Fine Wine Importer Demeine Estates on Building a Luxury Wine Business in the Roaring 2020s
Behind each sommelier presenting a table bottle is a three-tier wine distribution system that guides luxury wine from the vineyard to the table that has deeply felt the rapid change of the past two years. The backbone of the restaurant and hospitality world, every leg of this chain has faced challenges ranging from COVID-19 closures to pricing; supply chain challenges; and a consideration of the role of diversity and inclusion in a space that has historically had high barriers to entry.
Enter Demeine Estates, an innovative fine wine company that sees these changes not as obstacles, but as a roadmap for building a better wine industry; the one they intend to lead.
“Fine wines continue to thrive due to a high quality blend and strong demand,” said Scott Diaz, senior vice president of global brand strategy and marketing. “While there are supply shortages in key premium categories like Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Champagne, Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc, Demeine Estates is well positioned to meet consumer demand with a expansion of new wine partnerships.”
Founded in October 2020 as a marketing and sales agency for some of Napa’s most historic and exclusive wines, Demeine Estates has already added wines like Champagne Legras & Haas and Domaine de Montille to its import portfolio and continues to grow rapidly. With just over a year in business, they are recognized as leaders in sustainability, quality, and inclusivity (and they love and are extremely passionate about wine!). So how do you get a foothold in a tumultuous market? Let’s look at their journey.
It all starts with the wine. The roots were planted in 2018 when Nashville-based agricultural investor Gaylon Lawrence Jr purchased the Napa Heitz Cellar legacy and appointed master sommelier Carlton McCoy Jr to run it. Since then, Lawrence has incorporated three other historic properties into what is now called Lawrence Wine Estates (LWE): Stony Hill, Burgess and Haynes Vineyard. With 185 years of operation combined, these estates are benchmarks of Napa history and quality, but needed a renewed presence in a market that is showing renewed interest in classic-style domestic wine.
Under McCoy’s leadership, LWE also created two new independent brands: Ink Grade, a range of mountain wines from steeply sloping vineyards on the other side of Howell Mountain, and Brendel, a creative outlet for estate winemakers. aimed at bringing a new generation of consumers into the fold of high-quality, sustainably produced Napa wines.
Demeine Estates is responsible for spreading the word (and wine) of “New Napa” to the most important distributors in the country and to supplement the portfolio with import properties of equal prestige. The New Napa focuses on sustainability and the next generation of winemakers, hospitality experts and consumers, with a specific focus on quality and education. McCoy is the managing partner, and to lead the charge he has picked industrial might Philana Bouvier.
When Bouvier accepted the role of president, she became the first non-family female manager of a wine importer. When McCoy accepted the position of CEO of Heitz, he became Napa Valley’s first black cellar CEO. For McCoy and Bouvier, the most important thing about being the “first” is to ensure that it is followed by “many”.
Bouvier aimed to build a team based on talent, experience, aptitude and ambition. The resulting group is one of the most diverse (and female-led) in a pocket of the industry with many barriers to upward mobility. While other companies strive to retroactively increase diversity, Demeine Estates builds on it.
“Diversity is our DNA here at Demeine Estates. People come first in our organization, not company policy, and we’ve seen the results,” says Bouvier.
“Our sales and marketing teams are the best there are, not only because of their passion for winning, but also their ultimate respect for diverse perspectives. We believe in our employees and our partners, and we aim to ensure that our wine industry always accepts differences and celebrates culture from all walks of life.
The resulting team takes a fresh approach to a traditional space. Senior Vice President of Sales, Leila Pearson, leads a team of 10 across the country to land wines on the highest visibility lists through unparalleled distribution relationships. The measured size of the Demeine Estates portfolio allows full attention to be given to each brand, a rarity in a wine world that is gradually consolidating into fewer distributors and larger supplier portfolios.
Senior Vice President of Global Brand Strategy and Marketing Scott Diaz leads a three-person team responsible for accessing and creating new luxury wine consumers for “New Napa.” Alexa D’Acquisto, Senior Brand Manager, is an expert in brand creation and repositioning, and Shannon Pestoni, Brand Manager, co-founded, developed and sold Napa’s Jelly Jar Wines before joining the team. Audrey, Digital Marketing Specialist
Marek leverages social media and digital tools to create an unrivaled online footprint in a segment that often overlooks the power of virtual space.
The team is also keenly aware of its role in the wider wine industry, and that leadership cannot exist in a vacuum. In January 2022, they announced their Dream it, live it initiative, which serves to provide professional development opportunities specifically for women and people of color in the wine and hospitality industries that focus on entrepreneurship.
The goal is to create long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with program partners and foster a more inclusive wine and hospitality industry for all by providing access to growing businesses.
“Our progressive leadership builds trust and invites people, employees and partners, into the winery space who may not have felt like they belonged before,” says D’Acquisto. “In a relationship-based industry like ours, the results are valuable, meaningful connections that drive business while celebrating diverse backgrounds and unique perspectives.”
Their first partnership with Tish Wiggins of “Tish Around Town” resulted in the Celebration of Women in Wine trip, which takes place in Napa Valley from March 29 to April 2. With sponsorship from Demeine Estates, Tish, a wine educator, event curator, speaker and wine writer with a strong online and social media presence, will bring a group of 20 attendees to taste and learn with Heitz Cellar Director of Winemaking Brittany Sherwood, Burgess Winemaker Meghan Zobeck, Stony Hill Winemaker Jaimee Motley and Hospitality Manager Brendel Candace Keeton.
The Women in Wine Tour celebration will also highlight the new Heitz Cellars Tasting Lounge, a modern design and French laundry-inspired experience. Employing many hospitality professionals with Michelin star backgrounds, the space elevates the wine tasting and pairing experience beyond the vineyard while taking a root-to-glass approach. The tour’s emphasis on hospitality and luxury emphasizes the intertwined nature of good food, good wine and high quality.
“Attendees will enjoy a 3-course meal featuring the cuisine of award-winning chef Cindy Pawlcyn at the iconic Mustards Grill,” said Wiggins, who is a hospitality veteran and catering enthusiast.
Mustards Grill has been a Napa Valley staple for over 37 years, serving chef/owner Cindy Pawlcyn’s blend of regional American dishes fused with global influences. Favorites include the famous Mongolian pork chop with sweet and sour red cabbage; and house-herb marinated rabbit with Brussels sprout leaves, thyme-roasted parsnips and white-wine currants.
“We have strategically secured a boutique hotel in downtown Napa so attendees have access to some of the best dining and dining experiences Napa has to offer,” Wiggins continues. “Some of my favorites are Oentori and Charlie Palmer Steak, and I always like to end my evening at Cadet Wine + Beer Bar for drinks and late night bites.”
“I have a passion for creating fun and interactive ‘Sip, Socialize & Learn’ experiences. As a wine educator, my tours are different because each experience embodies my desire to create a fun experience that is also informative. and educational.”
So with all this momentum, what’s next for Demeine Estates? Grow their import portfolio through strong relationships with wineries that share their values of sustainability, history and quality. Diaz, who served as senior vice president of marketing at a prestigious importer with a large portfolio for twelve years before joining Demeine Estates, aims to exploit the many historic vineyards, particularly in France and Italy, which are under- represented in the US market. . Once he gets the appointment, he says, it’s all up to Bouvier.
“You get Philana at the door, she makes the deal happen,” Diaz says.
From the start, Demeine Estates was built by agents of change; and therefore, they are uniquely able to adapt and influence an industry that continues to evolve. So if you’re wondering where good wine will be in 5 years, look no further than Demeine Estates.