W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Ltd. builds it global brands on family – not corporate – values
“I’m one of the young old-timers,” says Bill Deutsch, the veteran wine industry maestro who in his 45-year career has amassed a portfolio of wine’s world champions. “I’ve seen people and brands come and go, with a lot of teachers along the way who have inspired me.”
It was in the first 25 years of Deutsch’s illustrious career that the groundwork was laid to pave a foundation for his vision: To represent fines wines from family-owned producers around the world. Working for three different wine companies: A New York State wine company, an importer of French wines and an importer of wines and spirits that also owned a California winery, allowed him to “steal with his eyes,” a concept his father taught him that lent credence to his mission, his dream and his earned-along-the-way experience.
“In 1980 I came to the realization that having learned what I did along the way, I could pick out the specific niche in the industry where an experienced and enthusiastic sales and marketing person could successfully market wines produced by fine wine families.”
It is that well-planned marketing support that enabled Deutsch’s empire to grow, offering a portfolio of specially selected family-owned wine producers to U.S. consumers at a fair price.
The word family is key for Deutsch, who as COO, works side-by-side with his son Peter, who is the company President. As a family-owned company, Deutsch can make instant decisions and choose the people with whom to establish relationships. Such is the case with a much-admired and well established kinship with Harvey and Wayne Chaplin, owners of Southern Wine & Spirits, who represent the WJ Deutsch brands in California, among other states.
“Southern Wine & Spirits is a major, multi-billion dollar company,” notes Deutsch, “but it is also family operated, by a father and son, like ours.”
In 1981, the company began business with two employees in Chappaqua, New York with Sauvion et Fils, one of the first family suppliers.In the next two years, they would add new French brands including the prestigious George Duboeuf, the négociant whose Beaujolais wines are among the area’s most well respected as well as J. Vidal Fleury, the oldest functioning winery in the Côte-Rôtie, owned by the Rhone Valley’s Guigal family.
From there, they branched out with Italian wines (the Pozzi family’s La Francesca) and by the end of the 1980s would see Duboeuf achieve status as the largest French wine brand in America.
By 1993, things were full steam ahead and Deutsch was appointed National Importer for the Osborne family’s Osborne & Bodegas Montecillo wines from Spain and Portugal. It was uphill from there, when three years later, Champagne Pommery signed on (see our spotlight on the brand on the following page).
It was the new Millennium that would alter the company’s growth even further, with mind-boggling success over a kangaroo.
Leap of Faith
How an Aussie Wine Family Found Fame in the US with [yellow tail].
It’s a virtual Noah’s Ark of wine labels out there: from penguins to parrots, and monkeys to moose, it all began with one frolicking marsupial: the spotted kangaroo that is the symbol of the No.1 ranked Australian wine in the U.S.: [yellow tail].
In the U.S., the [yellow tail] label is owned jointly by the Casella family down under and W.J. Deutsch. The brand has made gargantuan strides in sales as well as opening doors for introducing mainstream Australian wine made for the American palate.
The Casella family emigrated to Australia from Italy in the early 1960s and now three generations oversee winemaking and production in what once was – before the year 2000 – a small winery.
Accountable only to each other, the Casella and Deutsch families have experienced growing pains, but came through with flying colors. “John Casella and I have great communication,” insists Bill Deutsch. “We make instant decisions if necessary, and above all, both families are working towards the same objectives.”
Although he admits that it was his son (and President of the company) Peter that took right to the kangaroo on the label, he was a bit hesitant. “In the year 2000, you just didn’t see any animals on wine labels,” says Deutsch, whose reservation on going forward with the lighthearted, animated design gave way when the distributors agreed with Peter. “They were all enthusiastic about the look, the price and above all, the quality of the wine (at that time there were only the Chardonnay and Shiraz varietals offered). From there it was all word-of-mouth.”
As the brand reached new heights in brand-building volume, the Casellas had to build a larger facility, and Deutsch had to build a larger organization. Both families dug into the project and put money back into the brand’s bright future. “OK, so we thought our first year we’d hit the 30,000-case mark. We were wrong, we hit the 200,000-case mark instead.”
Now a seven million case brand, [yellow tail] may have hopped on the Deutsch bandwagon at the right time, but it took more than a leap of faith: a dedicated sales team, a brilliant marketing plan, strategic distribution and Casella’s consistency in quality completed the circle.
Pouncing on the varietal expansion, [yellow tail] has introduced a Pinot Grigio that has already hurdled towards more plantings in Australia. “The Casella’s roots are in Italy,” notes Deutsch, so therefore our Pinot Grigio is more “Alto Adige” than “Alsace” in style. The biggest problem is that they can’t keep this wildly popular varietal in stock.
