Bottlerock a Boon to Wineries

Rombauer gets boost, entrepreneur team scores with festival wine pouch

by Andrew Adams
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Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell takes a swig from a bottle of Rombauer 2009 Carneros Merlot at the start of his performance at the recent Bottlerock festival in downtown Napa, Calif. Source: Erik Castro
Napa, Calif.—A few days after the massive Bottlerock music festival in Napa, staff at some of the wineries that participated were a bit groggy but still singing the praises of the event.

They said they enjoyed the music but also benefited from brisk sales and getting their brand in front of a whole new set of customers. One winery in particular enjoyed some rock-star publicity at the event, which ran from May 8-12.

John Egan, sales operations manager for 75,000-case Rombauer Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif., said he was working in the winery’s tent on Saturday afternoon “when my phone just started to blow up.”

Unbeknownst to Egan but Perry Farrell, lead singer from Jane’s Addiction, was up on the main stage of the festival taking swigs from a bottle of Rombauer and commenting on it being a wine from a great year.

“I didn’t do anything, I had no idea,” Egan said of Farrell’s impromptu tasting. He said Bottlerock staff had requested wineries provide some wine for the performers’ area backstage. Being rather warm that Saturday, Egan sent over some chilled whites. He didn’t even know there was any red Rombauer backstage, but somehow a bottle found its way into Farrell’s hands and the musician liked it enough to bring it onstage.

Well organized for a first year
Egan said he’s participated in enough festivals to know it’s never wise to make big plans for an inaugural event. He kept his plans relatively modest for Bottlerock just to see if the event organizers could pull it off.

Early in the festival planning stages, there was some confusion on permits but that was quickly cleared up when the Cindy Pawlcyn restaurant and catering company, which was also coordinating food service at the festival, assumed the beverage permit. That meant wineries sold their wines to the caterer, which in turn sold it to consumers.

But it also meant that winery staff couldn’t serve the wines and instead had to rely on Bottlerock staff and volunteers. Egan said there was some initial confusion to get proper staffing in place and trained but it ultimately came together. “I had a couple of people in who worked in my tent who were rock stars,” he said. Egan estimated the winery sold 80 to 95 cases during the festival.

Wineries paid a range of $5,000 to $15,000 or more depending on the size of their tasting area and level of brand publicity. Some smaller wineries shared tasting tent space for example, while Miner Family Winery sponsored an entire stage.

Egan said Rombauer doesn’t advertise and picks the events it participates in carefully. Bottlerock presented an opportunity to connect the brand to younger people at their type of event. “If they’re doing it next year, we’re in.”

Wineries up for another year
Bottlerock announced it would be back next year, albeit for just three days from May 9 to 11 and presale three day passes are already on sale for $329. Napa city officials, however, have said they want to have detailed discussions with organizers before letting the event happen in 2014.

It would appear that many of the 39 wineries that participated this year would welcome the return of the festival.

Amelia Moran Ceja, owner and president of Ceja Vineyards winery located on the Napa County side of the Carneros AVA said the event was simply amazing.

The small, family-owned winery makes 10,000 cases a year and Ceja said they shared a tent space with other vintners and the Chelsea Prince the author of Rock & Vine, which profiles the next generation of the wine industry including Dalia Ceja, the daughter of Amelia Ceja and the winery’s director of sales and marketing.

She said she and her staff decorated the tent space in a quirky, fashionable style for a younger crowd and it turned out to be a hit with people of all generations. She said she sold 38 cases of wine at the festival.

Ceja said a few members of her own staff became temporary employees with the Pawlcyn restaurant group so that they could serve Ceja wines themselves. In addition to selling wine, Ceja said she was able to hand out passes for a visit to the winery’s tasting room in downtown Napa in the hopes that those who tried Ceja wines at the festival would visit there on a return trip to Napa.

She said the food and wine would have been enough of a draw for a festival on their own. Adding in top-flight music and Napa’s perfect spring weather made for wonderful event. “It was absolutely a complete success and it was so well orchestrated.”

Getting the pouch to the show
One of the more popular concession items at the festival was a single serve pouch emblazoned with the Bottlerock logo. Selling for $11, the 375ml pouches were available with a red blend or 100% Chardonnay.

The pouches were the brainchild of Michael Jennaro and Bruce Regalia, a consulting winemaker for Clif Family Winery & Farm and other Napa Valley wineries.

Jennaro, who is a director of procurement for Trinchero Family Estates, said he’d been thinking about launching a wine product targeted toward young consumers for some time. He found smaller sizes of the Astropouch product at this year’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium and he thought it had potential. “I had always wanted to do my own wine thing that would be really geared for young people,” he said.

Several months later, he was discussing ideas for the pouch with his wife who was part of the Bottlerock staff when they realized it could be a good fit for the concert. She arranged a pitch meeting with the producers who gave Jennaro the green light even if, he admits, they weren’t totally in love with the idea.

That also left Jennaro and Regalia eight weeks to deliver the product.

House Band Wines company, which launched last year, already offers a red and white wine in a screwtop pouch. The company buys its pouches through the New Orleans-based company Big Easy Blends, which uses them for ready-to-drink cocktails.

Jennaro would be using an Astropouch product that was new to the United States. It meant he had to develop some basics, like the shipping cases, from scratch. Jennaro and Regalia worked with another party to build a custom-filling machine they installed at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, Calif.

Even after allowing for extra time for filling, the partners just managed to get the 240 cases to Napa on Tuesday before the concert started on Wednesday. When the pouches arrived, Jennaro said they festival beverage staff also were a bit skeptical but that soon changed as young revelers snapped up the pouches and began posting pictures of them on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. By Saturday the entire run of about 5,800 pouches had been sold.

Jennaro said he and Regalia put about $10,000 into the pouches but that they’re still waiting to settle all the billing and costs with Bottlerock to see how the project fared. Just conceiving and delivering on the product, however, has Jennaro feeling confident. He said he’s been in touch with organizers of the Outside Lands festival scheduled for Aug. 9-11 at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. “You tell people it’s the adult juice box and you can see they totally get it,” he said.

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