With the booming popularity of natural and organic grocery stores has come a greater demand for organic wine. I interviewed Matthew Cain, the Founder of Yellow+Blue Wines about the company and the growing industry. Yellow+Blue is one of OYL’s favorite organic wine brands because its top of the line taste, affordability and eco-friendly packaging.
Can you explain what differentiates organic wine from non-organic in terms of production? Is there a difference in flavor?
Organic wine is essentially produced with no chemicals. None in the vineyard and none in the winery. “Normal” grape growing and wine making typically employs a plethora of chemical treatments to find a homogeneous house style. We try to let the vineyards and vintage speak for themselves, naturally.
What motivated you to venture into this market with the Yellow+Blue Brand in 2007? Is there a story behind the name?
My background is small production French and Italian wine. I’ve been in the wine import business most of my career, and at some point started thinking about the business model of wine itself. It seemed to me that there was a lot of waste built in to the model, and given the advances in technology and packaging, I decided to make my best attempt at building a 21st century wine business. We buy only certified organic or certified sustainable wines, ship them in an environmentally friendly way, and “bottle” them in modern packaging. This allows us to have a carbon footprint that is half of what it would be in the “traditional” model. We also offset the balance of our carbon footprint with carbon offsets. Thus… Yellow+Blue=Green!
Where are your vineyards located? How do you select your winemakers?
We work with high quality producers in Argentina, Spain and California. I personally visit the growers we work with a few times per year. I taste and select the blends for all Yellow+Blue wines. This is the fun part of the job!
In a 2010 survey , the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that less than 25% of wine and liquor bottles are recycled. How is your eco-friendly packaging a better option?
The number of wine bottles that are recycled is closer to 15% in the U.S. glass recycling is important for sure. However, it’s not the only important aspect. Glass is very energy intensive to produce, very heavy and expensive to ship, and expensive to recycle. A 9 liter case of wine in glass weighs 40 pounds. It’s made up of half glass and half wine. A case of my wine weigh 28 pounds for 12 liters. It’s 93% wine and 7% packaging. In addition, the packaging itself is made primarily of paper from sustainably run forests. As I stated above, our carbon footprint is half of what it would be if we worked within the traditional wine import model.
A number of upscale restaurants in NYC are starting to carry wine in Tetra Paks- do you believe that the stigma of boxed wines as being of lesser quality is starting to dissipate? Have you noticed a higher demand for your product? If so, what do you attribute this change to?
We work with many quality conscious restaurants all across the U.S. We work with upscale restaurants like Rouge Tomate, great wine bars like Terroir, and cool joints Momo Sushi Shack. The restaurants where we are most successful…don’t hide the fact that the wine is in a box. They promote the wine and the packaging because they believe in what we’re doing.
I personally believe that, given all the information, the general consumer is quite fine with what we’re doing. If we have an impediment to success, it’s really the wine business itself. As an importer, we can’t sell direct to consumers. We must sell through a distribution network, which then re-sells the wines to retailers, who then sells to the consumer. The distribution and retail networks are very traditionally minded groups that don’t live anywhere close to the cutting edge. Our difficulty is selling them on our new model of the wine trade when their view is fundamentally different.
It’s a tall task, but I think we’re doing something right. Our 2011 revenue was four times larger than our 2008 revenue. In addition, we were recently named to Entrepreneur’s list of 100 Brilliant Companies. We were the featured beverage company, and the only wine company on the list. I like to pull that out whenever I’m having a bad day.