Jennifer Reichardt comes from a household of entrepreneurs. Her household has been within the meals trade in California since 1901, instilling in her a ardour for exhausting work, respect for agriculture, and an entrepreneurial spirit. Reichardt brings all these qualities to her personal wine model, Raft Wines, whereas persevering with to work together with her father at their family-owned Liberty Ducks, a purveyor of premium duck.
Raft Wines relies in Sonoma County, Calif., however Reichardt sources grapes for her wines from vineyards situated throughout California, together with El Dorado, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Madera Counties. In an trade the place high quality is usually believed to be synonymous with value, Reichardt has been considerate in creating wines that clients will get pleasure from, at value factors that enable them to discover and luxuriate in wine on a common foundation.
VinePair talked with Reichardt about the whole lot from how Raft Wines has fared throughout Covid-19, to how wine firms can attraction to millennials.
[Editor’s note: The interview has been edited for clarity.]
1. What brought on you to shift from focusing in your food-and-restaurant-focused household enterprise to creating your individual wine?
After graduating from faculty, I knew I wished to work within the meals trade broadly, however I wasn’t certain what space I’d give attention to. I labored my first wine harvest internship in 2011 and actually loved the expertise, however nonetheless wasn’t bought on whether or not wine was for me.
I labored my second wine harvest internship at Littorai Wines. I actually loved their winemaking course of, philosophy, and their give attention to agriculture and farming. It was much like my background and the way I grew up within the trade, and it helped me understand that I may make winemaking a profession. So, I continued to be taught and develop by working harvests in the US and the Southern Hemisphere and passing my stage two sommelier examination, all whereas working within the household enterprise in between.
2. Did you all the time know that you just wished to be an entrepreneur?
It advanced over time. In truth, after I went to varsity, I wished to be a physician and was a pre-med main for 2 years earlier than switching majors. Whereas I loved drugs, I wasn’t certain that I used to be keen about it and switched majors after my sophomore yr.
Round that point, I joined my dad at Terra Madre, a global Gradual Meals convention. The main target of the convention that yr was re-engaging youth in farming, agriculture, and meals methods. Being round youth from 120 completely different international locations who had been keen about farming and preserving their heritage and tradition by way of meals actually planted the seeds for me of pursuing my ardour on this trade.
3. What’s the greatest a part of making your individual wine versus working in a bigger operation?
The pliability to experiment with completely different winemaking strategies and grape varieties as a substitute of needing to proceed to carry to a explicit formulation or focus. Thankfully, my buyer base is prepared to attempt new issues as properly, so it offers me with a lot of freedom. That flexibility has been essential in coping with the surprising. Due to the corporate’s dimension, I’m able to experiment with completely different grape varieties and winemaking strategies, and if it doesn’t work, I can dump the wine and check out one thing completely different the subsequent yr.
4. Traditionally, you’ve made wines from obscure grape varieties from a wide selection of California AVAs. Why did you resolve to do that?
I would like my wines to be consumer-friendly — each with respect to the worth level and alcohol ranges — and simply paired with a number of dishes. I make pure wines, and I don’t add something to my wines apart from a little sulfur when bottling. So I additionally need my fruit to be organically farmed at minimal or extra if attainable.
Most of the conventional California grape varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay haven’t been viable choices for me, both as a consequence of value level or as a consequence of farming requirements. However it led me to those comparatively obscure grape varieties in nice vineyards equivalent to Counoise, Viognier, and Picpoul. As a end result, I can provide high-quality wines to my clients within the $23- to-$38 vary.
5. Describe Raft’s model.
I would like Raft wines to be inclusive. There’s something for everyone. We now have a number of completely different wines obtainable, so If you happen to don’t like Syrah, you possibly can attempt the crimson mix, or should you don’t like Viognier, you possibly can attempt the Picpoul Blanc. You may open my wines on a Wednesday night time and never really feel like you might be breaking the financial institution. They’re additionally food-friendly and low-alcohol, which appeals to my clients.
