One of the biggest drinks industry success stories in 2011 expands to wine next month. Skinnygirl will introduce three low-calorie California wines priced at $15 each: a red blend made primarily with Syrah, a white blend made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, and a rosé blend featuring Grenache and Syrah. Each of the 2011 vintage wines will check in at 12 percent alcohol and 100 calories per 5-ounce serving.
The Skinnygirl brand is the brainchild of entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel, who parlayed her fame as one of the original Real Housewives of New York into multiple reality spin-off series on Bravo, three books and a career focused on healthy living. Skinnygirl became one of the fastest-growing brands in the spirits industry on the strength of its flagship low-calorie ready-to-drink margarita, introduced in 2009.
The Skinnygirl margarita hit 90,000 cases sold in 2010, according to Impact Databank, leading to Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc.'s purchase of the brand in March 2011. (The sale price was not disclosed.) Last year, sales of the margarita, sangria and white cranberry cosmo jumped to 595,000 cases. Frankel, who remains the face of the brand following the sale, was influential in determining the final blends and flavor profiles of the new line of wines.
"I wanted [Skinnygirl] to taste approachable, not too dry and not too sweet, a very drinkable blend," Frankel told Wine Spectator. "I'm not a wine snob—I've found great wines at Trader Joe's. I didn't want this brand to try to be something it's not."
The wines are made by the Winery Exchange, headquartered in Novato, Calif., under the direction of winemaker Kurt Lorenzi, who worked closely with both Frankel and Beam to create the blends. "We developed several concepts, looking at categories of wines that should fit for the Skinnygirl consumer, and we settled on blends, [which] allow for great personalization of the style," said Lorenzi. "It's important in the first vintage to set the blend style," he added, explaining that the grapes for Skinnygirl come from all over California to facilitate creating a distinct flavor profile and style that can be reproduced year after year regardless of vintage variations.
According to Beam president Bill Newlands, the Skinnygirl line of wines is poised to capitalize on the brand's already-established core of loyal consumers—largely health-conscious women ages 30 to 39—and a current focus on convenience (screw caps, ready-to-drink cocktails) as well as a desire for lower calorie, lower alcohol wines. The wine's lower caloric content and 12 percent alcohol is controlled by a combination of grape variety selection and ripeness at harvest. "We look to manage the fermentation process and when and how we harvest grapes to make sure that we're getting good ripeness but not overly ripe, and the Skinnygirl wines certainly show balance," said Lorenzi. "The goal is good flavor and good balance without overly high alcohol."
Is 100 calories a glass really low-calorie? Actually, the average caloric content of most wines is 100 calories per 5 ounce glass, according to past estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the content can vary widely, with higher alcohol wines, red wines and wines with residual sugar approaching 120 calories a glass. But Skinnygirl will certainly be one of the only wines actively promoting its caloric content.
According to a source with the company, the initial run is about 200,000 cases. Expect to see the wines soon, as a major ad campaign is scheduled to begin in late April including television, digital and print advertising. "It's a great gift to bring to someone's house that they're not going to be embarrassed by, they can cook with it, they can pair it with any good meal and they're getting value—it's a good-tasting wine," Frankel said. "I'm proud of it."