The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2015

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72  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2015 BRAND PROFILE A s its name implies, Three Thieves is not a stodgy kind of brand. Indeed, the 14-year-old company is like any typical teenager: coltish, slightly irreverent and experiencing growth spurts. A partnership between fifth-generation West Coast winemaker Joel Gott, Charles Bieler, the self-described "New York–based wine entrepreneur and provocateur," and Roger Scommegna (also an Anderson Valley grape grower), Three Thieves is a sly reference to both the trio's M.O. of "stealing" the best fruit out from others, and producing wines that—at unheard-of low prices—are a steal for consumers. Scommegna, whose style of speaking is as colorful as his dossier, said they began the venture during the post-9/11 restau- rant slump. "There were tanks of wine everywhere, but no sales," he recalls. "You could walk up and down Highway 29 and buy amaz- ing, huge-name wines that in nowaday dollars you'd be paying $50 to $60 a gallon for. We were paying $5 to $8 a gallon just to get it off people's hands." Their first project was wine in a jug—a throwback to the '70s and an in-your- face defiance of convention. Its success proved that what's in the bottle counted more than the bottle itself. And at $9.99, consumers had little to lose. So the men pushed the envelope more, putting wines in Tetra Pak leveraging both a playful gesture and a small irony. The men gave themselves personalities as quirky as their wines: Joel Gott is known as the Master, Charles Bieler as the Hustler and Scommegna as the Dreamer. It worked with casual drinkers who saw them as "liberators of good wine." But soon, they were victims of their own success, producing 70,000 cases of wine in their first year. Joel Gott, The Master, described it as "organized chaos." "We were absolute disasters—we had no employees; it was just us trying to ship all these cases and make all these sales calls and answer the telephone . . . it wasn't what we signed up for," Scommegna says. "We wanted to make wine, market wine and be in the wine business, but we didn't anticipate all of the heavy lifting." Seeking a home amenable to their quirky products, the men paid a visit to Roger Trinchero and Bob Torkelson at Trinchero Family Estates. In that meeting, Scommegna offered half of the fledgling company for free in exchange for distribu- tion and sales management. It was a move that was not only uncon- ventional, but unprecedented. "It was absolutely unheard of—who would barter half their company? Nobody!" Gott said. But Three Thieves also filled a hole in the Trinchero portfolio. Within six months, Three Thieves had national distribution. Scommegna calls it a "tight partnership" in which they co-promote Trinchero's brands. "The more successful they are, the more successful we are. Dave Derby, Trinchero's Senior Vice President of Marketing, says, "Three Thieves gives us a brand at a price point that over delivers on quality and allows us to focus on the off-premise retail chan- nel . . . to have a price segment from these THREE THIEVES STEALS THE SPOTLIGHT by Lana Bortolot Not the Usual Suspects

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