By Craig W. Anderson
“With ripe and bold style, Michael David Winery is our American Winery of the Year,” announced Wine Enthusiast and Kevin Phillips, vice president of operations for Michael David Winery, said, “This is good for us and the Lodi region and we’re excited about being chosen for this honor.”
Wine Enthusiast enthused about recognizing “the Phillips family’s successes and outstanding service to consumers, the wine trade and their wine growing community in Lodi.”
2020 hasn’t been easy for businesses but Michael David Winery took the challenges in stride, said Phillips. “This builds interest in Lodi, Lodi’s on a roll and receiving deserved recognition.”
He pointed out Lodi was named Region of the Year in 2015 and Michael David Winery’s Adam Mettler, director of wine operations, won the Wine Star Award for Winemaker of the Year in 2018.
Michael David CEO Michael Phillips and President David Phillips led the way to success surrounded by family members Melissa Phillips-Stroud, vice president, sales and marketing, and Kevin Phillips, vice president of operations. Add Mettler to this mix of experience and innovation and it seemed inevitable the wine world would take notice of Michael David Winery.
Winery proud, busy
The Michael David group said in a press release, “We could not be prouder to receive this prestigious award; it is one of the highest honors a winery can receive and truly a lifetime achievement for our family. This would not be possible without the support of our Michael David community, and for that we are truly grateful.”
The company, a sixth-generation producer, finished a large grounds project, a visitor experience remodel and a formidable winery expansion all of which proved to be right moves as business grew 12% in what could be termed an off-year for business in general.
But the winery’s leadership didn’t see the pandemic as an insurmountable hindrance. More of an annoyance as the winery did well enough to donate $100,000 to virus research at the University of California, Santa Cruz in company with a new wine project “going viral.”
“It’s nice to see a local company that started from scratch grow and become incredibly successful and achieve national and worldwide recognition,” said SJFB President David Strecker. “This is an honor with a positive impact, not only for Micheal David but for the Lodi wine industry as well.”
Winery always supports Lodi
Michael David – and the brothers behind the brand – have always promoted Lodi and made known the important role the city’s played in their success.
“Michael David Winery’s been good forever, Strecker said. “The soil, the climate, location, but perhaps most of all it is a great winegrape-growing community.”
Lodi becomes elite
“This award introduces Michael David Winery and Lodi to the Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles regions,” said SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel,. “I remember going to the winery as a kid for their classic pumpkin patch. Whatever they did, they always promoted the Lodi region with their good product and unique marketing.”
Seven Deadly Zins sold
With the awards arriving with some regularity, the Phillips brothers decided to take a revolutionary step to enhance their business which included a cafe and tasting room while maintaining momentum in the winery’s direct sales sector. Triggering the growth and brand building was the sale of Seven Deadly Zins, the sales-leading Zinfandel brand in America to The Wine Group in 2018.
“It was a huge, agonizing decision to sell Seven Deadly Zins, a behemoth of a brand,” said Kevin Phillips. “With the Seven Deadly Zins we were way bigger than we were set up to be and Michael David had plateaued with Seven Deadly. With its sale, we could reimagine our infrastructure and realize new brands.”
He said, “It was helpful that we had Freakshow in the wings. We couldn’t expand with Seven Deadly still one of our brands.”
Michael David’s unique brands
However, with brands like the already successful Freakshow, Earthquake, Inkblot, Michael David, the Reserve (which includes Politically Correct, Rapture, Lust, Rage and Gluttony) and the House Favorites (6th Sense, Lodi Red, Going Viral, Incognito and Bare Ranch) there were plenty of excellent wines in the whimsically labeled bottles to take up the slack left behind by the Seven Deadly sale.
This, coupled with regular wine sales, internet promotions, the cafe and tasting room and merchandise sales, kept the income growing during a time when many businesses, family or otherwise, weren’t doing well.
The path to burgeoning success could have rattled some entrepreneurs but not David Phillips who commented in a statement, “I like that middle path, as in Buddhism, taking life not too extreme in either direction. People can take our wine to a party and everyone’s going to like it.”
Michael David supports region
“They have so much to promote our region,” said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. “Their brands really grab consumers attention. Their marketing is uniquely great and they have an excellent product to sell.”
In today’s marketplace, Blodgett said wineries need to be willing to take exciting, well-thought-out risks such as marketing Seven Deadly Zins, a methodology that remains quite successful when used with other brands. “Selling the brand was necessary but it certainly shocked the wine world,” Blodgett said.
“Michael and David started small with a cafe and a stand and grew it into the Best American Winery,” Blodgett said. “The brands may be whimsical but the wine is seriously excellent.”
In the beginning…
Michael started the family winery in 1984 when wineries were few and far between in the Lodi region; David joined in 1989. Both grew up in the Delta on the family farm; both attended UC Davis, Michael studying science, David majoring in international business.
Wine Enthusiast noted what most Lodians already understood about Michael David: “The current reinvigoration is part of a 36-year legacy of innovation, creativity, leadership in promoting Lodi as a quality grape-growing appellation and foresight in sustainable farming, not to mention irreverent humor in marketing.”
Lodi promoted everywhere
“With good wine in the bottle coupled with fun, innovative marketing, that combination brought Michael David Winery to Wine Enthusiast’s attention,” said SJFB First Vice President Ken Vogel. “Michael David representatives went all over the country promoting Lodi and making contacts with wine-oriented businesses and just as importantly, building relationships with consumers.”
Wine style’s origins
Michael credits Consulting Winemaker Barry Gnekow as being instrumental in developing the Michael David wine style which is, notes Wine Enthusiast, “ripe and bold, showing ample oak flavor without being extreme.” David said their wines are balanced.
Growing in pandemic
Wine Enthusiast notes in their description of the brands: “The Freakshow brand, priced around $20 a bottle, is now Michael David’s biggest seller in stores and the one poised for the most growth.”
Customer service matters. The brands may be wild and crazy but “our customers are always greeted warmly and never talked down to,” Kevin Phillips said. “We believe learning about wines is enhanced by a good learning experience.”
“Michael David Winery is the first from our area to be so honored,” said Stuart Spencer, executive director, Lodi Winegrape Commission. “This continues the legitimization of the Lodi region to make it known throughout the world.” Spencer said the voting went something like this: Wine Enthusiast has editors located around the world and America; they attend a meeting, nominate, discuss and vote.”
“Our M.O. from day one has been: we’re Lodi and we want to make people aware of what a great place it is,” Kevin said.
Continual Lodi support
Michael David’s position as a vanguard for Lodi isn’t lost on industry mavens. “They advocate for their neighbors in Lodi, and their sense of community and sense of place comes through in their wines,” said Laura Glenn, director of supplier relations for Empire Distributors in North Carolina. “They want to engage with not just the wine drinker, but the world.”
For Michael David Winery, today it’s Lodi and America, and tomorrow? Who knows.