Along a small stretch of Highway 12 in the Carneros region of Sonoma County, there will soon be an interesting test case of how Wine Country handles the changing consumer preferences in the growing market of craft beer, cider and spirits.
Ceja Vineyards, one of the most notable Latino-owned wineries in the area, will open its tasting room Nov. 7 in a small complex near its vineyards after recently closing its Napa store.
While the opening of a new tasting room is a regular occurrence in Napa and Sonoma counties, the move is especially interesting because Ceja Vineyards is moving right next door to its sister company, Carneros Brewing Co., which is rapidly growing a strong reputation in the craft beer community for its quality low-alcohol selections that are different from most of the hoppy beers around the North Coast.
Amelia Morán Ceja, president of Ceja Vineyards, said the move was an easy decision given that the winery wanted to move back to its Carneros roots, and that as much as two-thirds of its Napa visitors would later visit the Carneros brewpub based on her staff’s recommendation.
“You should have heard (customers) talk daily: ‘But my husband likes beer and we’re looking for it because we are tired of just drinking wine,’” Ceja said.
The winery produces about 8,000 cases per year and has plans to eventually grow to 20,000 cases along with building a new mission-style tasting room at its Napa County property.
The Carneros property already has a beer garden complete with hop trellises and a barbecue pit, and Ceja noted the possibility of having gourmet taco trucks as well to serve food. In addition, the family may have another future tenant, Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka.
Ceja said the mix reminded her of a vacation she took to Nantucket two years ago where a winery, brewpub and spirits facility were located around gourmet food trucks, making for an eclectic mix of crowds and tastes. “I was very impressed and intrigued when I saw that concept,” she said.
The move is also noteworthy as the wine industry faces an increasingly competitive marketplace in alcoholic beverages and a millennial demographic that is less brand-loyal and seeks interesting experiences. During the first six months of this year, the U.S. wine market increased 1.5 percent. By comparison, craft beer grew by 18 percent and cider jumped 69 percent during the same period.
From a business perspective, wine and beer have not traditionally mixed on a scale outside of large multinationals that allow them to operate independently, such as Constellation Brands Inc., which distributes Mexican beers in the United States and owns local wineries such as Robert Mondavi and Simi.
For example, Benziger Family Winery in early 1999 closed down its Sonoma Mountain Brewery due to lack of profits. In fact, a Benziger executive cautioned the Cejas not to go into the beer business, said Armando Ceja, the winemaker for Ceja Vineyards, who also founded Carneros Brewing Co. with his brothers Manuel, Jesus and Pedro, Amelia’s husband, and their families.
“Just because you can make wine doesn’t mean you can make beer. … Just because you sell wine doesn’t mean you sell beer,” said Rob McMillan, executive vice president of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division. “They’re very different products.”