Jess Jackson's wine empire just got even bigger. On the heels of purchasing Legacy Estates last August for $97 million, the Kendall-Jackson founder, who owns and operates Jackson Family Farms with wife Barbara Banke and other family members, is investing "millions more" to launch White Rocket Wine Company, a new Napa, Calif.-based enterprise focused on younger and more adventurous wine drinkers.
"We want to start from scratch to create brands that serve the new wine consumers of the Millennial generation," said Jackson in a release.
White Rocket president Gary Glass said that the wines will be produced with grapes from various parts of California, including Sonoma, Napa, the Central Coast, Lodi and Paso Robles. Other specifics are still under wraps, but Glass said that the company is exploring proprietary techniques to make new wine styles, and they're looking for ways to appeal to demographics such as the Hispanic market that have been largely untapped by the wine industry. To target twentysomethings, for example, White Rocket could produce a wine that's only sold at hip restaurants along the lines of Simon LA in Los Angeles and Slanted Door in San Francisco.
"Kendall-Jackson, which is a superpremium brand, is kind of like your BMW or Lexus," explained Glass. "White Rocket is trying to go out there and create brands that might be more like a BMW Mini or a VW Beetle, where the brand is immediately known for being of high quality but … the car or brand has a personality to it and lets [consumers] express their own individuality."
White Rocket's first new wine is expected to be released in the next six months. The company will also incorporate some of Jackson Family Farms' existing brands, including Camelot, Dog House and Tin Roof--all examples of White Rocket's concept because "they speak about wine in a fresh and inviting way," said Glass.
The concept of so-called "fun" wines is catching on, explained John Gillespie, who has conducted research on Millennials for the Wine Market Council and owns consumer-research firm Wine Opinions. When the company surveyed 562 consumers and trade members in March 2006, they discovered that "satisfaction levels were quite high" with 14 brands, such as Red Truck, Big House, Smoking Loon, Red Bicyclette and Goats do Roam. "I think that consumers are nodding their heads yes and saying, 'I get [the concept of fun wines]. It fits into my expectations of what I want to have around the house for just casual occasions,'" added Gillespie.
Millennials, the segment of the population born in the 1980s and 90s and reaching adulthood after 2000, account for 26 percent of the U.S. population. They're drinking wine at an earlier age than Baby Boomers did, according to a 2005 study by the Wine Market Council, a trade organization of winemakers, importers, retailers and others. Additionally, Glass noted, they're choosing noble varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon over the white Zinfandel that their parents drank. They're also often willing to pay more than their parents did--around $10--for their first bottle of wine.
"Consumers in general have traded up many aspects of their shopping experiences and they have done so on a large scale," said Glass, who helped develop other "fun" wine brands such as Monkey Bay and Three Blind Moose, during his time as vice president of marketing for the Centerra division of Constellation Wines US, the world's largest wine company. (He left there in June 2006.) "No longer is it a 50-cent cup of coffee, but $3 for a Starbucks espresso drink. We have moved from Levi's and jeans that were an everyday casual item to expensive designer jeans."
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