Posted on | February 23, 2015
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
On the 40th anniversary of White Zin, iconic Sutter Home remains more relevant than ever.
Many historic brands have ridden the wave of America’s booming wine consumption, as the U.S. has catapulted its way to first place among all wine-consuming nations in the world. Yet few brands have been as instrumental in creating that boom as Sutter Home.
“It started in 1972,” recalls Roger Trinchero, CEO, Trinchero Family Estates. “While trying to make a more intense red Zinfandel, my brother Bob removed some free run juice before fermentation. The almost clear juice was fermented separately and the result was the first White Zinfandel wine.” That “stuck fermentation” was poured only at the tasting room at first, where it became a surprise hit; 1975 was the year it went national and was credited with changing the way Americans consume wine.
Vital & Growing
Fast-forward four decades and Sutter Home remains one of the best-selling wine brands in the world, with a portfolio of 21 different varieties. “One of the reasons this brand is so strong is that it succeeded in taking some of the mystery out of wine for the consumer,” explains Bob Torkelson, President, Trinchero Family Estates. “Sutter Home has enormous power with consumers, who remain very committed to it as a go-to brand.”
Some in the trade may seem to detect a softening in Sutter Home, Torkelson admits, yet the reality is quite the opposite: “As categories like White Zinfandel or Moscato become soft, there is a perception that Sutter Home sales are down, but with varieties like Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Chardonnay, we continue to gain share. Across the franchise, we are incredibly strong and growing.”
And don’t be too quick to dismiss White Zin, he adds; although it’s not increasing, it remains a massive category. “The White Zinfandel space is very consolidated as there are just a few players. For those of us still left, it’s a very big business,” Torkelson says.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
While the accidental invention of White Zinfandel might be seen as a lucky break (internally, it’s referred to as “the Divine Intervention”), Sutter Home’s track record is a testament to over-delivering on quality and quickly responding to the changing needs of the evolving wine consumer.
Sutter Home Moscato kick-started the Moscato craze, and not only was the brand the first-to-market with flavored Moscatos, Sutter Home remains a top-three brand in Moscato, Pink Moscato and Red Moscato. The company helped build the Sweet Red category, and has just released a dry Sutter Home Red Blend with a bold new package. “The red blend category is on fire, growing six times as fast as the wine category overall, up 17% since last year,” says Torkelson. “We are hoping to replicate what we have seen with Ménage à Trois Midnight for Sutter Home.”
The undisputed king of single-serve, Sutter Home pioneered and now dominates the 187ml business with over 50% market share. “Over time we have seen a shift in the way that people use wine, and a migration towards portability,” Torkelson shares. This spring, Sutter Home will unveil its first 500ml in Tetra Pak, which is seen partly as a way to protect the company’s 187ml business, as well as open up the category to younger drinkers.
“We help to encourage wine consumption in places or situations where wine isn’t typically there,” Torkelson says of the brand’s underlying strategy. In addition to innovation, this means running relevant programs that help the retailer sell more wine, like tailgating-themed merchandising programs, and the wildly successful Build a Better Burger contest, now in
its 25th year.
With sights set firmly on the future, Trinchero will take a moment to look back this summer to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of White Zinfandel. Look for a limited-edition label to commemorate the birthday. “It’s important for us to remind the consumer that we are an authentic brand—we are the original,” says Torkelson. Brands that can evolve with the times are the ones that will endure, he adds: “We must grow where the consumer is at. If we can do that, and deliver more quality for the dollar, the brand will thrive for many decades to come.”