Many wine companies are trying to figure out how to appeal to millennials, people from 21 to 35 who seem more attracted to cocktails and craft beer than wine.
Most of these companies are adopting hip personas, embracing social media on the Internet and offering low-cost wines recognizing that many young drinkers aren’t making much money.
Uproot Wines is after millennial drinkers, too, with eye-catching minimalist labels, edgy graphics and a major effort to reach prospective customers via social media. It makes Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc and newly chic grenache and grenache blanc.
But the bicoastal company makes up-market wines. Its least expensive wine is a $34 grenache blanc and its Howell Mountain Cabernet costs $78.
“You might say we’re after successful startups,” said Greg Scheinfeld, the company’s Napa-based winemaker and partner.
Knowing who his partner is might explain this strategy. Jay Levy is a venture capitalist in New York involved with many tech startups.
A South Florida native who studied finance at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Levy started a company with two fellow students that grew to 500 people and received significant funding.
After working at Morgan Stanley and other companies, Levy co-founded venture capital firm Zelkova Ventures, where he uses his entrepreneurial experience to invest in early-stage technology companies such as Fab.com, Klout and Rapportive.
He developed Uproot Wines with Scheinfeld outside Zelkova.
Not home on Wall Street
Scheinfeld, who moved to Napa Valley in 2006, was born and raised in New York where he was exposed to the art of wine and the craft of winemaking at an early age by his home winemaker father.
Upon graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in business administration, Scheinfeld also went to work on Wall Street. Although successful, it wasn’t for him.
He decided to follow his dreams by moving to Napa to make wine. The company he left was acquired by Lehman Brothers just after he left; Lehman’s bankruptcy famously triggered the economic meltdown in 2008.
A friend got Scheinfeld a position at Joseph Phelps Vineyards working harvest as a cellar rat. “I loved it,” he said. “Working outside and with wine was what I wanted to do.”
Committing to this course, he got a job at Cakebread Cellars and then Vineyard 29, becoming cellar master as he learned winemaking on the job. He also took courses at Napa Valley College and UC Extension.
He decided to merge his knowledge of business with his love for winemaking and called upon his friend, Jay Levy, to help create Uproot Wines.
When the pair started Uproot Wines in 2013, they turned to startup specialist Cary Gott for advice. They buy grapes from both Napa Valley and Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara County. Scheinfeld makes the wine with Gott’s counsel at Hunnicutt Winery and at Somerston Winery, a custom-crush winery in Soda Valley.
A unique label
Uproot's front label consists solely of a visual “flavor palette,” a color taste-based graphic that highlights the flavor profile of the wine inside.
Each color block represents an aroma, and the size of the block illustrates how dominant each is in the flavor profile.
For example, the largest blocks on its sauvignon blanc label are light green for melon and yellow for grapefruit, then bright green for fresh-cut grass followed by medium green citrus and purple for passion fruit.
The grenache blanc label highlights petrol and bubblegum.
The cabernet label includes blackberry and raspberry, dark chocolate, cherry and Cuban cigar.
None indicates the level of sweetness; the wines are dry.
The color code isn’t explained on the label, but Uproot explains the codes in social media promotion and at the events that are a key part of its marketing.
“We’re a new kind of winery, a winery for millennials, and we take a new approach,” said Scheinfeld, admitting that “it’s very difficult to break in.”
A key company strategy is social sales events, including some arranged by venture capitalist Levy among his other investments and contacts in New York. Uproot also uses some of the software and other products developed by Levy’s investments.
Almost all its sales are direct to consumers, primarily in a few large states like New York and California, though the company just hired a sales representative here to go after direct to trade business at stores and restaurants.
Uproot’s inaugural wines are all from the 2011 vintage. The company made 1,200 cases of 2011 wine.
The Cabernet Sauvignon ($78) came from Howell Mountain and was fermented in 65 percent new French oak from four different coopers.
The alcohol level is 14.4 percent and Scheinfeld and Gott made the wine to be ready to drink early even though it was a challenging year and Howell Mountain grapes tend to be relatively austere. Production was 450 cases.
The sauvignon blanc ($42) is from Somerston Ranch, which has a St. Helena address, though it’s near Lake Berryessa.
The grenache ($46) and grenache blanc ($34) come from Santa Ynez, a warm area in Santa Barbara County.
Uproot also makes a small amount of a reserve sauvignon blanc selling for $44 for 500 ml.
They introduced a rosé at $28 in April.
And then they went to work bottling the next vintage.
You can buy Uproot wine with meals at Cook St. Helena, and buy bottles at 750 Wines there, too. They’re looking for retailers and restaurants to serve the wine in Napa and elsewhere in the valley.