Vintner on the Move: A Live Chat with Joe Wagner

The ambitious California producer takes a break from his many projects to chat about his climb to the top and plans for the future

Vintner on the Move: A Live Chat with Joe Wagner
Joe Wagner believes his winery can excel during the pandemic by seeking out new customers. (Colin Price)
Jun 9, 2020

Joe Wagner shook up the California wine scene when he created one of America’s most popular Pinot Noir brands, Meiomi, and then sold it for $315 million a decade later. But how did the industrious young vintner get to where he is today? And what has he been working on since he sold the brand?

Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth caught up with the fifth-generation vintner and CEO of Copper Cane Wines & Provisions to discuss those topics and more in the June 4 edition of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, an Instagram series sponsored by Wine Access.

Speaking from his cellar in Rutherford, Calif., Wagner said he caught the wine bug early on while working in the vineyards at his family’s winery, Caymus Vineyards. “I fell in love with the agricultural part of it first and foremost,” he said. After a stint growing table grapes in Mexico, he spent a summer planting the family’s first Pinot Noir vineyard on the Sonoma Coast for Belle Glos.

While he doesn’t have a formal education in winemaking, Wagner said he learned on the job and from his father, vintner Chuck Wagner. “He would always encourage experimentation,” Joe said. The younger Wagner came up with the idea for Meiomi, a Pinot Noir sourced from multiple appellations, in 2002, as an “exposure wine” to introduce wine drinkers to California Pinot. “I felt at the time it was a huge risk because I really felt that everybody expected a vineyard designation on every Pinot Noir that came out.”

Since selling Meiomi, Wagner has focused on his other brands, including Belle Glos, Elouan and Böen. He’s also focusing on expanding vineyard holdings. “I’m glad to be more entrenched again in the fine wine world, with the ability to grow more of our own fruit and be able to create a few more brands,” Wagner said. His goal is to continue planting vineyards in California’s coastal regions each year.

A self-described optimist, Wagner sees a bright future for wine despite current events. “We are planning to continue to grow through this period,” he said, noting that the winery is pivoting its focus from restaurants to retail and direct-to-consumer sales using social media. “We are seeing more engagement with the younger generation and their curiosity about wine.”

Watch the full episode with Wagner on Wine Spectator's' IGTV channel, and tune in to @wine_spectator on Instagram to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET.

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