Senior executives across all walks of corporate life are finding a new way to express themselves and adopt an in-demand item as an extraordinary company premium for business development or corporate branding. A gift or leave-behind that far outdistances paperweights, pens, coffee mugs, and calendars. And one that is light-years more fun to create and present to friends, clients, and associates (and if you are so inclined, to bring to market).
Welcome to the world of winemaking.
In a past era, winemaking was considered insular and winemakers had a reputation for being aloof, even a bit stuffy. But in recent years, the world of wine has taken on a sense of glamor and sophistication.
An industry that was once thought to be cold is now regarded as cool.
That is why you see Fortune 500 and growth business companies and their senior management turning to the creation of their own custom wine labels as a unique personal and professional investment.
Of course, celebrities are on board with their own wine labels. Sting, Sarah Jessica Parker, David and Victoria Beckham, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Francis Ford Coppola, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend, Dave Matthews, and Fergie are just a few examples of stars that have invested in the creation and marketing of their own wine labels. Gerard Depardieu, who has had wineries in France, Italy, and the U.S. for over three decades, helped pave the way for celebrities to go beyond using their image to pitch wines to instead take an active role in developing their own thriving wine businesses. Another example is actor Sam Neill, whose winery has been in operation for 20 years. Then there are performers such as legendary rock guitarist Carlos Santana, whose love affair with the wine industry culminated in a partnership to launch a sparkling vintage wine.
In the wine industry we happen to have our own stars, the winemakers who have made a name for themselves creating and producing the world’s most beloved brands. I am fortunate to be working alongside one of them after my company acquired the famed Paso Robles, Calif., Rabbit Ridge Winery last year.
Erich Russell is a master vintner. In 2022 he will enter his 50th year as a winemaker. His storied wine-industry history began when he was a San Diego schoolteacher and winemaking was a personal passion. Russell attended San Jose State on a track scholarship, where his many successes as a long-distance runner earned him the nickname “rabbit” by his teammates—a handle he would enlist years later by adapting Rabbit Ridge as the official name for his winery. From his home garage, Russell created a Chardonnay that he entered into the amateur division of a California State Fair winemaking competition—and that won the gold medal. His victory caught the attention of Sonoma’s Chateau St. Jean, which promptly offered Russell a job in the famed winery’s cellar. From there, Russell was recruited by Simi Winery and moved to Belvedere Wine, where he became both head winemaker and president of the Premium Division.
After establishing Rabbit Ridge Winery in Sonoma in 1981, Russell entered the elite group of winemakers who have earned the coveted Connoisseurs’ Guide’s award for Winemaker of the Year. He also had three wines ranked in the prestigious Wine Spectator‘s top 100 wines in the world and a Zinfandel that became Food and Wine’s Best Wine Value of the Year.
As Rabbit Ridge began to make a name for itself, it became apparent that the winery was outgrowing its Sonoma facilities. Together with his wife, Joanne, Russell made several trips to Paso Robles, where he was smitten by the area, finding it ideal for his traditional approach to winemaking. “I immediately became enamored of the climate and soils of the area and knew this is where I wanted to plant grapes and cultivate our wines,” says Russell. In 1996, he and his family completed their first planting as their winery grew to encompass three vineyards comprising over 150 acres. Today, Russell continues to apply his care and skills that have resulted in the sale of more than 3 million cases of wine since launching Rabbit Ridge Winery in 1981, growing a variety of grape varietals on its vineyards.
To create and launch their own labels, the typical two options for businesspeople and celebrities are either to invest in their own winery or partner with an existing winery. For many celebrities venturing into the wine business under these basic scenarios, simply applying their social media platform can be enough to effectively market a brand. Because celebrities bring this impressive marketing prowess to the table, many wineries seek them out to partner on a specific wine, creating another possibility for today’s stars. For executives, proprietary-labeled wines make the perfect premium gift at holiday season or even year-round, or can be brought to market as a way to extend the brand of a company to further consumer awareness or enhance public goodwill.
For executives and celebrities desiring a label of their own without forming these traditional formal partnerships, there are two primary paths—to invest in building out a new winery or to acquire an existing one. Both options require a substantial financial investment.
But now, we at Rabbit Ridge Winery proudly present a third path.
Together with Russell and his extraordinary team of wine professionals, we designed a scenario for executives and companies looking to create their own wine label for business development or to potentially launch in the commercial marketplace for direct sale or through retail.
Wine is a personal endeavor, reflecting the taste and style of its owner. From this philosophy, Russell and I and the Rabbit Ridge family offer a new opportunity for launching a label that includes formulating the wine, trademarking the label, handling all federal, state, and local forms and regulations, helping design the bottle and label, then overseeing all manufacturing and marketing. Together we provide vast winemaking expertise, extensive business experience, a successful marketing track record, superior vineyards, and impressive industrial fermentation tanks, while the executive or company contributes their own vision for the wine and unique professional brand. Under the Rabbit Ridge Winery approach, the company makes an investment that is a fraction of what would be required to build a winery or purchase a vineyard.
No need to rent the facilities that involve all the required machinery and needed manual labor. You will own your grapes, the wine they produce, and the barrels that house the wine. You will have the experience of walking the vineyards, tasting the grapes, picking the leaves, and sorting the fruit.
There is no reason why a businessperson or company drawn to the wine industry for business development or brand cultivation can’t create and market their own label under our unique formula, where a renowned master winemaker and world-class staff assist at every level of creation and production.
To learn more, visit Rabbit Ridge Winery online at rabbitridgewinery.com.
Top Photo: View of the pristine vineyards of Rabbit Ridge Winery and Vineyards. Photo courtesy of Rabbit Ridge Winery.