It’s only a hop, skip and a jump to [yellow tail]’s newest venture, a Reserve program. John Casella selects parcels of the best fruit from each vintage from Australia’s best growing regions.
(Photo credit: Wendy Ramos)
Let’s Be Franc-ophiles
The WJ Deutsch associations in France are, let’s say well-connected! With the strong relationship with André Lurton, whose love affair with Bordeaux spans half a century, the tradition of the Barton family, owners of Chateau Leoville Barton and Langoa Barton; Antonin Rodet and Domaine Jacques Prieur, one of the most respected names in Burgundy; J. Vidal-Fleury and its ties to the seductive Rhone Valley; George Duboeuf, the “King of Beaujolais;” Alsace’s prominent Pierre Sparr; the aromatic Muscadet from the Loire produced by Sauvion et Fils and finally, one of the greatest names in Champagne, Pommery, Deutsch can not only sense a turnaround for the American palate and pocketbook with a renewed acceptance and love for French wines, but plays a major role in its emerging rebirth.
A (California) State of Mind
Representing diverse terroir of California, Deutsch offers three wineries from the Golden State, each with its own personality and expression.
Artesa Winery, known as the jewel of Carneros, has set a standard for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with award-winning wines that express varietal character and reflect the potential of Carneros. Now, with its new winemaker, Dave Dobson, and a 400-acre Alexander Valley property, Bordeaux varietals – including an intensive Cabernet Sauvignon program – is one of the latest exciting endeavors for Artesa.
Kunde Estate, situated in the Sonoma Valley, celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2004. The fourth and fifth generations of family winemakers remain active on their 2000-acre estate, which is Sonoma Valley’s largest. Twenty varieties of wine grapes grow on 800 acres. The Kundes are viticulturists first and foremost and the practice of sustainable agriculture is part of their commitment to the future.
A legend in the industry, Manfred Esser became renowned when he created a name for Cuvaison wines in the mid-1980’s. When he sold his partnership in 1998, he set out on his own and created Esser Vineyards, launching four California appellation wines that are fruit forward, well balanced and consumer friendly. The Esser Vineyards label is owned jointly by Manfred Esser and the Deutsch family.
(photo credit: Wendy Ramos)
Family Values & the Five “P’s” for Building Brands
The values of W.J. Deutsch & Sons rest on Bill Deutsch’s model for building brands:
“The ‘P’ of People always comes first,” says Deutsch. “We develop strong relationships with our family producers and equally our family distributors, and we work together to achieve maximum results for all.”
“P” is Also for POMMERY
In 1874, Louise Pommery created an innovation that broke the bubble on Champagne style by devising Pommery Brut Nature, the first Non Vintage Brut Champagne on the market. The revolutionary idea behind no additional sugar at the end of the Methode Champenoise was unheard of then: A time when the sparkler from the North of France was on the sweet side, the sugar correcting the faults of the wine.
Now accepted and acclaimed as an aperitif or an accompaniment with meals, Champagne is not only drunk in celebration but accepted as a member of the wine-by-the glass program.
Pommery’s pioneering continued throughout the Century, renewing the Champagne world. The introduction of Pommery POP was marketed to a younger crowd who would be initiated into an appreciation of the bubbly through a split size (187ml) that startled the category by offering a straw for easy consumption.
The extra-dry yet fruity palate of Pommery POP has a hint of peach, and is perfectly balanced. The latest addition to the POP line-up is PINK POP. Pommery further promoted the brand by extending bottle design competitions to artists through its POP Artist Series bottles.
(“POP” ART) Pommery POP selects one artist every year to design this colorful POP Art bottle Series
At a recent Pommery portfolio tasting, Export Director Gerard Blanoeil walked us through the elegance of Pommery’s marques.
Pommery Brut Royal Non Vintage is the descendant of Madame Pommery’s Brut Nature, crisp and dry with complex fruit and toast flavors.
We just loved the Brut Vintage 1995, a 100% Grand Cru. The Champagne possesses a perfect balance of maturity and acidity, with seasonal freshness and ripeness that is remarkable in a 10-year old wine We picked up apple marmalade, pears and pastry notes. In the mouth, the bubbles vanished quickly, melting into a soft and silky dance on the tongue.
Expressing the three finest Grand Crus in Champagne is Cuvée Louise, only made in vintages of exceptional quality. The 1995 was clean on the nose and on the palate, with an elegant subtlety.