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Building a Wine Brand: one Fine Wine Success Story. Part I

Building a Wine Brand: Podere il Carnasciale
Part I

With the explosion of wineries and wine brands around the world, the market has become extremely competitive. For years, wineries have produced wine under a simple philosophy – to produce quality wine that will drive sales. Currently, however, it is no longer enough to simply make good wine. You also have to know how to sell it. In particular, small producers, who make a few thousand bottles a year, struggle and often get swamped by competitively priced wines from around the globe.

Podere Il Carnasciale, a small Tuscan winery, is a great example of how to create a fantastic product and successful wine brand with creativity, courage, passion…, and following basic rules of marketing.

I met Moritz Rogosky of Podere Il Carnasciale at the recent Slow Wine tasting in New York to talk about the unique wines of Il Carnasciale and the winery’s story of success.

Il Caberlot is the flagship wine of Podere Il Carnasciale. Nicolas Belfrage MW in The World of the Fine Wine magazine called it, “the most famous cult wine you’ve probably never heard of “. What’s the story behind your wine, and what specific steps did you take to develop your wine brand?

Caberlot Grape
Caberlot Grape. Photo courtesy of Podere il Carnasciale

Moritz: We started from pretty much nothing, but with a strong idea and abundance of passion. In 1986, right after the freeze of 1985, which destroyed most of our olive trees, my parents Bettina and Wolf planted a tiny vineyard of 0,3 hectares, on the hilltop farm overlooking the Arno valley (Valdarno) in the southern Chianti. They had little feeling for traditional Sangiovese, which at that time was giving very rustic wines. Instead, they decided to go with an unusual grape variety found in an abandoned vineyard near Padua by the agronomist Remigio Bordini in the late 1960s. The variety or rather biotype appeared to be a natural, spontaneous crossing of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, hence Wolf proclaimed ‘Il Caberlot’.

Size matters

Moritz: Inspired by the older vintage reds from Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux, my father wanted to create wine with great ageing potential. Large-format bottles are well suited for longer ageing, so it was decided that the wine would be bottled exclusively in magnums.

In 1988 we bottled first three hundred magnums of Il Caberlot, and were determined to reach a production of one thousand bottles one day.

Il Caberlot WIne label
The X on the label ‘marks the spot’ and symbolizes the encounter of two grape varieties. The color and the cross are different every vintage reflecting the style and character of wine. Every bottle is hand-numbered by Bettina Rogosky, the lady behind the wine.
Drinking with your eyes: the label

Moritz: I came up with a simple, but eye-catching label design with X ‘marking the spot’ and symbolizing the encounter of two grape varieties. The idea was to have something provocative, something that can be easily noticed. Striking, mono-colored labels featuring a hand-painted cross, slightly different every vintage, certainly helped to draw attention to the wine.

Quality is key

Moritz: Quality has always been our priority. We are what one could call an ‘haute couture’ winery in the sense that everything is done with extreme care, attention to detail, and mostly by hand. In the vineyard we are guided by the common sense of working with the utmost respect for the soil and the plants. No chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides are used; all treatments are natural and organic. In the cellar we pursue non-invasive winemaking practices allowing the wine to achieve the most distinct structure and character.

Top of mind means tip of tongue: the power of word-of-mouth

Moritz: Back then, the best way to create visibility for the wine brand was to travel, to visit restaurants, and to taste wine with chefs and sommeliers, letting the wine and my parent’s passion and charm to do the work. As a result, magnums of Il Caberlot could be found in some of the best restaurants of Europe, such as L’Ambroisie in Paris, Tantris in Munich, Enoteca Pinchiorri and il Cibrèo in Florence – our most faithful wine ambassadors until today.

In 1996 we reached the ‘Mille Magnum’ my father was aiming for – it was also the year when he passed away. My mother took over the reins and together with my brother Philip continued to manage the winery. They were helped by visiting consultants, agronomist Remidio Bordini (the one who discovered the Caberlot grape a few decades earlier) and enologist Vittorio Fiore, mastering the craft of winemaking with each vintage.

At this point, sales and marketing were not priorities. We relied on the traditional business model of making good products and believed that people would find us. The clientèle was built mostly around already established contacts in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, thanks to my father’s connections in advertising. Word-of-mouth was the main form of marketing.

Peter Schilling

Moritz: A further step forward in quality of wine was made when Peter Schilling, a certified enologist from Baden, previously trained in Burgundy, joined Il Carnasciale in 2002. His experience, experimental spirit and outgoing personality quickly put Il Caberlot on the wine connoisseurs’ radar. It gave my mother the confidence to develop the production further and to let the wine speak for itself out in the world.

Carnasciale Vineyard
Everything in the vineyard is carried out with utmost respect for the soil and the plants, mostly by hands. No chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides are used. Carnasciale Vineyard. Photo courtesy of Podere il Carnasciale
Il Carnasciale today

Moritz: With two plantings in 1999 and 2004, Il Carnasciale’s initial 0.3 hectares grew to 2,1 hectares. Two further plots were planted in 2010 and 2013. Today we have 5 vineyards with total surface area of 4,5 hectares. We added a second wine, Carnasciale, a more approachable version of Il Caberlot to our portfolio in 2000.

Today we produce about three thousand magnums of Il Caberlot, hand-numbered by my mother, and six to eight thousand 0,75l bottles of Carnasciale, depending on the vintage.

Bettina Signing Labels
Every label is hand-numbered by Bettina Rogosky, so it’s easy to trace their journey. Betting Signing Labels. Photo courtesy of Podere il Carnasciale

While it may all look like a thought-out undertaking, back then it was more about transforming our family values into the product of our labor. Taking all the risks of planting a variety that nobody had heard of, without knowing how to make great wine, my parents embarked on this journey driven by their passion, courage and vision for what they wanted to achieve. It all paid off eventually, partly by virtue of the wine’s outstanding quality, partly by the fact that it has always been marketed in a very limited number of magnum-size bottles, for the premium price. [The initial price of a magnum of Il Caberlot was 100 deutschmarks, which would be the equivalent of $54 today].

Read Part II of the interview with Moritz Rogosky to learn what it takes to sell wine in 25 countries, why the wine costs what it does, and what lies ahead for the winery.

 Tasting notes and How to Find your rare bottle of Caberlot.

Follow Podere il Carnasciale on Twitter @ilcaberlot Instagram @caberlot and Facebook Caberlot.

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