What does it mean to call a wine “generous” or “giving?” Ask Cupcake Vineyards’ winemaker Adam Richardson, who uses those words to describe his growing portfolio of wines. According to Richardson, Cupcake wines all share a similar appeal: a balanced style that makes it easy for new wine drinkers to transition from one Cupcake wine to the next—facilitating the widening of the consumer palates to many varieties and styles. And Cupcake does this at an easy to swallow price—with all priced at or below $13.99.
If sales are any indicator, Cupcake is achieving its goals. In a fiercely competitive industry where branding is extremely tough, the Cupcake brand has clearly distinguished itself to yield phenomenal growth. The company launched in 2007 with an annual production about 10,000 cases—bottling three different Central Coast, California wines. In 2011, Cupcake bottled about a million cases of wine, and not all from California.
In 2008, they released their Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which is exceptionally good at the bargain price. Since then, Cupcake has have expanded into several other premium quality wine regions within Italy, Germany, Argentina, and Australia.
Thanks to Cupcakes growing international focus, Richardson now operates as a “flying winemaker,” investing considerable time and effort to develop relationships and establish practices with growers and vintners in far-off locations. These collaborations grow easier with each iteration, freeing time for Richardson to begin working in other regions. Cupcake continues to expand around the world, soon to release a wine from Chianti, Italy, as well as a white blend.
Australian native and now California resident, Richardson attributes the brand’s success as driven purely by consumer demand for the Cupcake style rather than smart marketing. Cupcake serves a “new way of drinking wine” common among the millennial generation, he explains. Facilitated by the globalization of the wine industry, today’s young wine drinkers are more open to a wide range of styles and regions, he says. Millennials don’t take wine drinking cues from their parents, wine pros, or even the prestigious, renowned wineries. Their uncomplicated quest to find enjoyable wines involves simply open-minded experimentation. And Cupcake makes that quest easy, according to Richardson.
Yet smart marketing surely plays a role—as it must to earn such success in this industry. Wines of lesser quality—in my opinion—have also captured a big and enduring market share thanks to good measure to smart labeling. In fact, the Cupcake name, the label, and style of these wines all beckon consumers to at least give them a try. Cupcake has also engaged in smart outreach, such as their appearance at the 2008 Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Santa Rosa California, where I had my first sip during the live blogging session.
Cupcake also puts its clever marketing to work in a line of vodkas, which are named after various cakes: Devils Food, Frosting, Chiffon, and original blend. These are marketed in beautiful blue bottles with yellow caps and white writing, which give them a celebratory look. In fact, the cupcake vodka.com website includes a link to a “Bridal Headquarters” page on the company’s main site that includes wedding planning tips, placing their products in the context of life’s most joyful events. Brilliant.
While the company’s market may get consumers to try the wine, quality makes them loyal, and its appeal goes beyond Millennials. As member of the X-Generation and serious student of wine, I’ve found Cupcake wines quite pleasant and I particularly enjoy Cupcake’s sparkling wines and its especially good Sauvignon Blanc. And I am not alone as Cupcake continues to gain recognition from reviewers, bloggers, and others from my generation.
I had the opportunity to taste a larger portfolio of the company’s wines at a lunch recently with Richardson at Washington D.C.’s Zola restaurant. There we put to test what Richardson calls the Cupcake “generous” profile.
Based on Richard’s descriptions before we began sipping, I expected wines with good fruit, delicate complexity, smooth textures, light or soft tannins, and a good balance of acidity. I would have been surprised to find heavy alcohol (>15%); rustic, grippy, or bitter tannins; or old-world character reminiscent of a barnyard (a serious fault in my opinion, but not everyone).
The entire line of Cupcake wines performed according to expectations–sometimes with more generous flavor than I expected, such as for the Shiraz. There were no bitter edges, unexpected sweetness, off-putting aromas, or funky tastes. Cupcake did indeed “give” something that is easy to understand and quite tasty.
Specifically, here are notes on the line up of wines we tasted:
Cupcake Prosecco: I enjoyed this one’s creamy texture and froth, which makes it more interesting than many other Prosecco sparklers. Richardson suggests enjoying it with food, but it’s also a great aperitif or sipping wine for holiday parties.
Cupcake Sauvigon Blanc: I am already a consumer of this wine, which is bright, fresh and clean as would be expected of any good Sauvignon Blanc. Richardson explained that he wanted this wine to remain “true” to Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc’s traditional style—avoiding an overly green style. Instead, it offers “dry grass” and “herbaceous” notes. He also allows for some “lees contact” to give creamy quality on the mid-palate. Excellent results.
Cupcake Chardonnay: This is a nicely balanced chardonnay, which keeps fruit intact. Richardson says he strives for some creamy (from oak) elements to work with freshness form the fruit. It uses American oak, but in modest proportion.
Cupcake Shiraz: The Cupcake Shiraz is quite impressive for the price and was the most exciting discovery of the day for me. The focus here remains on the fruit from a relatively cool climate that maintains acidity and balanced texture. My palate found it relatively complex with some exciting notes of blueberry and a hint of eucalyptus.
Red Velvet: Named after a cupcake itself, this wine is perfect for those who like light, fruity wines that don’t over complicate things. This great everyday-red will work with holiday turkey, as an alternative to Beaujolais.
Cupcake Vineyard wines can be found in many local shops includingTotal Wine, Wholefoods, Safeway, and more.