by Steve BJerKlIe | Photos by ColBY KuSChatKa
34 WALLA WALLA LIFESTYLES
Waters Winery and Gramercy Cellars partner in
a new label to educate young wine consumers.
Second wine labels are too
often victims of their own
The sequence often goes like this: A premium
winery finds that, after bottling its first-run
wines, it has one or two barrels left of good juice
that didn’t quite make the cut. So this wine is
bottled under a second label and sold exclusively
in the winery’s tasting room at a bargain price.
The bottling sells out quickly, within weeks. The
next year, the winery deliberately sets aside a few
barrels of decent juice to bottle under the second
label and, in addition to the tasting-room sales,
offers the wine to mailing-list customers.
It’s a great success; old customers clamor for
more. So now in the third year the winery needs
more juice than its prime vineyards can produce;
it must hunt down extra wine grapes on the bulk
market, and what it finds isn’t anywhere near
the quality of the juice it had used just two years
earlier — but at least there’s wine to put in bottles
to meet demand. In the fourth year the winery
is now a big player in the bulk-wine market, and
staff is devoted to managing the second-label
enterprise. The winery is making great money
and investors are happy — but its reputation as a
premium producer is gone.
Jamie Brown insists this will not be the story
for Wines of Substance, his new second-label
project at Waters Winery in Walla Walla. He offers
compelling reasons why he’s likely right.
For one thing, Wines of Substance is a
partnership by Waters and Gramercy Cellars,
the winery operated by master sommelier Greg
For another, Substance is not the product of
too much good (but not great) wine; it’s a planned
venture with well-defined goals.
For a third, production will remain relatively
limited at about 6,000 cases total of nine varietals,
which now include syrah, cabernet sauvignon,
merlot, riesling, malbec, counoise, cabernet franc,
chardonnay and pinot gris, allowing Brown to
source grapes strictly from his own vineyards and
a few choice suppliers such as Les Collines and
“For me, Substance covers everything I
want to do with wine,” says Brown, who was
winemaker at James Leigh Cellars before founding
Waters with Jason Huntley in 2005. “If I want to
experiment with a grape like counoise, I can.
We don’t want to produce a huge list of wines at
Waters or Gramercy, but Substance gives us the
opportunities to try new things. The label will
grow horizontally rather than vertically, meaning
that we’ll add different kinds of varietals if we
want to, not increase the production.”
At the winery, every Substance wine is priced
at $18 or less per bottle, and Brown says it will
work hard to stay under $20: “The cost of goods is
actually higher than the price we’re charging, but
the idea is to build the brand.” The target audience
is “ … the 30-something budding oenophile. The
point is to expose younger people to fine wines.
What I imagine ideally is a Waters or Gramercy
customer saying, ‘Put together a mixed case of
Substance wines and send it to my kid.’”
Not just fine wines, but fine Washington
wines, he adds, with a taste of both place
and varietal. The partnership with Gramercy
is key; Harrington brings an educational
component to the project. The Wines of
Substance Web site (winesofsubstance.
com) is filled with informative, useful notes
written by Harrington about each wine.
Brown hopes that once young customers buy
a second or third bottle, they’ll be hooked. “I
hope they go have fun with it. There could
even be Substance parties to introduce
friends to this varietal or that varietal, this
vineyard or that vineyard. Substance is really
intended for nouveau hip young people who
want to learn about wine.”
None of the wines will be available in
Waters’ or Gramercy’s tasting rooms — the
partners are counting on word of mouth
and “viral marketing,” the winemaker says.
The label’s clever adaptation of the
Periodic Table of Elements as a theme
came, Brown chuckles, “ … like all our best
ideas: in a late-night drinking session.” The
partners originally wanted to use the name
Element, but discovered that a big Australian
winery was already using the name.
“Substance provides a kind of quality
control for Waters and Gramercy, our
prestige brands,” he says. “It’s not really a
laboratory, but it allows us to explore. If I
want to try making 70 cases of carmenère,
our customers will know it’s going to be
good and will want to try it, hopefully.
Already, we’re getting all these e-mails
from people who are curious about what
we’re doing, about the new things. That’s
how you introduce people to everything
wine has to offer.”
STEVE BJERKLIE writes about wine, the food
industry, and many other topics for a variety of
publications, including The Economist.
WALLA WALLA LIFESTYLES 35
Greg Harrington holds the wine periodic table that got the
ball rolling; Jamie Brown with a ‘substantial’ bottle.