Gruet, known for making outstanding sparkling wines and for being the most recognizable name in New Mexico wine, has formed a partnership with Precept Brands of Seattle, one of the Pacific Northwest's largest wine companies. Gruet and Precept executives hope the arrangement will allow the sparkling house to take its business to the next level while allowing winemaker Laurent Gruet to focus on winemaking.
“We don’t have a sparkling program," said Andrew Browne, CEO of Precept. "And Gruet has done a fantastic job over the last quarter of a century getting their wines into fine retailers and restaurateurs around the country. We always talk about price-to-value ratios, and we really felt that across the whole product range at Gruet, every wine felt like that ratio was right.”
Precept is not buying a stake in Gruet. With annual production of 125,000 cases and a fairly robust distribution network in all 50 states, Gruet's management didn’t see the need to sell. But they felt they have reached the point where a small team can only do so much. Precept will offer back-end support such as sales, marketing and managerial assistance while Laurent will focus solely on winemaking.
Gruet was founded in 1983, when Gilbert Gruet, his wife, Danielle, son Laurent and daughter Nathalie were traveling through the southwest when they met a small band of winemakers who had planted vineyards in the town of Engle, about 170 miles south of Albuquerque. The land was inexpensive and Gilbert saw that there was little to lose. In 1984, he planted an experimental vineyard of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes at an elevation of 4,300 feet.
Laurent and Nathalie moved to the area to oversee the new venture, harvesting their first fruit in 1987 and making the wine in the méthode traditionelle developed in Champagne. Today they produce nine different bottlings of sparkling wine as well as three still wines: Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah. The wines have earned very good to outstanding scores from Wine Spectator and the Blanc de Noirs NV made the 2011 Top 100 list.
“They’ve been focused on making world-class sparkling wine since 1989, and they were looking for a partner to take them to that next level, someone who could allow them to grow and return their focus to the winemaking," said Browne. “Nothing will change, organizationally, at Gruet. Everyone’s coming along. But what will happen in the next six months is that their sales team will go from about three or four to over 40, nationally.”
Browne cofounded Precept in 2003, looking to build a portfolio of quality, well-priced wines, mostly by acquiring promising brands. It's now the largest privately held wine company in the northwest.