Want to know how much the wine business has changed and how much angst that change has caused? Look no further than Sonoma’s Kunde Family Winery, a quality producer that has long made some top $10 wines, but has decided to cut production by one-third to be more competitive.
Call it addition by subtraction, thanks to distributor and retail consolidation.
The goal, says Jeff Kunde, the fourth of the five generations of his family to run the winery, is to go from more than 100,000 cases to 70,000. That’s because 100,000 cases isn’t big enough to be big any more, but it’s still too big to be small enough to be the artisan- or craft-style producer that distributors prefer if you don’t make one-half million cases.
At 70,000 cases, Kunde says, the winery doesn’t have to worry about being in every grocery and chain in the country and fighting money-losing price wars to keep shelf space. Plus, the change will allow Kunde to focus on the more profitable parts of wine, like its tasting room sales, and direct shipping.
“Consumers are not as loyal as they used to be,” says Kunde, who was in Dallas last month to visit his distributor and make the rounds of retailers and consumers. “They don’t see the wine they buy, as much much as the see the $9.99 price. And it hurts us when that happens.”
Cutting production should also allow the winery to make better wine for more or less the same price, since it won’t need as many quality grapes. In addition, says Kunde, it wants to let consumers know about its 100-year history, that it’s a smaller, family-run business and that it’s part of “the idea that people know where their wine comes from,” says Kunde. All of this will help it do better financially by making less wine.
The wines we tasted were up to the Kunde standard. The 2014 chardonnay ($12, sample, 13.8%) was lightly oaked but with enough vanilla to be California, balanced by fresh, tart pear. The 2014 sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.8%) was grassy and lemony, with a softer finish than I expected. These wines remain excellent values, and are well worth buying.
The higher-end 2014 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel ($40, sample, 14.8%) is loaded with sweet black fruit, but it’s not cloying or overly jammy, as so many post-modern zinfandels are. In this, it’s a nice balance between the current style and wine that you get actually drink and enjoy.