Bourassa Vineyards

Imagining the Marketing

Bourassa Vineyards

Victor Bourassa, an East Coast transplant living in Napa Valley for several decades, makes some great wines. He also exudes charisma and energy and has attracted a wine club following that is the envy of his neighbors. His club members actually pay him to work by his side on winery tasks, some of which are rigorous. A local winemaker, who heard the gossip, jokingly wrote on the Bourassa Vineyards Facebook page, “If you can get customers to pay you to prune, please send them to me when they finish. I have a fence that needs whitewashing.”

Making small lots of hand-crafted wines from vineyards carefully farmed by dedicated owners is the apex of creative winemaking, but Victor Bourassa would tell you that marketing such wines is an imaginative process in itself. The challenge usually involves selling direct to customers who visit wine country, walk into tasting rooms willing to purchase wine, and also sign up for quarterly shipments. By selling directly to customers, small wineries eliminate middle men, who take their cut from the bottle price often without providing valuable service. Distributors have traditionally been the principal agency for placing wines in various retail venues but have consolidated into large entities that now best serve big producers with famous brand names. If they have their own sales people, small wineries can sell directly to wine shops and restaurants, which are favored perveyors because the staff can hand-sell such wines to customers, who might not otherwise recognize the bottle label. Yet if tasting room sales and wine club purchases are successful enough, the small winery can eliminate even these sources and become sole retailer for its own wines.

In business for ten years, Vic has done it all. At one point, he was selling his wines in 15 states through distributors. But he now sells mainly to customers that he meets in his tasting room and cultivates in his wine club. In addition to his delicious wines, he encourages club sign-ups with special parties like most small wineries do. But the smaller the winery, the more intimate is the interaction with the owner. Vic personally educates interested club members by taking them into the winery and the vineyards for various tasks. And they love it. With minor editing for clarity, I reprint our conversation.

Vic, you’re double tasking, pruning this vineyard as we talk on this beautiful sunny day.

Yes, and I have a wine club member from Michigan helping me. I grew up on a farm in Massachusetts. It was a mini farm, and along with cows, chickens, and pigs, we had a beautiful, huge garden. So I love being in the vineyards. This is what I should be doing. This Syrah vineyard is only one acre, so we’ll probably get two tons of grapes from it. Two tons will make about five barrels of wine, and you get 300 bottles or 25 cases per barrel. So you do the math, bada bing bada boom.

In the last couple of days, you’ve been very busy. What have you been doing?

Friday we were bottling wine, and we had volunteers from our wine club come to help us. So we had them taking the finished product from the bottling line as it came out and putting it into case boxes and sliding them down into a container. Somebody was at the end of it, putting a label on the box, and somebody else would grab the box and put it on a pallet. Our winemaker, Gary Galleron, was driving the forklift. It was a team effort, and later we had a barbecue together, and everybody had a blast.

People were willing to donate hard labor?

I actually had people pay to come through the vineyard with me. They paid $20 bucks a head, and that paid for the food. We did a barbecue after the event and actually introduced new people to our winery by doing that because we opened it up to the public. We had eight people out here pruning the vineyard, and they got an experience that they never could have had. I wrote a paper, “Pruning 101” that they read, and Gary Galleron, our winemaker, who has a degree in viticulture from Fresno State University, was out here teaching as well. So they got an experience they might never get anywhere. At the end of the day, we gave them a half case of wine for helping.

That was Friday. What about Saturday?

Saturday, we had a wine club pick-up party when people came and picked up wine that goes into our next wine club shipment, and we had a barbecue. I took a wine barrel and turned it into a smoker and put ribs and chicken in there and had a blast. And besides that, we had groups from around the country, who arrived in limousines, and we had to entertain them as well as people from the wine club. So it was a very busy day.

Who are the limousine people?

We advertise on Bloomspot.com and winecountry.com, so people discover us through that. These people walked through the door, and we took care of them as well. They’re new people and hopefully they’ll join the wine club too. One person happened to be the orchestra leader for Ohio State University as well as Arizona State University. He was celebrating his 60th birthday and brought his family here, so we had eight of them in the tasting room.

