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June 29, 2022

Gaining Perspective w/ Collaborations w/ Juan Munoz-Oca, Ste Michelle Wine Estates

Gaining Perspective w/ Collaborations w/ Juan Munoz-Oca, Ste Michelle Wine Estates

Washington State’s leading wine company, describes what he’s learnt and the process of collaborating with other luminaries of the wine world, including the Antinori Family, Dr Loosen, and Michel Gassier from the Rhone Valley.


A lot can be learned through collaborating. Even how to stay calm during a pandemic when your Italian partner is in the thick of it. Calm with the perspective of 26 generations of winemaking and having survived two World Wars. Juan Munoz-Oca, Head Winemaker for Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Washington State's leading wine company, describes what he's learned and the process of collaborating with other luminaries of the wine world, including the Antinori Family, Dr Loosen, and Michel Gassier from the Rhone Valley.  


Detailed Show Notes: 

Juan's background

  • In WA with Ste Michelle Wine Estates ("SMWE") for 21 years
  • Head of winemaking for the entire group

Ste Michelle Wine Estates

  • Based in WA state - 6 wineries (Chateau Ste Michelle ("CSM"), Columbia Crest, 14 Hands, Spring Valley, Northstar, Col Solare)
  • OR (Erath), CA (Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Conn Creek, Patz & Hall)
  • Built the WA wine region, produces ~⅔ of the wine in the state
  • The largest producer of Riesling in the world

Collaborations - all w/ Chateau Ste Michelle

  • Col Solare - Red Mountain, Cabernet, 50/50 JV w/ the Antinori Family (Italy), planted a vineyard in the early 2000s, built a winery in 2006, started in the mid-90s
  • Eroica - Riesling with Ernie Loosen (Mosel, Germany) started in the 1990s
  • Tenet - Columbia Valley; Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre; w/ Michel Gassier & Philippe Cambie (deceased)

What drove the collaborations? 

  • A personal touch and relationship
  • WA is a young grape-growing region that only started quality winemaking in the late 90s -> wanted to bring attention to the region and gain knowledge
  • Ex-CEOs important to establishing collaborations - Allen Shoup (founded Longshadows Winery, which has 7 wines and 7 collaborations); Ted Baseler - was part of marketing team when Col Solare was launched and started Eroica with Ernie Loosen

Collaboration process

  • Winemaking - spring (taste previous vintage, blend, walk the vineyards), late summer (get a feel for the grapes, walk the vineyards), winter (taste wines - e.g., 250-300 lots of Riesling for Eroica)
  • Renzo (Antinori's head winemaker) comes more often due to SMWE's partnership w/ Antinori on Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
  • CSM winemaking team does day-to-day work
  • Sales & Marketing - up to the partners, SMWE salesforce sells the wine, SMWE marketing works with partners and does most of the work
  • SMWE imports the entire Antinori portfolio, so they have a broader collaboration

Key benefits

  • Enjoyment of making wine together
  • Getting a global perspective
  • Winemaking informs the rest of the portfolio's winemaking (e.g., extended lees aging for Riesling from Ernie Loosen, keeping more leaves in the canopy for Syrah from Michel Gassier)

Collaboration business models

  • Col Solare - 50/50 JV, including vineyards, winery, & inventory; work together closely on marketing
  • Eroica - 50/50 for inventory and brand, no other assets; up to 200k cases in a big year; most marketing done by SMWE, less from Loosen
  • Tenet - Michel Gassier gets a portion of earnings and an annual fee that covers his travel; as small as 300 cases
  • Have business meetings 2x/year for sales and marketing strategy

Keys to success for collaborations

  • Have a clearly articulated vision
  • Keep an open mind to learn from the other

Desired new collaborations

  • Sparkling wine w/ Nicolas Feuillatte (Champagne)
  • Argentine wine / Malbec w/ Catena Family - loves their focus on terroir
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