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For a Family Winery, Marketing Proves as Crucial as the Grapes - New York Times 12/8/09 1:10 PM

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For a Family Winery, Marketing Advertisement

Proves as Crucial as the Grapes
By LAURA NOVAK
Published: November 16, 2005 E-Mail This
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Sonoma, Calif. Reprints
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IF the dusty driveway in
this flat, inelegant swath
of wine country was a
deterrent, you couldn't tell
from the man in the
Maybach. As cicadas buzzed and a pile driver in a
neighbor's yard pounded in the heat, the gentleman backed
his sparkling Mercedes-Benz up to a barn door at the
Robledo Family Winery, filled the trunk with cases of wine
and said simply, "I buy it every year because it's so good."
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buy any bottle he wants. Go to Complete List

But the customer allegiance
is even more critical for small producers lacking the
finances and sales acumen to push their wines into the
crowded marketplace. They must find creative ways to
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For a Family Winery, Marketing Proves as Crucial as the Grapes - New York Times 12/8/09 1:10 PM

crowded marketplace. They must find creative ways to
brand themselves and build consumer demand. And that
burden can be even tougher for the growing number of
Mexican-owned wineries gathering notice.

"People are just starting to learn about these winemakers,"
said Sandra Gonzalez, founder of Vino Con Vida, a
company that promotes Hispanic food, wine and culture.
"They have the knowledge, skill and passion to make
world-class wines, and they want to showcase it."

The Robledo Family Winery in the Carneros appellation of
Sonoma has emerged as one of the better known of about a
dozen vineyards and wineries in Sonoma and Napa
Counties owned by Mexican immigrants. It has achieved
this partly by recognizing that the story of the family
patriarch, Reynaldo Robledo, a former migrant worker who
lived in a labor camp, is as compelling as the fruit inside
the bottle.

"I worked six days a week for $1.10 an hour," Mr. Robledo
said about his arrival here. Sundays, he worked for $1.50
an hour. Whatever he made during the week, he gave to his
father. Sunday's pay he kept for himself.

Within months after arriving from the Mexican state of
Michoacán in 1968, Mr. Robledo, who is now 53, was
managing his father, uncles and other migrant workers,
sending earnings home to his mother and 12 siblings. His
knack for pruning caught the eyes of prestigious
winemakers, who eventually put Mr. Robledo in charge of
hundreds of workers and even sent him to France to teach
pruning techniques.

In 1984, Mr. Robledo bought his first 13 acres in Carneros
for $126,000. He has since bought or leased six other farms
in Napa and Lake Counties. In 1994, he created Robledo
Vineyard Management to plant, develop and farm
vineyards for private clients. And in 1997, Mr. Robledo
opened his winery, which produces 5,000 cases annually of
nine red and white varietals, including dessert wines.

"That's what wine is, sharing history, stories, experiences,"
Ms. Gonzalez said. "And when you invite people to your
home to do that, it creates a very personal approach to
wine."
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For a Family Winery, Marketing Proves as Crucial as the Grapes - New York Times 12/8/09 1:11 PM

wine."

The personal approach extends to Mr. Robledo's family. At
auctions and public events, he and his wife, Maria, often
pose with their two daughters and seven sons, all of whom
work for the winery. Two years ago, they opened the first
tasting room owned by a former Mexican migrant worker.

"You can bring people in for a few minutes and have their
complete attention," said Joel Peterson, a past president of
the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance, and the
winemaker and founder of Ravenswood Winery. "They feel
some affinity to the winery or the people. Then you have a
lifetime consumer, and that makes a huge difference."

Nearly all of the family's wine sales come through this
retail site, said Mr. Robledo's daughter Vanessa, the
president of the winery.

"We had brokers and restaurant accounts," she said. "But
we eliminated those once we saw how successful we were
marketing directly to the consumer."

The family declines to discuss revenue, but direct sales can
allow a winemaker to increase profitability 20 to 50
percent, depending on production costs.

"Getting closer to the end user is more fun," said Paul
Hobbs, the owner of Paul Hobbs Winery, widely
considered a supernova in the cult wine galaxy. "When no
one else is representing the wines and the relationship is
direct, that's sweet."

The Robledo family, which also includes 12 grandchildren,
had managed every aspect of the business with the help of
their winemaker, a son-in-law who once worked for Mr.
Hobbs. Then, Mr. Robledo hired Stephen Dale, vice
president and general manager of operations, "to get the
winery side going," as Mr. Dale put it, through the tasting
room.

And his efforts to help the family better market the wine
appear to be paying off. A single lot of Robledo wine and a
barbecue at the ranch with the extended family sold at an
auction this summer for $30,000. And gold ribbons from
wine competitions in New York, Florida and California
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For a Family Winery, Marketing Proves as Crucial as the Grapes - New York Times 12/8/09 1:11 PM

wine competitions in New York, Florida and California
festoon three Robledo varietals on display in the tasting
room.

But Mr. Peterson, whose Ravenswood winery started with
327 cases in 1976 and was bought by Constellation Brands
in 2001 for $148 million, cautions that the setbacks often
compete with the successes. "The business of wine is very
much like the agriculture of wine," he said. "You're
dependent on whatever the climate is."

What wineries can control, within reason, is what they
grow, which is where Mr. Robledo focuses his attention.
"For making good wines, you need to have good fruit," he
said matter-of-factly. "You have good grapes, you can put
it in a garbage can and by the next day, you have good
wine."

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