Bonterra: A Winery’s Name Change Shows Confidence In The Demand For Organic Wines

Organic winemakers often declare their commitment to better practices — what they don’t always commit to is letting you know they’re organic anywhere on the label. So it’s a great sign of the times that Fetzer Vineyards is renaming the entire company after it’s organic wine sub-label and will now be known as Bonterra Organic Estates.

This move showcases confidence that today’s wine drinkers not only care about practices but also associate organic wine with quality. Fetzer Vineyards created Bonterra in 1993 and the company has always shown a commitment to earth-friendly practices, including becoming one of the largest B Corporation wineries in the U.S. I spoke with Bonterra Organic Estates CEO Giancarlo Bianchetti about the name change and how it reflects today’s wine market.

What originally led to Fetzer creating the Bonterra label?

The Fetzer family started farming organically in 1987. They started with fresh fruits and vegetables then moved that to the vineyards and then to the wine. It was a process of learning and exploration. There were successes and of course there were mistakes.

When they launched Bonterra in 1993 they were ahead of the game. As their winemaker said to me, “we were doing organic when it wasn’t cool.” It seemed like a thing for hippies but they truly believed in it.

I came on board when Viña Concha y Toro took control of Fetzer in 2011. I started going to stores and one thing that was surprising to me was our wines were only in the organic section close to the exit door. I thought “we are not going to grow sales here.”

How did you confront that?

That’s when we started challenging our partners and distributors. We have the quality and we have good ratings, we should also be in our regional section in the store. I want to expand the category. It wasn’t easy, persistence was critical. But if you don’t sell anything it’s not good business for anyone. And one of the elements that allowed us to convince them is we kept working with our winemaking team, growing better grapes and making better wines.

American consumers don’t want any tradeoffs. You need to have a wine that is organic, but also the right price and right quality. And that’s how you expand the market.

Bonterra becoming the new company name is like the child taking over from the parent. Does this represent new strength of organic wines in the marketplace?

The way that I see it is this is a continuum. Something that I really admired when I arrived here is the sustainability heritage of Fetzer. Energy management, waste management, regenerative farming. The parent allows the child to continue to the next level. It’s a natural progression.

Was there a lot of debate about adding ‘organic’ to the company name?

It was less discussion than you would think. We wanted to make a bold statement. This wine is organic. It’s above $10. We have the heritage and we have the knowledge and the consumer is here. Organic is becoming more and more mainstream, especially when I see younger consumers. For them organic wine is natural, they don’t see it as obscure. Now is the right moment. It’s just common sense.

Aside from the name change what else is in the future for Bonterra Organic Estates?

We want to start using more and more of our different ranches and terroirs to show new wines and expressions. And also add new lines of wines at different price points, especially more premium releases. That’s where the industry is growing. We’re currently at 585,000 cases. We want to bring that to one million. This major change is an affirmation of our values. We have a lot of space for growth.

Do you have a favorite wine among your current releases?

I like all my kids. I cannot answer you.

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