I additionally usually wish to make vineyard-designated wines so I can honor the farmers and the winery growers. I solely have the grapes for a brief period of time, and they’re rising them for the majority of the yr. I need to honor the sense of place of the vineyards and all that the winery growers and farmers convey to the wines.
6. How have you ever been impacted by the fires and Covid-19 this yr?
I assumed my enterprise would have been disaster-proof, since I supply grapes from six completely different counties in California. However lots of these vineyards had been hit by fires at completely different occasions throughout harvest. For instance, the Counoise was misplaced within the Creek Fireplace, so I gained’t be making that varietal this yr.
As a results of the varied losses, my manufacturing was projected to be down nearly one-third for this harvest. That may have been devastating for my enterprise. Fortunately, I could be versatile, so I rapidly pivoted and located some further grapes to assist fill these gaps. There have been a lot of grapes obtainable available in the market, so for the primary time, I’m making some conventional California varietals. The Cabernet Sauvignon got here from Narrow Gate Vineyards, whom I used to be already working with, and the Merlot is from Cole Ranch, which is the smallest American Viticultural Space in the US.
I’m grateful that I began ramping up my direct-to-consumer enterprise final yr, not realizing that this yr was coming. Previous to Covid, I used to be 70 p.c wholesale, largely California Bay Space eating places, and 30 p.c direct-to-consumer. Since Covid hit, I’ve flipped to 70 p.c direct-to-consumer and 30 p.c eating places. Direct-to-consumer transport has saved my enterprise.
7. What’s the way forward for Raft Wines?
This yr marks my fifth harvest, and I really feel like I’m in a clumsy section of the enterprise. Raft Wines is just too massive to be an ultra-boutique vineyard, however it’s not massive sufficient to be thought-about a small vineyard. As a result of I’m solely making round 1,000 circumstances per yr, it’s exhausting to get distribution. However I’d wish to develop to three,000 circumstances a yr within the subsequent few years. I’ll proceed to focus on the $20-to-$30 value level, which I imagine is the expansion space of the wine market.
8. There may be a lot of debate within the wine world about how one can entice millennials to the wine world. As a millennial winemaker, what do you suppose your friends are excited by seeing in wine, and the place do you see the wine enterprise going sooner or later?
Humorous, I used to be simply speaking with a good friend and saying that if I see one other headline or panel speaking about millennial wine drinkers that doesn’t embody millennial winemakers, I’m gonna scream. It’s been irritating to see articles on this subject and so they preserve interviewing the identical extra established voices again and again however not together with millennial winemakers in these discussions. I’m promoting a number of wine to millennials, so I undoubtedly have a perspective.
Finally, millennial wine drinkers need to have one thing enjoyable, straightforward to drink, and handy. Branding is necessary. Millennials have grown up with issues being handy, and so they’re all the time on the lookout for that comfort issue. For instance, wine in a can is exploding as a result of it’s straightforward and handy and could be taken on a hike, to the seashore, or to a cookout.
Wineries want to understand that millennials are of their second recession of their brief careers, so they don’t seem to be in a place to purchase $60, $70, $80, or $200 bottles of wine on a common foundation. Wineries ought to think about how they’re assembly that actuality with what they’re producing. Additionally, model loyalty is probably not as sturdy for millennials. There are such a lot of manufacturers within the market, and folks wish to attempt new issues, so all of us should be ready for that reality. Simply because somebody buys my wines in a single yr, they could not purchase my wines once more subsequent yr. So you will need to make it possible for your model is attracting new clients, whereas nonetheless partaking your present clients.
9. How can wineries attraction to millennial clients?
Even when wineries select to not change their value level or wines, there’s a lot that wines can do to have interaction with millennial customers. They will develop their social media presence. They will attain out and have interaction the youthful market. They will create new video content material and have interaction with influencers. It’s a complete new world, however I feel a little little bit of effort will go a great distance.