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“These are classic, highly concentrated Columbia Valley expressions of Cabernet and Meritage that are more traditional in style and yet convey a sense of discovery,” says Erin Smith, the marketing director of Constellation’s Wine & Spirits Innovation. The grapes are sourced from the Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills sub-AVAs.
Spoken Barrel’s straightforward packaging “lacks fluff and pretense,” says Smith, an approach that aligns the brand with the targeted drinker: a man who prefers Patagonia over Brooks Brothers, a cool backpack over a designer messenger bag, and who may use two wheels to get around. “He wants to know it’s a quality wine, that it’s bold and complex, and that it’s going to deliver the higher-end style he’s looking for,” Smith explains, adding that the Spoken Barrel drinker is different—“like the state of Washington is different from California—and therefore unique.”
Conveying such layered messaging requires a distinctive package. Stenciled bottles use a simple, bespoke look to convey the story of these classic, crafted wines, as well as that of Washington State. The “#42” on the bottle references the fact that the state was the 42nd to join the union and evokes the sense of a last frontier.
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In the prelaunch market study conducted for Constellation, the bottle design “tested through the roof with consumers,” says Smith. And indeed, the bottle has since tested as the number two most noticed brand on the shelf—the highest breakthrough in its competitive set, according to Spoken Barrel’s Shelf & Package Test (Informed Decisions Group, May 2017). At a suggested retail price of $19.99, the ultra-premium wines are priced slightly above the everyday bottle yet are still approachable for most occasions.
Leveraging the excellence of Washington State’s Cabernet Sauvignon, the signature Spoken Barrel blend is Cab driven (78 percent), with the rest of the blend composed of Syrah (13 percent), Merlot (5 percent), and Petit Verdot (4 percent). It owes its nuanced profile to aging in stainless steel tanks and a combination of French, American, and other European oak barrels. In this wine, the fruit shines: bold, concentrated blackberry, cherry, and cassis flavors, with layers of vanilla spice, are backed by fine, velvety tannins and a long finish.
Spoken Barrel’s Meritage straddles modernity and tradition. Sourced from some of the region’s most exciting vineyards, Meritage is made from Bordeaux’s noble grape varieties. Driven by Malbec (45 percent)—a rising-star variety in the state—the blend also contains Cabernet (28 percent), Merlot (14 percent), and Petit Verdot (13 percent). Featuring lush red and black fruits, as well as leather, chocolate, and smoke, and elevated by hints of spicy licorice and citrus rind, the wine combines New World fruit with Old World complexity.
This year Spoken Barrel won top medals. Anthony Dias Blue, the founder of Blue Lifestyle, awarded both the 2015 vintage Cabernet and Meritage 92 points (Gold Medals), and the Meritage also won a Silver at the World Wine Championships.
Only six months after its launch, the Cabernet was the eighth ultra-premium Washington State brand, and Meritage is the state’s number two red blend, according to IRI data for multi outlets (IRI Ultra-Premium Washington Cabernet dollar sales L12 weeks ending 8/12/18). The 30,000 cases—for fiscal year 2019—are distributed nationally.
The visionary drinks company Constellation Brands has been committed to continuous innovation for the past 70 years to maintain its leadership position within the beverage category. And these days, it’s proving that with experience comes wisdom.