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Emma Swain, photo Meg Smith

St. Supery Winery

by Mike Vieira on March 25, 2018, 05:12 pm MDT

www.stsupery.com

Rutherford, CA

Founded: 1982

Employees: 80 - 120

Privately Owned

Industry: Brewing & Distilling

Products: Wine

CEO Emma Swain and St. Supery Winery escaped the October fires and return to winemaking with renewed vigor and a determination to expand the brand.

Napa Valley’s St. Supery Winery survived the October 2017 wildfires without serious damage, but the effects linger. "We were pretty much back in action by the beginning of November, yet we haven’t had the normal visitor traffic," said CEO Emma Swain. "Because of the fires, people think that there’s nothing left in Napa. In fact, most people who visit the Valley won’t even notice that there had been a fire.  All of our hotels and restaurants in Napa are back in business.  That’s an important component for us.  We rely on our visitors to sell our wines and keep our people employed in the hospitality business."

For Swain, that means getting back to the business of making and selling wine – to the tune of 80,000 to 95,000 cases per year. "Our primary focus is on Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon," says Swain. "We’re a 100 percent Estate Winery, which means that we grow and produce everything that we make, without a drop of anything else coming into the process. It’s actually quite unique to control all of your vineyards and all of your production at the level that we do. Of the more than 530 wineries in the area, there are only a handful in the Napa Valley that are 100 percent Estate."

St. Supery’s vineyards are the heartbeat of the brand. "Some people think that farming is just farming.  But, farming is science, it’s art, it’s a labor of love, and it’s paying attention to Mother Nature.  When you farm the same property year after year, you know how it’s going to respond to rain, or if you have a sudden change in temperature. You can continually work on things to improve quality," says Swain.

Swain came to St. Supery nine years ago and began an immediate improvement project on the cellars. "I brought back our former winemaker, Michael Sholz, who is super talented and knows our vineyards very well.  He created our flavor profile back in the 1990’s.  We added a lot of new equipment and tools, with the focus on making the very best wine that we possibly can."  Sholz, a sixth generation family winemaker, previously held the post at St. Supery from 1996 until 2001.  

St. Supery is also certified "Napa Green", a comprehensive environmentally friendly method of sustainable farming and winemaking.  It includes frequent inspections by federal, state, and local authorities to evaluate procedures in the vineyards and winery, including water and power usage.  "All of our water at the winery is recycled," says Swain.  "All of the water at our Dollarhide Ranch is reclaimed rainwater, and currently 80 percent of electricity is from solar. We hope to make that 100 percent this summer when our new equipment comes online.  We’re really focused on preserving everything, and making it better."

If Swain’s focus on innovation sounds familiar to other manufacturers, so too might her business challenges relating to workforce. "It’s very hard to find good, qualified people; the job market is very tight," says Swain.  "We pay our people well, and they have nice benefits, and it’s a beautiful place to be in Napa Valley." About a third of Swain’s workforce is involved in agricultural, with the remainder divided between winemaking and hospitality.

The winery’s production assets are enabling Swain’s to diversify efforts to expand the brand, including a temporary trial of a remote taste center in Beverly Hills.  "It was a great opportunity for us," says Swain.  "It’s a wonderful location on Rodeo Drive and is a way to interact with people who are visiting Southern California.  We’ve done some events down there such as tasting, live music, and we have a new 360-degree video that allows you to be in the vineyard with the winemaker and me.  We’re bringing the Napa Valley to you.  We’ll be sad when we have to move out at the end of the year."  The company will explore opportunities for future remote tasting facilities in the future, as their winery license allows them to have two retail locations in California.

Expanding online sales is also an option, within the framework of a regulated distribution system. "We’re required in almost every state to sell through a three-tier system," says Swain. "We sell to a distributor, and the distributor sells to a restaurant or retail account.  The vast majority of our wines go that way across the country and internationally through importers, distributors, and out to retailers.  We also sell a lot of wine directly here at the winery through our wine club.  There are a number of wines that we make that are very small and unique, and those you can only get here at the winery or online.  We’re allowed to ship to most states directly to the consumer, but in most cases, we’re required to ship through the three-tier system."

Challenges:  "We’re focused on continuing to improve quality," says Swain.  "From an expansion perspective, we’d love to buy some more high-quality vineyards here in Napa Valley. That would be a nice addition to our property.  That’s really the only way to grow an Estate Winery, is to add vineyards."

Opportunities:  "We want to continue to expand and enhance our guest experience here at the winery.  We’ve got an acre and a half that we grow produce on, and we’re doing fun programs like ‘veggies and vino’ that teach people how to pair vegetables and wine. We want to dig into the wine tasting experience at a different level," says Swain.

Needs: Continuing to find qualified people and affordable housing for them in the area.

photo courtesy Meg Smith

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