Interview: How Washington’s Browne Family has defied gravity

By |2023-07-11T20:27:28-07:00July 12th, 2023|

In 2003, Browne Family, part of Precept Wines, started out with a mere 100 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. The label has since grown to more than 125,000 cases annually.

Today, while many in the wine industry are working hard just to survive, Browne Family is thriving. The winery has had 61% growth in Washington and 45% nationally over the past two years according to Nielson data.* In this way, the winery has been able to defy gravity.

As Browne Family marks its 20th anniversary this year, I spoke with founder Andrew Browne about how Browne Family keeps growing despite a contracting industry, Browne’s recently launched Forest Project brand, the success of the winery’s House Wine rainbow cans, premiumization in the wine industry, and how Browne Family is planning to leverage its spirits business to sell wine.

This was a wide-ranging discussion without a formal Q & A. For this reason, I have preceded each response by Browne with the broader topic being discussed. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

On how Browne Family has managed to grow despite a contracting wine industry.

What I look at, especially in a hard wine business, is what are the triggers that really matter to the end consumer? What do they really care about?

What they still really care about is proprietors. They really care about people that are invested, that are willing to go out, are willing to put themselves in front.

Why is Browne significantly outpacing the rest of the industry? I think it’s in part because we’re a family. Yes, we do promotions, have our buyers put up case stacks and run by the glass and those remain extremely important.

But I clearly feel that a big reason Browne Family is having the success that it’s having in the growth rates is because there’s a family behind it. There are people that are engaged in it every day with the last name Browne. There’s something there.

Where our success lies as a company is it’s as genuine as genuine can be. It’s not a marketing campaign. It’s not a branding thing.

On how the recently launched Forest Project fits into the Browne Family portfolio.

Forest Project started as a personal mission given recent impacts due to climate change on our vineyards and grapes, but an interesting and unexpected result is how strongly the younger customer has responded to it. We’re trending really well with younger consumers because of Forest Project. It’s now become a cornerstone for us.

One of the things that we’re finding with younger people is they’re very socially minded. I think they’re intrigued by the fact that we’re really giving back. Every bottle you buy, we plant a tree. They care. They leverage their money with things that matter to them.

That’s been a really good opportunity for us to learn from that and to be able to say, ‘How do we engage these younger people in a more thoughtful process for them?’

Why House Wine’s rainbow can has remained successful despite overall decreases in the canned wine market.

House Wine is doing well because we’re committed to human rights, and we have said ‘We are going to put our money where our mouth is.’ [Editor’s Note: House Wine donates a portion of proceeds from the sales of House Wine Rainbow Rosé and Frosé to The Human Rights Campaign.] Even though the [canned wine] category has been decimated over the last 12, 18 months, we have not. That is a strong brand, and it’s a brand that consumers feel good about.

Pride is really important in June. June is a critical time period for us to get that out in front of people, but we’re making it more about human rights, and that is 365 days a year.

Young people gravitate to that. They love that, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re part of the LGBTQ community, and that’s the only reason you’re buying this. You’re supporting human rights, and you’re doing it with a $5 purchase of a product. We need more of that.

On the wine industry’s recent trend toward premiumization and how Precept is approaching it.

All our whole industry is talking about is over $20. ‘That’s where the trends are. That’s where we have to go.’ It’s not where we have to go. That’s not the entry point!

Browne Family, in the last two years, our major focus has been 15 to 20 dollars as well elevating our premium SKUs, whether its $30+ in wholesale or $50+ in our tasting rooms to attract the higher end customer. We used to be everything was north of 25 or 30 [dollars]. Now we’re trying to balance that with less expensive wines, because we want to embrace more of a community.

What we have to do [overall as a company] is have a deliverable at $10, at $15, and at $19.99. That $9.99 to $19.99 category has to be where our deliverance is as an industry. Precept is extremely focused on that.

On how Browne Family Spirits, launched last year, fits into the broader program.

What we’ve found in our tasting rooms since we opened the Browne Family Distillery in Spokane [in 2022] is we get a lot of people that tend to come in and they want a cocktail before anything else, whether it be an Old Fashioned or something lighter and perhaps gin-based.

We are going to get young people, but, with Browne, we have an opportunity to build more of a community with the non-whiskey or bourbon drinker, by getting them excited about our products from a cocktail side. We think it’s going to move them over to wine.

That sounds crazy. If I had said that 10 years ago, I think people would have laughed me out of a room.

We’re going to get them to have a Bee’s Knee, and we’re going to be able to put some of our sparkling wine in there. We’re going to do a conversion of these people in their 20s from something they’re very comfortable with, having a cocktail, and getting them to start drinking wine.

This isn’t just going after the whiskey person. This is also about getting young people to fall in love.

It’s not gonna happen overnight. It’s about getting people to say, ‘I love their gin. I love their vodka. Oh, my gosh, but they added sparkling wine to it. Then they got me to try a red wine flight, and I had this one red wine that I loved. And now, wine is not that complicated.’

* Nielsen ending May 20, 2023 | Total US xAOC + Liquor Plus, Total US CONV, Washington xAOC | 52 Weeks.

Image courtesy of Precept Wines.

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