Over half of the facility’s electricity is generated through solar power, and all winery process water is recycled for use as vineyard and landscape irrigation. In addition, the facility diverts 99 percent of waste away from landfills, and features energy-efficient lighting, motors, compressors and electrical system components that calculate maximum efficiencies.
The company’s “green” practices extend to how its vineyards are farmed. Merryvale Vineyards participates in the voluntary Napa Green certification program, which includes conservation, recycling, erosion control and pollution prevention measures. “We want to do the right thing because today’s decisions affect future generations,” Schlatter says.
The Right Tools
Schlatter credits the quality of Merryvale Vineyards’ wines to its vineyard location and pedigree as well as its internal investments. “We’re vertically integrated in terms of owning our own vineyards – we can control our own quality and the consistency of our product,” he says. “There’s something to be said for being family owned and having control over our own destiny.”
The company’s Merryvale label of wines is produced in the historic Sunny St. Helena winery.
“We’re blessed to be here in Napa,” he adds. “The climate and soil conditions here are exceptional. Having our own outstanding vineyards is certainly a big plus, but while we do use traditional winemaking methods, we also use modern equipment to produce our wines.”
This equipment includes a “cold room” used to store grapes picked in the morning, keeping them cool and fresh, state-of-the-art sorting equipment, fermenters and basket press. “We have a lot of tools at our disposal that we’ve acquired over the last few years that help our internal efficiency, as well as the quality of our wines,” Schlatter says.