When retired Marine and certified Sonoma Valley character Bruno Benziger founded Glen Ellen Winery in 1980, he was just looking for a quick source of cash flow to boost the boutique winery now known as Benziger Family Wines.
But the cash that ultimately flowed became a raging torrent as sales skyrocketed from less than 7,000 cases in 1982 to approximately 2.6 million cases in 1988.
By the time Diageo’s former Heublein unit paid $150 million for the brand and winemaking operation in 1993, Glen Ellen had pioneered the so-called “fighting varietal” category ($3 to $5/bottle back then) and pre-saged the eventual creation of Two Buck Chuck.
Heublein struggled with continuing Glen Ellen’s success and in 2002 sold it and the M. G. Vallejo brand to The Wine Group (TWG) for $83 million.
This label (below) from 2006 is the earliest Glen Ellen brand label available in the TTB’s online Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) web site. This format was the standard Glen Ellen wine brand label until 2009.
Glen Ellen’s fate as a stand-alone brand was sealed by the time TWG CEO David Kent spoke before the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers annual meeting in November 2010, and revealed the company’s evolving strategy to find the right niche for its widely varying brands.
From a macro view, that meant separating the company into Underdog Wine Merchants, to market to Millennials and GenX, and Franzia, for the older generation and what Kent called “the boomer tail.” Not accidentally, typing in http://thewinegroup.com into a browser URL window gets forwarded to Underdog.
(For more on this, see: Wine Group CEO Details Insight & Strategy On Millennials & Generational Marketing)
Not mentioned by Kent was a third branding strategy that would use Concannon Vineyards as a premium bridge between Franzia and Underdog.
The Concannon trade/press web page shows Glen Ellen filling the lowest tier in the Concannon line
The label, below, is the first COLA approval that associated Glen Ellen with Concannon. Glen Ellen was still its own brand at this point,
The label (below) is the very last COLA issued for the Glen Ellen Brand. While virtually identical to the one from 2009, the COLA filing itself shows the ascendancy of Concannon over Glen Ellen in the labeling.
The TTB COLA search for Glen Ellen as a brand stopped with this final label.
While there was no public announcement, Glen Ellen as a brand effectively died after this last label approval. On May 10, just four days after the last TTB COLA approval, Glen Ellen’s Wikipedia entry was forwarded to the Concannon entry. Glenellenwinery.com followed suit around this time as well.
The label below, (from the Concannon web site), shows the current use of Glen Ellen as a “tier” wine under the Concannon brand. The TTB’s COLA system lists this and all other Glen Ellen labels, under the Concannon Brand.
Kimberly Grace J. Geluz, TWG Brand Manager – Popular Wine, would not say why Glen Ellen had been demoted or what the reasons were for its change in status. She did send the following statement in an email to Wine Industry Insight:
“Concannon was founded in 1883 and became part of The Wine Group in 2002, the same year TWG purchased the Glen Ellen brand.
“The restoration and re-vitalization of the historic Concannon brand was planned in a series of phases to be completed over a ten year period.
“Packaging modifications have been occurring gradually over the years to allow consumers to maintain their familiarity with their favorite Concannon wine.
“Early in 2012, the Glen Ellen brand was discontinued, and Concannon’s Glen Ellen tier was established.
“The new package prominently displays the Ellen Rowe Concannon Victorian, the wine’s namesake, which is proudly located on Concannon’s Livermore Valley estate winery.”
Brands don’t get funerals or obituaries when they pass into that great beyond. No flaming Viking boats to Valhalla or Irish wakes. So, no mention in Concannon’s press releases about the change in status (see below).
Perhaps that’s because Glen Ellen is more like the undead, a ghost, a haunted brand. It has certainly lived a tortured and chaotic life since it left the hands of the Benziger family. Its future probably still remains to be told.