Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wine News: Virtual Wineries

Here's a fun article I found through my Daily wine news updates that explains the next wave of buying wine: online.  It was published by restaurantcentral.ca, which is a Canadian publication, and this article features online or virtual, Canadian wineries.  The idea is simple: make your wine at some location that supports winemaking.  Then, sell your wine online... without purchasing an actual winery/tasting room.  You save money on location, and all purchases are done exclusively through the internet... which is how the Millennial generation prefers to make purchases. 

The article is copied here for you convenience.  To see the actual article, click on the link above:

Virtual wineries: the next wave in Canadian winemaking
By Leeann Froese
February 9, 2011

The future site of Okanagan Crush Pad at Haywire’s Switchback Vineyard in Summerland, B.C.

There’s a new buzzword for Canadian wine enthusiasts: “virtual winery”. This term is nothing new: virtual wineries have been active around the world for decades. Every wine region has them: from France to New Zealand to California. However, virtual wineries are becoming more prolific in Canada for the creation of quality small lot wines.

A “virtual” winery means that the winery does not actually have bricks and mortar: rather the presence of the winery is by brand name, and the “winery” itself is primarily online, easier to operate with sales and advertising on a website.

Virtual wineries are a North American interpretation of the Old World French tradition of wine négociants. Négociants are merchant-vintners who purchase grapes or pre-made wine from growers and then blend, bottle and sell it under their own name. Some better-known virtual wineries in the New World would be from the United States: Underdog Wine’s Big House, Fish Eye and Cupcake to name a few. A major New Zealand winery, Kim Crawford, got its start as a virtual winery.
In the virtual winery concept, a winemaker and marketing team create a wine under their own label without necessarily growing their own grapes and then use the winemaking equipment of a host winery. In Canada, virtual wineries vary. Some have their own vineyards, while others purchase grapes; yet a major distinction being made in Canada is that while lacking an actual crush facility, the winemakers of the latest generation of virtual wineries care about the land and quality. Underlining this, many virtual wines made in Canada carry the VQA symbol of quality.

One of Canada’s better known and more successful virtual wineries is Sandhill. Made under the umbrella of Peller Estates, Sandhill wines are small production, single vineyard, high quality VQA wines made by veteran BC winemaker Howard Soon. Despite the lack of its own winery, Sandhill is committed to quality and has the accolades to prove it.

In Ontario, virtual labels created with the same passion as Sandhill include Featherstone, Charles Baker and Union. Union, made by Canadian wine industry pioneer Allan Jackson (the ‘Jackson’ in Jackson-Triggs, in his second career) is unique as far as Ontario’s virtual wineries go, as it has its own manufacturing license. So while Union uses another winery’s crush facilities, it does not need to create its wines under another winery’s umbrella.

Back in British Columbia, those in the know have their eyes on Haywire, a virtual winery opened in 2010 by wine industry marketing veteran Christine Coletta, and her husband Steve Lornie. Haywire is the first offering from a larger plan the couple has – operating a custom crush facility. Haywire was made offsite at other wineries in its first two vintages, and now plans are underway to break ground in spring 2011 on Okanagan Crush Pad. Okanagan Crush Pad will be the Okanagan’s home for other virtual wineries, offering a custom crush facility for small wineries that can benefit from shared resources. Two of Okanagan Crush Pad’s first customers will be David Scholefield and Michael Bartier who are collaborating with consulting winemaker Alberto Antonini and Master of Wine Rhys Pender who has vineyards in the Similkameen Valley.

From crush and winemaking, to tank and barrel storage, lab work, packaging and marketing, a virtual winery collective offers advantages to winemakers that want to make small lot wines but do not yet have the capital or even the desire to open a winery. They can avoid wrangling with financial institutions for funding, huge capital start-up costs, and operating expenses. Additionally, virtual wineries have an ecological advantage. There are less buildings to leave footprints in agricultural areas, and shared equipment means less equipment is needed to be constructed and shipped.

The best thing about Canada’s virtual wineries is the wines they produce. The growing emergence of virtual wineries across the country is resulting in smaller batch, interesting wines that express what Canada’s unique terroir can offer.

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