Sonoma County Winery’s Foray into Hard Cider is a Case Study in Category Expansion

As the end of the year approaches and the typical season for thinking and planning approaches, wineries might benefit from serious thinking about the idea of ​​testing new or different product offerings.

Brand extensions in new categories are all the rage in the broader beverage industry, where even giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola recently announced that after years of avoiding the idea, they are launching new alcoholic offerings. .

I recently caught up with Joe Dutton and his daughter Kylie from Dutton Estate Winery in Sevastopol to discuss their journey in cidering through their established family brand.

The Duttons have created a fruity cider with a balance between acid and sweetness. Tasting cider is like biting into a fresh apple. They started out in small bottles and in glass bottles, then increased their production and put the hard cider in a can to transport it. They expect 2022 to be their biggest production run yet.

Four key takeaways came to mind during our conversation about the success of this new category of drink for Duttons.

Find inspiration in a family heritage

Joe and his wife, Tracy, founded the winery in 1995. They currently offer 12 wines in their tasting room, online and through various retailers. While exploring the introduction of a sparkling grape, Joe decided to take inspiration from wine production and use apples grown on their family estate, which were planted by his father Warren Dutton.

Joe and his brother Steve are attached to the farming legacy started by their parents, Warren and Gail. Today, they grow 200 acres of certified organic apples, focusing on Gravenstein, Johnathan, and Golden Delicious, along with a few small blocks of other varieties. While the majority of the harvest is sold to make apple cider vinegar, juice and applesauce, a small amount hits the fresh market at the Gravenstein Apple Fair each August. Joe considered continuing the family’s legacy by adding carbonated hard apple cider to the wine portfolio.

Leverage existing infrastructure

The Duttons will be the first to admit that they had many of the “tools” needed to produce their new offering close at hand. Using the grape press to squeeze apples, stainless steel vats to hold the juice, and wine barrels to ferment the juice into hard cider, Joe and Tracy designed their first hard cider.

While the process has certainly been a learning curve and adjustments have taken place since the first production in 2015, the cider has sold out every year and even while continually increasing the size of the production.

There seems to be a valuable lesson there about thinking creatively about new ways to use existing resources to create new sources of income. This can include raw materials, machinery and production equipment, as well as the knowledge base and interests of your employees. For example, the Dutton Estate winemaker had never produced cider before – and the process is different – but the family had better try and learn.

Cross-promote existing brands

While product development in categories other than wine may appear to create competition for wine brands, the cider brand is in fact complementary and attracts a different set of consumers to Dutton’s wine brands. Dutton Estate took advantage of its established social media presence and email marketing list to introduce its new cider to its existing customers. The buzz and excitement around something new served to increase foot traffic, and subsequently sales, for the winery.

In addition, Sevastopol has become somewhat of a strong cider tasting destination with the arrival, among other things, of the Golden State Cider bar. Dutton Estate was able to follow this “cider route” trend, attracting new customers who they could also introduce to their wines.

Another avenue the company has found to promote both its cider and its wine have been farmers’ markets. When the winery was closed at the start of the pandemic, employees discovered an opportunity to pour and sell the cider at the Luther Burbank Center Farmers Market in Santa Rosa. The stand turned out to be so popular that the market invited the company to bring its wine as well.

Bring in the next generation

Many family owned wineries have been started with generational planning in mind and with parents willing to offer a way to involve and support the family for generations to come. Launching a new category can offer another way to include younger generations and create new roles that might interest them. This younger generation also tends to be more social media savvy, possessing certain skills that can prove invaluable when entering a new market.

Kylie Dutton, assistant oenologist, plays a vital role in the company’s winemaking operations and also has her share in the production and success of the cider. She has the pulse of social media trends and has been instrumental in bringing to fruition innovative ideas for marketing cider, including creating a cocktail recipe using cider from the last holiday season that was shared with subscribers.

Hard apple cider adds a solid layer to Dutton’s story, as there is nothing more “Sonoma County” than the Gravenstein apple and its heirloom that grows these apples. The cider brand complements Dutton’s existing family brand and has clearly been well received by consumers.

The current cider vintage is exhausted; however, Joe and Kylie promise to release their next vintage very soon and in a new 12 oz. can. When available, it will be found at the tasting room and local grocery stores, as well as distributed in the keg to area restaurants.

While the recipe for success for a business when launching into a new category may not be the same for everyone, the key to remember is to take a look at your existing resources and not be afraid to get creative.

From easy-to-transport wine in cans to whole new categories of drinks such as hard cider or seltzer, you might be surprised that an idea you haven’t yet explored actually fits your existing story.