You see very different people, those who are local and roll up their sleeves and those who are tourists.

Exactly. We have people come in to do our wine blending seminar, tasting wines from the barrels, and it’s an experience they don’t get from other wineries. It’s unique and special. We also do barrel education and show people the difference in the toasting levels of barrels. We’re on the same street as Seguin Moreau, one of the largest barrel builders in the world, just four buildings over from us. They make our barrels, and we get to take people into the facility so that they can see the barrels being made, very cool.

Your wines are delicious. How would you describe their style?

I grew up on French wines until I discovered Napa in 1980 and developed a palate for high-end wines in this area. We’re making our wine in a very traditional way in small batches. When I say small batches, it could be four to five tons at a time for a particular varietal, and we do it in open bins, punching down and mixing the solids that rise to the surface of the tanks during fermentation all by hand. We don’t do it like a large volume winery where they would make the wine in huge tanks and ferment it, mixing in the solids with mechanical pump-overs. All of our pump-overs are done by hand. So the gentler you treat the wine during the winemaking process, the better the wine is going to taste at the end. And all of the wines are aged in oak, but we control how much oak, especially in Chardonnay. We’re using a combination of barrels, not only American oak and French oak, but we’re also using a hybrid barrel, which has an American oak body with French oak heads, the flat part of the barrel, and only the heads are toasted so that the barrel doesn’t transmit overpowering flavors to the wine.

Since you don’t own your own vineyards, are your sources consistent?

For the most part, yes. We make Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and for whites, we’re sticking with Chardonnay. It’s a very popular wine. But we’ve picked up a new Zinfandel vineyard in Sonoma, and I’m very happy to be back with Zinfandel. Customers love it. When we hired this consulting firm several years ago, they advised us to forget Zinfandel. If we wanted to build our business based on the three tier system, giving our wine to distributors, who would then sell it to restaurants, we needed to concentrate on Cabernet because restaurants sell more of it. But we decided to switch to a consumer-direct selling approach. And that is helping us get back to some varietals that customers love but restaurants don’t, like Zinfandel and Syrah.

You lead a full life, Vic.

There is always something to do in the vineyard every single month of the year even when the vines are dormant during the winter, like pruning right now. And then you’ve got to get rid of weeds and do a little bit of fertilization. You’ve got to work on the wires, the trellis systems. And you’ve got to work on the nutrients. You get the dirt tested, and you find out that there are things you need to add, so there are always things to be done there. In the winemaking part, there’s racking of the wines. And you have to take care of the marketing and the wine business itself and all these events that we do. We also volunteer for donations to hospitals that have to do with kids because that’s near and dear to me. So it’s a very busy life.

California Wines of the Month


Artisan Series

Bourassa Vineyards – 2006 Reserve Petit Sirah

Winemaker Gary Galleron’s Notes

The name Petite Sirah refers to the size of the grape, which is petite, but there is nothing petite about this wine. The color has the amazing purple hue that Petite Sirah is so famous for, and the flavors of berry and cherry are present all the way through to the finish. The origin of the grape varietal is a mystery, but we know that it was introduced into California sometime in the 1800s. There is no mystery about the flavors. Rich and robust, this is a wine to truly share in the celebrations of life!

Anna Maria’s Notes

This berry-cherry red is just as winemaker Gary Galleron describes it, and despite its dramatic purple color, it is a medium bodied wine. Be sure to drink it with food so that you can taste its nuances and textures. You might find sediment on the cork and in the bottle as I did, which is not uncommon for a six year-old red wine. The wine is very smooth, so some of that sediment is probably tannin that has dropped out of solution. Serve at cool room temperature.

Bourassa Vineyards – 2010 Reserve Chardonnay

Winemaker Gary Galleron’s Notes

The Rutherford appellation of Napa Valley is well known for its outstanding Chardonnay wines. This Chardonnay is no exception. Aging for 14 months in French oak barrels gives the wine a creamy finish and also brings out flavors of vanilla and butterscotch on the palate with hints of apple, peach, and apricot on the finish. Soft with a plush mouthfeel, the fruit is clean and crisp with creamy vanilla flavor on the finish. Perfect for sipping, but the wine pairs well with grilled salmon, roasted chicken or turkey, or with a fresh heirloom tomato salad.

