Thursday, October 25, 2012

Laughing Stock releases Portfolio 2010

Photo: The Laughing Stock winery on Naramata Road

This summer, Laughing Stock Vineyards was the only winery to be included in Profit magazine’s list of Canada’s 200 fastest growing companies.

With a five-year growth rate of 279%, the winery was 159 on the list. Of course, the winery, launched in 2003 when David and Cynthia Enns bought a vineyard on Naramata Road, has grown from a comparatively small base. Even so, the growth rate is sizzling.

What are the reasons? First of all, David and Cynthia are very good business managers. In their previous career, they ran a consulting company that worked with leading financial companies. Cynthia has an MBA and such a good head for figures that David quips: “I am married to the spreadsheet queen.”

They are very effective at marketing their wines. “When the business plan was developed, we sat down and talked about distribution channels,” David recalls. “We used to do that same strategic planning in our other business. Where are we going to generate revenue? Where is our margin the best? How do we create and meet expectations?”

One of their best marketing ploys has been to sell futures on a portion of their flagship red wine. Customers who put their money down in February for a case or two to be delivered in October currently save about $5 a bottle on Portfolio, now retailing at $42 on release. The futures program and the direct sales to Laughing Stock’s wine club account for about 40% of the winery’s sales.

You might think there is a risk in buying a case before tasting the wine. In this instance, the risk is low, given Laughing Stock’s track record for quality. The winery’s sales have grown rapidly because the wines are all well made.

Portfolio 2010, just released this month, won a gold medal in the recent Canadian Wine Awards competition. The two previous vintages of Portfolio also won gold medals.

Many wineries of Laughing Stock’s size, about 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year, have been content to sell most of the wine in British Columbia, dribbling a little into Alberta.

Laughing Stock, on the other hand, has made a deliberate effort to sell its wines as far afield as Ontario. As a result, some of the wines get into the hands of the national wine press and get reviewed nationally. As well, the wines get into the hands of corporate customers.

Because of their background in business, David and Cynthia seek out corporate purchasers who use the wines as corporate gifts. The Laughing Stock bottles are tailored to that market. Ticker tape and stock symbols wrap around every bottle of Portfolio, as an example.

“When somebody gets a bottle of Portfolio, or a two bottle set in a box with the corporate logo on it, they are pretty impressed, even if they don’t drink wine,” David suggests. “A corporate gift should reflect your value system. It should reflect what you think of the person you are giving this gift to. It is not just schwag.”

Here is a heads up for those lucky enough to get either of the current Laughing Stock releases this holiday – or enterprising enough to buy them on your own.

Laughing Stock Portfolio 2010 ($42 for 1,675 cases). This is 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. (The remaining 1% got lost on the spreadsheet.)It begins with an exuberant brambly aroma of currants and blackberries mingling with cloves and spice. Generous on the palate, with long ripe tannins,the wine has flavours of  black cherry, black currant, vanilla, mocha and spice. This is a complex and satisfying wine that is drinking well now but will age to greater complexity over the next five years. 92.

Laughing Stock Chardonnay 2011 ($26 for 314 cases). This wine was fermented and aged seven months in 500-litre oak puncheons, double the size of standard wine barrels. This means the oak is very subtly in the background, delivering a delicate toasty note on the finish but not submerging the lively fruit. The wine begins with buttery tangerine aromas and delivers flavours of tangerine and peach; the winery’s own tasting notes speak of lemon meringue. The fresh, elegant finish lingers. 90. 


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