Napa’s Boutique Marketer
by Julia Higgins
Old Bridge Cellars boasts a portfolio of high-end imports from niche producers
Napa-based importer and marketer Old Bridge Cellars has been branching out beyond its core Australia category—where it represents upscale labels like Leeuwin Estate and d’Arenberg—with wineries from the western U.S., France, and elsewhere.Old Bridge has volume of just under 300,000 cases, and has set the goal of reaching 500,000 cases over the next five years. According to president Rob Buono, the $20-$30 segment has been driving growth, and will continue to be the focus of future expansion efforts.
Last summer, Old Bridge brought Stags Leap District winery Clos Du Val into its lineup. At the time, the winery was in the midst of a dramatic revision of its market strategy aimed at reorienting the brand around its estate wines, including its Napa Valley Estate Chardonnay ($35 a 750-ml.), Hirondelle Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($125), and Three Graces Cabernet Blend ($179), among others. Buono says that after a complete revamp—including new packaging, winemaking, and sourcing—Clos du Val is now headed in the right direction and seeing a good response from consumers and trade. Old Bridge’s U.S. portfolio also includes Napa-based Stickybeak and several Oregon-based wineries, such as Tunkalilla Vineyard, Chapter 24 Vineyards, and Maison L’Envoye.
Another recent addition is Champagne Collet, which joined the fold in January 2017, marking Old Bridge’s entry into the bubbly category. Buono says Collet was up by double-digits from a small base last year. Old Bridge markets eight wines from Collet, including NV Brut Art Deco ($45), NV Brut Rosé ($50), and Blanc de Blancs ($50).
The Australia category continues to play an important role for Old Bridge, which is emphasizing greater regional focus as a way for Australian wines to move upmarket in the U.S. Buono cites Margaret River in Western Australia and the Barossa Valley in South Australia as areas with potential for expansion. Old Bridge’s Margaret River-based Leeuwin Estate has been a top performer, and the company is represented in Barossa with the John Duval brand, whose namesake was formerly chief winemaker for Penfolds. While the higher-end Australia segment has been faring better than the mainstream category, challenges remain. “Shiraz is flat to slightly declining for a lot of our brands,” Buono notes. “d’Arenberg is one of the biggest Australian wineries we represent, but they’re Shiraz-dominant, so we’ve had to fight a little harder there.”
Looking ahead, Old Bridge plans to continue expanding its portfolio with upscale wines from a variety of different regions. Among them, Northern California, New Zealand, Washington state, France, and Italy are high on the list.