Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Le Cask is back

Le Cask old vine zinfandel got some good reviews, and then disappeared from the market. Now it's back! From the Stockton Record:

Raising the bar for the box
Lodi vintner puts premium wine in Le Cask

By Reed Fujii
Record Staff Writer
February 12, 2008 6:00 AM

LODI - Call it Le Cask deux.

More than four years after launching a premium wine in a 3-liter, bag-in-box package only to have a business dispute derail the effort, a father and son are reintroducing their brand of old vine zinfandel, and soon-to-come cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay wines to the California market.

The zinfandel is already available in supermarkets, said Leon Pierce, co-owner of Siqueira Wine Co., which is producing Le Cask.

"We're pretty excited about it," he said Monday.

Pierce acknowledged he's facing major competition. Wines packaged in airtight plastic, which helps preserve their freshness and flavor, inside cardboard boxes have been produced for years. However, the packaging was for low-cost jug wines until recently.

When Pierce rolled out Le Cask in 2003, it was among the first premium wines in a box. But he was not alone. Black Box wine was offered by a Bay Area company about the same time. Delicato Family Vineyards in Manteca also began offering a premium boxed wine.

Black Box has since been acquired by Constellation Brands, internationally the world's leading wine producer, and another industry giant, The Wine Group, produces premium boxed wines under such labels as Killer Juice and Corbett Canyon.

While Le Cask was derailed, the other brands made major inroads among U.S. consumers, and since 2005, 3-liter boxed wine has been the fastest-growing package segment in the industry, according to The Nielsen Co.

That growth means there's still room for Le Cask, Pierce said.

The wine is in a number of regional grocery chains and is being well-received.

It's a strong seller at Podesto's in Stockton, said Bernie Morgenstern, supermarket president.

"It's a really good value, because it is an old vine zin and it comes in a 3-liter box," he said Monday. "It's reasonable, and it's convenient. ... It's a wine you can drink every day for dinner or with guests."

Many of his customers seek old vine zinfandel in particular, Morgenstern said. As a result, Le Cask is outselling other brands of boxed wines he carries.

"I'm surprised a larger company didn't come up with that," he said.

Le Cask grew out of a college senior project by Ryan Pierce, Leon Pierce's son and business partner.

They originally partnered with Rodney Schatz, a Lodi grape grower and owner of Mokelumne Rim Vineyards, who provided production facilities and the fruit. But disagreements arose over the direction and control of the partnership, and a resulting lawsuit was not resolved until late 2006, when Leon Pierce gained exclusive rights to the Le Cask brand.

"They really liked the idea," Pierce said.

Schatz said Monday that he does like the idea of premium wine in a box, although he is no longer involved in Le Cask.

"Bag in the box, I think, if the consumer ever buys into it or understands it, is where we're going to go," he said.

Le Cask, with a suggested price of $25, contains the equivalent of four 750-milliliter bottles. Pierce said the wine inside is comparable to bottled goods costing twice as much.

"I believe we can differentiate (ourselves) with better quality bag-in-box or cask wine," he said. "Our only hope is to be really high quality with everything we do."

Boxed wine sellers note the packaging is lighter and stores more easily than the equivalent glass bottles. Because the internal bag collapses as the wine is dispensed, the perishable stuff is not exposed to air and can keep for several weeks after opening.

Typically, bottled wine loses its flavor within a few days of opening.

Also, the packaging is touted as more Earth-friendly than glass bottles, which consume more energy in their creation and in transportation.

And Pierce is aiming for a regional market.

"I don't want to become as large as Delicato or Black Box, but I do think we can achieve good representation in California." Raising the bar for the box

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