Monday, May 6, 2013

Whole Foods Markets - The One Wine Brand

Wine lovers in Southern California - and in other wine regions in the US - get some very special treatment from Whole Foods Markets.  That grocery chain has worked with a number of Central Coast vintners in recent years to produce special wines for their customers.  Six wines from the cellars of notable Central Coast winemakers have recently been added to the shelves at WFM.

Whole Foods Market partners with Santa Barbara County and San Diego County vintners to bring another vintage of the "One Wine" custom blends.  Teaming up with vineyards including Ampelos Cellars, Fallbrook Winery, Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Winery and Margerum Wine Company, Whole Foods Market Southern California stores are stocked with the latest from this collaborative label for a limited time.

The latest edition of One Wine labels include a Pinot Gris, a white blend, and a variety of rosés and red wines.  So far, Whole Foods Market's One Wine collaborations have delivered 29 handcrafted wines from Santa Barbara County, Paso Robles and Temecula wine country.  Vernon Kindred, winemaker at Fallbrook Winery, sums it up best:  "This entire process has been more than just creating a new wine - it's been a celebration of culture, location and the fruits of our labor."

I spoke recently with Roger Fawcett, the Southern Pacific region wine buyer for Whole Foods Market.  He was ebullient on the topic of the WFM One Wine program.

The One Wine brand began five years ago as a line called A Collaboration, in which several winemakers combined to create a special wine to be sold at Whole Foods Market.  Fawcett told me that One Wine grew from the relationships WFM already had with winemakers in California’s Central Coast.  The idea of producing a wine different from the ones they already offered appealed to the winemakers and they were off and running.

Fawcett likens the process of selecting the blends for the One Wine line to that of an artist selecting colors from his pallette.  “We were able to cherry-pick the best of the best barrels out of the cellar to paint the best picture we could.  Thanks to our relationships with the winemakers, we were able to negotiate great prices for such amazing juice and bring some incredible blends to our customers at prices lower than if they were bottled under the name of the winery.”

The process of finding the right blend for each wine is a team effort.  Fawcett says WFM team members gather in a room full of beakers to blend, taste and cast votes on their favorites.  The winemakers are involved, too, and he says it is sometimes the winemaker who submits the winning blend.  That doesn’t seem too surprising.

Fawcett says the experience benefits the team members the most.  “They get to see the nuances of how it’s blended, and how adding one percent of this or two percent of that makes a huge difference in the outcome of the wine.  They can then communicate this knowledge to our customers.”

There are over 200 Whole Foods Markets nationwide in which beer and wine can be sold, and Fawcett says that in Southern California there are a dozen which carry spirits.  He adds that SoCal shoppers now have over almost twenty Whole Foods Market stores in which wine bars are located.  A few of them even offer cocktails.

Southern California is a natural region for a project like One Wine, but Fawcett explains that other areas are similarly blessed with a local wine industry.  “Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, New York State, Texas and North Carolina all collaborate with their respective wine communities in their own ways.”

Pairing wine and food is a serious matter with the wine folks at WFM - take a look at the wine section of their website and you’ll find quite a few recipes there, too.  Fawcett says the loca-wine movement came long before the locavore movement, but that WFM is ready to satisfy their customers’ desire for locally sourced wines.  “Wine drinkers want good quality wine and in Southern California, we are lucky enough to have access to some great wine growing regions.

“We really strive to satisfy our customers and concentrate on what they’re asking for.  We get great feedback from the customers.”  Engagement with the customer is also important - WFM sponsors real-time Twitter tastings (#WFMWine) periodically which are lively and entertaining.

Whole Foods Market stores where wine is available have specials on tap featuring rosés for Mother’s Day and Cabs for Father’s Day, while some of the locations with wine bars are even planning some winemaker dinners.  Fawcett says the average price of a five-course winemaker dinner at a WFM location is about $30, and that includes the wine.  “It’s a great way to get people in and educate them on wine in a way that’s enjoyable and affordable.”

The six newest One Wine creations are available at WFM stores in Southern California for a limited time:

One Wine Ampelos Cellars Rosé ($19.99; sale price $17.99)
One Wine Fallbrook Winery Tuscan Blend Red Wine ($19.99; sale price $15.99)
One Wine Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Winery Red ($14.99) and Rosé ($14.99)
One Wine Margerum Wine Company Pinot Gris ($19.99; sale price $15.99)
One Wine Margerum Wine Company White Table Wine ($19.99; sale price $15.99)

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