Anna Maria’s Notes

This Chardonnay from the Rutherford appellation is a nicely balanced white. Vic is careful to maintain the acidity that is essential to white wine. And he is also mindful of oak flavors that can dominate especially a white wine that is aged in barrels. He uses neutral, untoasted barrels, neutral or double neutral barrel, double neutral meaning not only that it’s never been used but it’s untoasted. You don’t add any vanilla to the wine by oaking, and you can get vanilla from the carmelization of the sugars in the oak if you toast the barrels. When you don’t do that you have Chard, all of it that has not seen oak and then you blend to get just the right style, you make a more Burgundy style.

Winemaker Series

Bourassa Vineyards – 2007 Harmony, Napa Valley

Winemaker Gary Galleron’s Notes

Harmony, our traditional Bordeaux blend and flagship wine offers wonderful violet, glack currant, and cinnamon components in the nose, while on the palate, you experience an explosion of spice and black cherry flavors. This wine is expected to age nicely over the next ten to fifteen years. Suggested pairings include hearty beef stews, barbecue tri tip, and baked pasta dishes with red meat sauce.

Anna Maria’s Notes

Harmony is the winery’s flagship blend, 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, and 14% Cabernet Franc, an interpretation of the Bordeaux blend, which the French have been making for hundreds of years. The Bourassa Harmony is a terrific example of how each varietal complements the other. Like all Bourassa wines, this one is beautifully balanced with delicious fruit flavors, true to the varieties in the blend, refreshing acid, and smoothly textured tannins. This wine is a beauty.

Bourassa Vineyards – 2007 Merlot Propriepors Reserve

Winemaker Gary Galleron’s Notes

The 2007 Merlot, Napa Valley is a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. We felt that the Cabernet really improved the structure of the wine, and we anticipate that is will age at least ten to 12 years in the bottle. The wine shows lavender and ripe cherry components on the nose and flavors of spice, cherry, and chocolate on the palate. The finish is long and graceful. Serve at cool room temperature especially with any roasted red meat or barbecue dish.

Anna Maria’s Notes

In the rush toward Pinot Noir, many wine drinkers have forgotten how delicious Merlot can be. They may also be unaware that one of the most expensive wines in the world is Chateau Pétrus, which is 100% Merlot and about $3000 a bottle, less in a bad vintage and more in a good one, a lot more. In California, all but the very best vineyards have been pulled out because demand has fallen. The Bourassa 2007 Napa Merlot is a fine wine, beautifully balanced and a complement to your most festive meals. Serve at cool room temperature.

Menu of the Month


 

The Leap Forward into Spring

Appetizers

Humas and pita trangles, Greek olives, dressed with olive oil and oregano,
goat cheese with thinly sliced baguettes

Main Course

Roasted leg of lamb with an herb crust, served with oven roasted potatoes,
match stick carrots with tarragon, braised in olive oil,
and brocollini, drizzled with olive oil, lemon dressing

Salad

Orange, grapefruit, and shaved fennel salad, drizzled with olive oil
and a sprinkle of salt and coarsely chopped fresh mint

Dessert

Scoops of raspberry and lemon sorbet, topped with fresh strawberries
and chopped mint leaves, tossed in orange liquore

Recipe of the Month


Orange, grapefruit, and shaved fennel salad with mint

This delicious Sicilian salad is a refreshing finish for any meal, but especially for a heavier one like our spring menu with roasted lamb. Tangy orange rounds, sweet and crunchy fennel, and a drizzle of rich olive oil, sprinkled with mint leaves and served on a large platter is a pleasure for both the palate and the eyes.

Ingredients

Blood orange, navel orange, pink grapefruit,

Peeled and sliced into 1/4th inch rounds

Fennel bulb, shaved into papery thin slices

Fresh mint, coarsely chopped

Olive oil

Salt to taste

Preparation

Arrange orange and grapefruit slices on a large platter, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste, top with shaved fennel, and a scattering of chopped mint.