There seems to be the common thread of achievement running through the post University of Texas career of BOND Estates Director Paul Roberts, MS. A career that has focused on being a standard setter in the wine business. Paul came into my field of vision during his days as wine director at Café Annie on Post Oak Boulevard in Houston. This was always at the top of my list of national goto food & wine spots. The wine list was not only innovative it had soul. Paul’s selections for Robert Del Grande’s cutting edge restaurant introduced wines that not only matched the food, but tended to light the fires of intellectual curiosity for both the wine cognoscenti and casual dinners. During his RDG tenure Paul advanced through the levels of the Court of Master Sommeliers. In 2002, becoming the first Texan and the 48th Master Sommelier in the world, Paul was awarded the Krug Cup as only the 6th person in the history of the MS exam to pass on first try.
Recruited to lead the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group wine program, Paul moved to the Napa Valley in 2003. As part of his responsibility, Paul managed the beverage programs at four TKRG restaurants, supervising 12 sommeliers and he facilitated the simultaneous opening of both Per Se in New York and Bouchon in Las Vegas. By 2007 Paul had come to the attention of Bill Harlan, in part thanks to the seven Michelin stars that he earned during his stint with Chef Keller. He joined BOND Estates as Director in August 2008.
Paul can often be found on the road sharing the BOND Estates journey. A compelling narrative that is Zen centered in the ongoing quest for perfection. Paul shared the BOND story earlier this year at the Taste of Oakville Master Class and most recently at the 2011 Aspen Food & Wine Classic. In addition to the key account tastings in which BOND is featured, Paul maintains a full travel schedule. Based on the strategy of connecting with consumers world wide Paul has been featured at wine events as diverse as the 2008 Monaco Media Forum, the Davos World Economic Forum, and tasting with a group of diplomats at the American Embassy in Bangkok. Fortunately for the readers/viewers of the AoD vlog, Paul has taken a short break from his travels to share some insights on the marketing vision of this iconic wine estate.
Marketing an Iconic Wine Estate (click on video to view or click here)
The Take Away
It’s the conventional wisdom of the B-School crowd that A’s hire from the A+ pool. BOND proprietor Bill Harlan is by any definition an A++, so it’s no surprise that he hired the talented Mr. Roberts. Paul shares Bill Harlan’s vision for BOND Estates, which first took form back in the Merryvale days when winemaker Bob Levy reported that a few of the 60 vineyards sourced for the wine program produced exceptional ‘first growth’ fruit. This started a journey that has now lasted 28 years, and the process has just begun. For the philosopher business man Bill Harlan there’s no rush. It’s the journey that matters.
The big idea behind BOND has been to identify and produce site specific Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon based ‘Grand Crus,’ utilizing sensitive hands on farming techniques and by using the same detailed wine making protocol for each vineyard. The intent is to produce wines that are differentiated from the crowd by quality. Quality in the sense that Robert Pirsig once described in his book Lila. So far, dating from the original release of two site specific wines in 1999, Vecina and Melbury – selected from a candidate pool of 27 vineyards, the classic label list after years of winegrowing and winemaking trials has now grown to 5 wines. The intended outcomes, if measured in time and money, may not in the short term be financially wise, but with an eye on producing timeless classic labels the short term is a non factor in the BOND decision matrix.
The indefatigable efforts of Director Paul Roberts, MS and the team at BOND have lead to tangible results. Despite the micro production of each of the five ‘Grand Crus’, the wines of BOND are distributed world wide. The ‘Members‘ mailing list likely could and would easily absorb the entire production within days of each vintage release. However, with a deep understanding that place (distribution) matters in the perception of any luxury consumable, the availability of wines in the worlds top wine shops and a place on the table at the best restaurants help to imprint and to reinforce in the minds of consumers the idea of a luxury wine experience.
Noted that the word ‘luxury’ has been adopted by wine marketers to describe wines that on the whole are not luxury products and the word has become “commonplace.” However, to a select sub-set of worldwide affluent wine consumers, the word ‘luxury’ still has currency. The best take on the idea of luxury marketing comes from a resource shared by Paul – ‘The Luxury Strategy: Break the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands‘ by J. N. Kapferer and V. Bastien. Kapferer and Bastien note that “true luxury products tend to be driven by a creative vision.” And it is a clearly defined vision that drives the ongoing search for ‘terroir’ that has positioned the “best expression of site” wines of BOND Estates not in the aspirational luxury CPG market segment but squarely as a centerpiece in the small circle of meaningful classic wine labels.
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