Friday, July 15, 2011

Exclusive wine selections at Brennan's Market - Part I of II

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Thea Miller, Product Manager at Brennan’s Market, (, @BrennansMarket on Twitter, Brennan’s Market on Facebook) at their Watts Road location about their wine business.

MWS: How has business been?
Thea:  Good.

Because a good percentage of our business in on the produce side, we are somewhat weather driven. In the summer, we really need nice, sunny weekends. That gets people out and about grilling and entertaining. We’ve had kind of hit and miss weather up until recently, so we have been anxious for summer!

MWS: How long has the Brennan’s Cellars label been in existence?
Thea: We’ve been just about 100% exclusive on the wines we carry since the late ‘90’s. That means we don’t carry any wines that other stores in Wisconsin carry.

Some may not be carried any where else in the US, although a producer like Soljans from New Zealand also sell their wines in California.

That came about as an extension of how we bought cheese and produce.

If our cheese and produce was different than everyone else’s, why should our wine be the same labels as everyone else’s?  

Don’t we owe our customers something unique and special in wine, as well?

For Brennan’s long-term survival and to provide a unique experience for our customers we decided to launch our own wine label.

In about 2003, we launched our first actual Brennan’s Cellars brand with the Private Reserve 1.5L wine from Chile. It was followed by South Island (New Zealand), Riverland (Australia), Monterey Coast (California) and so on.

We have eliminated lines and added lines over the years to meet the needs of our customers.

Some like Barefoot left because Gallo acquired them and their desire for a broader distribution ended our exclusive relationship. At that time they accounted for about 25% of our wine business and we did not want any one wine producer becoming that large of a part of our business again.
[MWS: E. & J. Gallo Winery’s fast-growing Barefoot brand remained No. 1 in retail sales for the 52 weeks ending June 13, 2011 with $255 million in sales, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm. With Carlo Rossi ranking seventh in sales and Gallo Family vineyards ninth, the Gallo company owns three of the top 10 brands. Two other Gallo products, Livingston Cellars and Peter Vella box wines, also made the top 20. Barefoot grew 27% in dollar sales over 52 weeks at the major U.S. food and drug stores from which SIRI analyzes check stand scan data. Barefoot’s volume rose 28% to 3.8 million 9-liter case equivalents, reflecting a slight price decrease of 4 cents. Trinchero Family Estates’ Ménage à Trois brand was the only wine in the top 20 to grow faster—33%—than Barefoot.]

Our most recently added line is from Tasmania, Australia called Tarkine Forest includes a Pinot Noir and Riesling.

We tend to have a New World focus, although we do carry some wines from Italy.

Of the wines in our collection about a third of them are under the Brennan’s Cellars label. The rest is by winery.

MWS: How do you find and select these wines and winemakers?
Thea: We visit each and every one of our wineries, like we visit each of our cheese producers and fruit growers. We visit about four wineries a year, rotating between Chile, Australia, and New Zealand.

Skip Brennan, the owner of Brennan’s, has done a lot of the traveling over the years. He made his first wine trip to Australia in the early ’90’s. Followed by Chile in mid-90’s and New Zealand in 1997. Italy in 2006. Since Skip was injured in a serious bicycle accident in 2007, others in the company have assumed his duties like Brennan’s GM Tim Culhane and myself.

We use the same criteria Skip used to select wineries.

We look for small, family-owned operations that are top-notch from head to toe.

We look at everything. I mean everything, including cleanliness.

The most important thing we look for in a partner, not just a winery partner, but cheese, specialty food and produce, is passion. Do they have passion to create the best wine in their region? Are they innovators in their field?

We have a passion to give our customers the best products out there, and we want our partners to match it.

MWS: Did these winemakers have to make any changes to adapt to the tastes of Wisconsin wine consumers?
Thea: Wisconsin wine customers tend to like sweeter wines, and so, for example, we asked one of our wine makers to make a sweeter style of Riesling, which had more residual sugar.

MWS: How do you establish the Brennan’s brand name among Madison wine consumers?
Thea: When went 100% exclusive in the late ‘90’s, we had a lot of customers confused that we didn’t carry the brand name wines that they were used to getting a Brennan’s.

Over the years, we have built sales for our collection and for our Brennan’s Cellars labels through sampling, a lot of winemaker tastings.

Almost all of our wineries come out to see us at least every other year.

It also helps having our wine selectors on hand every day to build relationships with customers, so if someone has a special event or dinner or even just Pizza Friday they know that they can come to Brennan’s. We have at least one full-time wine selector at each store to help customers with their selections.

The next post will discuss popular wines at Brennan’s.

1 comment:

  1. I always wondered why I didn't recognize the wines at Brennan's! I had no idea that they work exclusively with the producers of all of their products. Thanks MWS.