Vine Talk: The new world of wineries without borders

Tue May 4, 2010 10:33am EDT
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By Edward Deitch

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Jerry Douglas has grand plans for Biltmore Estate, which is already one of the most visited wineries in the United States.

"The world is our vineyard in a lot of ways," the senior vice president of wine operations tells me in a gentle drawl that suggests the American South.

"We want to have a more global perspective from a marketing standpoint and a production standpoint."

Biltmore is not alone. For a growing number of American wine companies, it's not so much about selling what grows in their vineyards (if, in fact, they have their own vineyards) but developing or expanding a brand that connects with consumers.

New York-based Oriel Wines sells more than two dozen "artisanal" wines from eight countries under the Oriel label, giving them names like "Iconic" and "Midnight Rambler" and "Femme Fatale" and emphasizing their individuality by putting the names of their winemakers on the labels. Priced from $15 to $75, I have found some of them to be exceptional.

In California, winemaker John Buechsenstein and several partners "were absolutely smitten with a varietal, namely sauvignon blanc," as Buechsenstein explains it. So they built a business around the grape, called it Sauvignon Republic and found superb examples from New Zealand, South Africa and California's Russian River Valley. They sold seven vintages until the company became a victim of the recession late last year.

California-based Cupcake Vineyards, created two and a half years ago by Underdog Wine Merchants, offers wines from California's Central Coast, an especially good 2009 Washington state dry riesling, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a malbec from Argentina and sparkling wine from France's Loire Valley. All are priced at $14-$16.

Except for some grapes from California vineyards it owns, Cupcake purchases the rest of its fruit from growers in various regions.   Continued...

<p>Vineyards at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina are seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/The Biltmore Company/Handout</p>