Growing wine, not making it. And creating an amazing place for people to work.
It sounds simple, but the drive to build Texas’s wine reputation by sticking to these two goals is what the owners of Lost Draw Cellars in Fredericksburg, Texas and William Chris Vineyards in Hye, Texas say led them to make their longtime working relationship official. The wineries now comprise William Chris Wines, and the owners are optimistic the move will give the new company some horsepower as it works to help build the reputation of Texas’s developing wine industry.
“These are two primary focuses of our company which have brought us to this place,” said William Chris Wines CEO Chris Brundrett, who co-founded William Chris Vineyards in 2008. “Right now there is a need for more leadership from wine companies in our state. Building Texas up by promoting and improving our growing regions is something that needs more focus from its key players. We want to help guide the state’s wine industry towards becoming a legitimate, recognized winegrowing region.
“We’re still a bit dismayed by some wine companies in our region depending on out-of-state bulk wine for their business models. We as an industry and a region have to grow out of that behavior to be taken seriously, in our opinion. The good news is there is a huge crop of new wine producers in Texas that are equally focused on making this happen. The even-better news is there is a tidal wave of consumers who are driving this market change. They are pushing for regionality with their buying decisions.
“The wineries that do not pay attention to this currently will have to adapt if they want those types of consumers. Like any direct-to-consumer driven wine region we have a unique mix of serious enthusiasts, collectors, and weekend warriors. Throw in a bunch of proud and thirsty Texans looking for local brands and products and you’ve got the recipe for a wide market.”
The partnership between Lost Draw and Wiliiam Chris had been fermenting for a couple of years before the merger.
Prior to the October announcement of its new parent company, Lost Draw and William Chris had been splitting vineyard blocks in Central Texas and the Texas High Plains as a way to maximize buying power, controlling more acreage and developing long-term relationships with farmers.
“Quite frankly, both wineries had already begun pooling fruit lots and production for a couple of years as a way to help ensure the needs of both wineries’ programs were met through various vintages,” said COO Andrew Sides, who co-founded Lost Draw.
The branding of the new parent company will be used in a trade and industry setting, Brundrett said. The cellar teams will continue to learn and model the techniques of each winemaker to befit those distinct wine programs. From a marketing standpoint, preserving the identities of the individual wine brands and continuing to tell their stories remains a key strategy.
“The right balance of marketing will be a process,” Brundrett explained. “We have been using the analogy of ‘switching caps’ when representing our portfolio of brands, and again, we do want the customer experience and relationship with each brand to remain unique, so the distribution and marketing will often reflect that.”
Joining forces on the business side allows each wine brand under the William Chris Wines to benefit from a beefed up management team.
“We’re working through the transition and right now everyone has had to “level up” and let go of some things, which, while challenging, has been really great for the organization,” Brundrett said, “And we are starting to gain traction.”
As COO of William Chris Wines, Sides is working with Lost Draw winemaker Brad Buckelew, managing company-wide logistics and operations, and directing all production and wholesale programs. That allows existing COO Anthony Harvell to focus on direct-to-consumer sales for the entire company. As CEO, Brundrett will focus on leading the executive team and working with William Chris Vineyards and Skeleton Key winemaker Tony Offill.
Sides said paring down William Chris’s overall wholesale portfolio to provide focus for programs within each brand is necessary from a distribution perspective.
“We don’t want to compete with ourselves across the market, so we have strived to give each wholesale wine its own opportunity to shine,” Sides said. “And to be honest, for us to make the best wine possible, we need to focus on making fewer wines. We produce wines from over 100 blocks, but we don’t need to make 100 SKUs. We need to produce 20-40 amazing, elegant, focused wines.
“Who knows, in three years we could be down to 10 wines across our wholesale program. As an example of the synergistic overlap: LDC has always had a heavy focus on Tempranillo so it has been great to slide some of the Temp that WCV has contracted into the LDC programs since WCV’s focus will remain on other varieties such as Mourvèdre.
“In the end, our wholesale and marketing teams have grown significantly, which allows us to really drill down and work towards our immediate goal of spreading our portfolio all over the state and beyond.”