Ryan Bogle started smiling almost as soon as I told him the story. A friend of mine, on business in rural West Virginia, despaired of finding a decent bottle of wine to drink. But, lo and behold, at a local retailer, was the Bogle petite sirah.
“We hear that a lot,” says Bogle, the third generation of his family to run the 1-million case California winery that is perhaps the best grocery store producer in the country. “It’s the kind of thing that that keeps us going – to make high quality wines that are a great value for the customer. We want to be accessible to the large majority of the population, and we’re happy to able to accommodate them.”
Yes, 1 million cases – a number that makes the Bogle story that much more amazing. There are plenty of huge wineries in the U.S. churning out tanker trucks of cheap wine, but few of them do with it Bogle’s consistency and quality. That the company is able to do this, despite its size, speaks about its commitment to the consumer, even when that might interfere with the bottom line.
Ryan Bogle was in Dallas for meetings with his distributor, and we talked for a few minutes about what the winery does, how it does it, and what the future holds for the winery. More, after the jump:
I’ve waxed poetic more than once about Bogle, and its wines have been in the $10 Hall of Fame since I started it a decade ago for a Dallas magazine. Like my friend, I find myself ordering it when I’m stuck eating in a chain restaurant or traveling to less wine savvy parts of the country. And, lest this be seen as damning with faint praise, it shows up on my dinner table a lot, too.
In this, Bogle has come a long way since Ryan’s grandfather, Warren, started growing grapes in the Sacramento delta – hardly the most revered of the state’s wine regions -- in the 1960s. Legend has it that Warren originally grew potatoes, which failed, and switched to grapes (petite sirah and chenin blanc) as a replacement. The legend is true, says Ryan, who tells the story with a big grin, since it means the family’s success is built on his grandfather’s mistake.
Today, even though Bogle is one of the dozen or so biggest wineries in the country, it’s still that kind of family operation. Brother Chris is president, sister Jody handles sales and consumer affairs, and Ryan is vice president.
“We all feel very strongly about what we do and about that continuity,” says Ryan. “We love the business, we love the people we work with, and we want to continue the legacy for the next generation.”
Not surprisingly, the family has a firm grasp on what it does – making what Ryan calls “varietally correct wine that people can drink not just on their birthday, but the other 364 days of the year.”
His thoughts on:
• The California wine business: “To a certain extent, it’s true that California is hung up on appellation. They’d rather make Russian River pinot noir than California merlot. We don’t have that problem. At our price, we know consumers are looking for that quality to value ratio, and it doesn’t need to say Napa on the label for them to get that. They know our brand is going to deliver.”
• Maintaining its trademark $10 price: “It’s been hard the past couple of years. We don’t want to have to pass along price increases. But since we don’t pay the lowest prices to our growers when grapes are down, we don’t have to pay the highest now when prices are up.”
• What consumers expect: “Consumers don’t want to pay $10 or $12 for a bottle of wine that’s an unknown quantity. One of our benefits, when they pick up our bottle, it doesn’t look like a cheap bottle of wine. It looks like they’re going to get quality and consistency.”
• Running a million case winery in this age of multi-nationals, when marketing seems as important as quality: “It’s challenging, and we have to do things differently. We have bigger distributors now. We have to pay more attention to data. We have to do more marketing. But since we’re a family company, we can make quicker decisions. And we know what’s inside the bottle has to over deliver.”
Which Bogle always seems to do.