Ownroot Collective a cheerleader for California micro-wineries
When winemakers Corrine Rich and Katie Rouse launched Birdhorse Wines in 2018, their biggest challenge was figuring out how to push their brand’s visibility to reach audiences beyond friends and family.
It’s a quandary facing many winemakers starting on the path of building their own wine brand, often a passion project they nurtured on the side while learning the trade at established wineries.
Rich and Rouse found help with Ownroot Collective, a Napa-based company founded by wine industry entrepreneur Terra Jane Albee that works with small wineries to get their bottles in front of customers.
“Ownroot is a like megaphone for small wineries,” Rich said. “Working with Terra Jane has been incredible. She brought us into the fold and connected us with customers who believe in her mission and trust her wine recommendations. There is no higher referral than that.”
Rich, assistant winemaker at Scribe Winery in Sonoma, and Rouse, assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma, produce about 1,000 cases at Birdhorse. They focus on lesser-known wine regions and uncommon varietals, like valdiguié, cinsault and verdelho.
“As a winemaker, it’s incredibly important for me to help diversify consumers’ palates,” Rich said. “Terra works with a tremendous variety of brands and varietals. That has been huge for us.”
Elevating the unknown
Ownroot Collective, which Albee founded in 2020, is an online wine subscription service on a mission to elevate some of the best undiscovered micro-wineries in California. What sets the platform apart is that the wines are made by winemakers who have day jobs elsewhere in the industry.
Rich and Rouse are among a growing number of up-and-coming winemakers with side projects close to their hearts. Many make wine for some of the region’s top wineries, like Bedrock Wine, Scribe Winery, Thumbprint Cellars and Quintessa. But they’re not financially ready, just yet, to give up their day jobs to focus full-time on their personal brands.
Albee, who has a background in wine marketing, wine clubs and direct-to-consumer sales, said she had grown weary of seeing talented, independent winemakers go unnoticed. When the pandemic hit, she was contemplating her next career move when friends introduced her to their newly released wine.
“It was the classic tale,” Albee said. “The wine was delicious, but no one would ever hear about it. They hadn’t announced its release. They didn’t have a mailing list. They didn’t even know who they would send the announcement to. They had launched a wine brand but didn’t know what to do next. It was so screwed up that no one would ever hear about that wine.”
That summer, Albee said, she couldn’t let her frustration go. And she was beginning to fall out of love with the wine industry.
“That’s when I decided I had to do something,” Albee said. “I had to help these winemakers.”
Soon thereafter, she launched Ownroot to promote tiny wine brands and the unknown winemakers behind the labels. She compiled a list of 25 winemakers who had a winemaking project on the side, then built a digital wine club membership with a monthly fee of $8.95 and with no minimum wine purchase required.
Today, Ownroot features three winemakers every two weeks, with a single wine highlighted from each. Every wine on the Ownroot site has been vetted and approved by a panel of three sommeliers and must meet Albee’s four requirements: that it be refreshing, balanced and interesting and over-deliver for its price.
“An important part of my ethos is that we never criticize a wine we’re reviewing for Ownroot, even if it’s ultimately not a good fit for us,” Albee said. “People have put a lot of effort and soul into making these wines, and I want to respect that.”
Since 2020, Albee has featured about 60 winemakers from regions throughout California, including Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Mendocino County, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County. She said she’s never had a problem finding new winemakers to feature, as every winemaker knows at least three others making their own wine.
Winemaker Luke Nio of Filomena Wine Co. in ... said many winemakers with side projects focus on obscure varietals to stand out from the masses.
“The biggest challenge with making wine with obscure grapes is that they’re unfamiliar to most consumers. It can be a lot of work to get the wines into their glass,” Nio said.
“Ownroot gives us a platform to do virtual tastings, so we can talk directly to consumers about the wines. And it’s worked. We’ve seen solid retention after being featured on Ownroot.”
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