Fine wine importer Demeine Estates on building a luxury wine business in the golden 2020s
Behind each sommelier presenting a bottle at the table is a three-tiered system of wine distribution, bringing luxury wines from vineyard to table, which has clearly felt the rapid change of the past two years. As the backbone of the restaurant and hospitality world, every step in this chain has faced challenges ranging from COVID-19 closures to tariffs; supply chain difficulties; and a reckoning on the role of diversity and inclusion in a space that has historically had high barriers to entry.
Enter Demeine Estates, an innovative wine company that sees these changes not as obstacles but as a roadmap to building a better wine industry; one they intend to lead.
“Good wines continue to thrive on a mix of high quality and strong demand,” said Scott Diaz, senior vice president of global brand strategy and marketing. “While there are supply shortages in key premium categories such as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Champagne, Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc, Demeine Estates is well positioned to meet consumer demand by expanding new partnerships with wineries.”
Established in October 2020 as a marketing and sales agency for some of Napa’s most historic and exclusive wines, Demeine Estates has already added Champagne Legras & Haas and Domaine de Montille to its import portfolio and continues to grow rapidly. After a little over a year in business, they are known as leaders in sustainability, quality and inclusivity (and they love wine and are very passionate about it!). So how do you manage to gain a foothold in such a turbulent market? Let’s look at her journey.
Everything starts with the wine. The roots were laid in 2018 when Nashville-based agricultural investor Gaylon Lawrence Jr. acquired Napa’s Heitz Cellar and placed Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy Jr. in charge. Since then, Lawrence has incorporated three other historic properties into what is now Lawrence Wine Estates (LWE): Stony Hill, Burgess and Haynes Vineyard. With a combined 185 years of operation, these wineries are benchmarks of Napa history and quality, but needed a refreshed presence in a market showing renewed interest in classically styled domestic wines.
Under McCoy’s stewardship, LWE has also created two new, independent brands: Ink Grade, a line of mountain wines from steep-sloping vineyards on the other side of Howell Mountain, and Brendel, a creative outlet for wineries’ winemakers aimed at bringing something new to the flock of high-quality, sustainably-produced Napa wines for a generation of consumers.
Demeine Estates’ mission is to spread the word (and wine) of “New Napa” to the nation’s most prominent merchants and complement the portfolio with imported properties of equal prestige. The New Napa focuses on sustainability and the next generation of winemakers, hospitality professionals and consumers, with a particular focus on quality and education. McCoy is serving as managing partner and he selected industry powerhouse Philana Bouvier to assume responsibility.
When Bouvier accepted the role of President, she became the first non-family female executive of a wine importer. When McCoy accepted the role of CEO from Heitz, he became the first CEO of a black winery in Napa Valley. For both McCoy and Bouvier, the most important thing is being “first,” making sure he’s followed by “many.”
Bouvier wanted to build a team based on talent, experience, aptitude and ambition. The resulting group is one of the most diverse (and female-led) in an industry with numerous barriers to advancement. While other companies are working to add diversity after the fact, Demeine Estates is building on that.
“Diversity is in our DNA here at Demeine Estates. Our organization puts people first, not policies, and we’ve seen the results,” says Bouvier.
“Our sales and marketing teams are the best around, not only because of their passion for winning, but also because of their ultimate respect for different perspectives. We believe in our people and our partners and want to make sure we push our wine industry to always embrace difference and celebrate culture from all backgrounds.”
The resulting team takes a novel approach to a traditional space. Leila Pearson, senior vice president of sales, leads a team of 10 across the country to bring wines to the highest visibility lists through unparalleled distribution relationships. The measured size of Demeine Estates’ portfolio allows full attention to be given to each brand, a rarity in a wine world that has gradually consolidated into fewer dealers and larger supplier portfolios.
Scott Diaz, senior vice president of global brand strategy and marketing, leads a three-person team to open up and engage new consumers of luxury wines to the New Napa. Senior Brand Manager Alexa D’Acquisto is an expert in brand building and repositioning, and Brand Manager Shannon Pestoni co-founded, grew and sold Napa’s Jelly Jar Wines before joining the team. Audrey, Digital Marketing Specialist
Marek uses social media and digital tools to create an unprecedented online footprint in a segment that often overlooks the power of virtual space.
The team is also uniquely aware of its role in the larger wine industry and that leadership cannot exist in a vacuum. In January 2022, they announced theirs dream it live it Initiative dedicated to providing career development opportunities specifically for women and people of color in the wine and hospitality industry with a focus on entrepreneurship.
The goal is to build 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 inspires trust and invites people, both employees and partners, into the wine space who may not have felt comfortable 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.”
Her first partnership with Tish Wiggins of “Tish Around Town” resulted in the Celebration of Women in Wine Trip taking place March 29-April 2 in Napa Valley. With sponsorship from Demeine Estates, Tish, a wine educator, events curator, speaker and wine writer with a robust online and social media presence, will bring together a group of 20 attendees to taste with Heitz Cellar Director of Winemaking Brittany Sherwood, Burgess and to learn from Winemaker Meghan Zobeck, Stony Hill Winemaker Jaimee Motley and Brendel Hospitality Manager Candace Keeton.
The celebration of the Women in Wine Tour will also highlight the newly opened Heitz Cellars Tasting Salon, a contemporary design and experience modeled after French Laundry. Employing many hospitality professionals with Michelin Star backgrounds, the space elevates the wine tasting and pairing experience beyond the vineyard while still maintaining a root-to-glass approach. The tour’s focus on hospitality and luxury emphasizes the interweaving of good food, fine wine and high quality.
“Attendees will enjoy a three-course meal featuring dishes from award-winning chef Cindy Pawlcyn at the legendary Mustards Grill,” says Wiggins, a hospitality veteran and restaurant connoisseur.
A Napa Valley staple for over 37 years, Mustards Grill serves chef and owner Cindy Pawlcyn’s blend of regional American dishes combined with global influences. Favorites include the famous Mongolian pork chop with sweet and sour red cabbage; and the house rabbit marinated in herbs with Brussels sprouts leaves, parsnips roasted with thyme and white wine redcurrants.
“We strategically secured a boutique hotel in downtown Napa so attendees have access to some of the best restaurants and dining experiences Napa has to offer,” Wiggins continues. “Some of my favorites are Oentori and Charlie Palmer Steak and I always enjoy ending my night 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? Expanding their import portfolio through strong relationships with wineries that share their values of sustainability, history and quality. Diaz, who spent 12 years as senior vice president of marketing at a well-known importer with a large portfolio before joining Demeine Estates, wants to develop the many historic wineries, particularly in France and Italy, that are underrepresented in the American market . Once he gets the meeting, he says, it’s all up to Bouvier.
“You bring Philana in the door, she makes the deal,” says Diaz.
From the beginning Demeine Estates was built by change makers; and as a result, they are uniquely able to adapt to and influence an ever-evolving industry. So if you’re wondering where fine wine will be in 5 years, look no further than Demine Estates.