BREA Wine Company Raises a Glass to Logistics
BREA Wine Company runs on a lean staff—just one full-time employee. Yet since its launch in 2013, sales at the Berkeley, California-based company have grown by a factor of more than 13. The company’s founders, Tim Elenteny and Chris Brockway, both are employed full-time elsewhere. Elenteny is co-founder of Elenteny Imports, headquartered in New York; Brockway owns Broc Cellars, a winery based in Berkeley, California.
BREA Wine Co. specializes in site-specific, terroir driven, and sustainably farmed varieties of wine that flow outside the mainstream, while also bringing classic varietals into the fold.BREA wines are accessible in price and quality, and ready to drink,but also suitable for short-term aging.
Elenteny Imports’ logistics solutions guarantee all the details between initial order and final sale. The company handles freight forwarding, distribution, and retail services that enable wine, beer, and spirits importers to focus on sourcing and sales.
“BREA Wine was supposed to be a side project,” Elenteny says. Like many endeavors, however, it took on a life of its own.
Elenteny credits the company’s growth in large part to its partnership with Elenteny Imports, a business-to-business logistics company focused on the alcohol beverage industry. While he might be expected to say that, given his role with Elenteny Imports, by having the company handle many compliance and logistics functions, BREA’s leadership team was able to focus on building the business.
Elenteny and his partner have focused on producing sustainably farmed, accessibly priced, quality wines.BREA currently offers cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and pinot noir.
While growing the grapes and making the wine are critical to the success of any wine company, a command of logistics and compliance, and an appreciation for the value of time are also essential, Elenteny says. That’s particularly true as a company is growing.
“Time is a huge commodity,” he says. To succeed, all business owners, no matter how much funding they can access, must use the 24 hours they have each day as effectively as possible.
However, many business owners, and particularly those just starting out, find themselves dedicating an inordinate amount of time and resources to handle the myriad functions—including finance, logistics, and compliance—that are required to launch their businesses. While that’s true in any field, it’s particularly so for alcohol companies, given the numerous regulations they must comply with.
Time to Comply
“Compliance for winemakers and small wineries is huge,” Elenteny says. Yet few small distributors or wineries can take the time to become proficient at this function.
Elenteny knew BREA didn’t have the time and/or resources to obtain licenses for all of the states the company would be selling into. “That was a driver for us to place BREA with Elenteny Imports,” he says. By partnering, BREA could become “super-efficient” on the compliance side, accelerating distribution. The partnership also allowed BREA’s leadership team to “actually do the things that are going to make your brand grow, which are sales and marketing,” Elenteny adds.
Starting with Logistics
Many new winery ventures launch with the vineyard. While this approach is logical, it also means that once the winery produces its first vintage, management has to figure out how to move it to market.
In the United States, that requires navigating the three-tier system for alcohol distribution. Under this system, manufacturers provide alcoholic products to wholesalers, who distribute the products to retailers, who sell to the consumers, as the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association explains.
No one entity can be involved in more than one tier under most state models. Each tier is regulated and licensed separately. In addition, myriad other regulations, many of which vary by state or even municipality, can govern sales of alcohol. The three-tier system is “definitely a unique obstacle in the universal world of selling wine, spirits, and beer,” Elenteny says.
“I reverse engineered it,” he adds, referring to his approach with BREA. He and his partner started BREA with an eye toward the logistics side. That included focusing on the goal of creating a brand or company that small and mid-sized distributors could work with. Many distributors and wholesalers had been struggling to find affordable California wineries. “I saw it as a logistics opportunity for small to mid-sized distributors in the United States,” Elenteny says.
Elenteny Imports has been key to turning this vision into reality. The company was founded with a goal of offering beverage brands and U.S. importers an advantage in business-to-business logistics, along with industry expertise. Its client list includes start-ups, new importers, and established enterprises, all of whom determine which products to source and the markets into which they’ll sell. As they do, Elenteny Imports manages and provides expertise in logistics, distribution, and compliance.
While many distributors and beverage companies, especially startups, want to “hit the ground running, the complexity of the three-tier systems makes it easy to make mistakes,” says co-founder Alexi Cashen.
For example, in alcohol franchise law, a distributor who’s appointed by a brand or supplier has brand rights, Cashen says. So, before a brand or supplier can appoint a new distributor, the prior distributor must have fallen short on contracted sales metrics; if not, they don’t have to give up the brand.
“In states where franchise law can be an issue, Elenteny Import’s solution allows more freedom for brands to enter new states or test a market before committing to a distributor agreement,” Cashen says.
License to Sell
Along with helping clients navigate the three-tier distribution system, Elenteny Imports holds licenses that allow it to sell throughout all 50 states. The company also assists clients in managing a range of other functions, including inventory, brand registration, compliance, and logistics.
Cashen and her team also help clients develop cost-effective transportation strategies. For instance, some winery owners and importers assume full container load shipments are the most cost-effective shipping solution. However, shipping less-than-container load, or LCL, and allocating shipments across multiple containers often “allows for staggered product landings, thus spreading out the costs,” Cashen says. Elenteny Imports can offer customers a range of shipping options, she adds.
“We take pride in tailoring our customer service with a deeper understanding of the pipeline,” Cashen says. The Elenteny Imports team understands how the logistics function can impact the effectiveness of a brand’s sales and marketing efforts, and then identifies logistics strategies that can enhance them.
The customer onboarding process typically runs from about three to six months, although some companies can launch in several weeks. The longer time frame typically is needed when developing a more complicated, multi-state strategy.
Elenteny Imports is licensed in all 50 states and manages each state’s unique requirements. “The compliance team removes obstacles from permits and brand registration,” Cashen says.
As a result, as soon as a company decides it’s time to sell into a state, they generally can be ready to go. Elenteny Imports also handles ongoing tax and other reporting.
As important, due to the experience and expertise of its staff, Elenteny Imports can cut the risk of mistakes while allowing companies to grow. “It’s a trusted entity that can get you closer to the point that you want to be, a lot faster,” because you can maintain a focus on growing the business, Elenteny says.
Quality Wine, Affordable Price
Of course, quality wine remains essential to a winery’s success. A review in The Davis Enterprise calls the BREA pinot noir “clean, lovely cherry-and-dark-berry, barely a trace of oak, layers of savory herbs, surprises at every sip. And under $20!”
Elenteny Imports helped BREA grow organically and quickly enter new states, while meeting compliance and licensing requirements. BREA currently can be found in 28 states and one international market. “Relying on the information and the people on staff at Elenteny helped us narrow our errors and speed our path to distribution,” Elenteny notes.
Many states still administer compliance using what’s basically “an abacus style of management,” Elenteny says. Elenteny Imports takes the information and makes it available through its online platform. BREA has virtual access to all its inventory, knows the states in which it’s approved, and can move quickly when it has new vintages coming out or a new state coming online.
Indeed, BREA has enjoyed impressive growth. While the company didn’t add new markets during much of the pandemic, its current customers increased their demand. In part, Elenteny suggests, it was easier for many distributors to work with a domestic producer and avoid many of the logistics challenges, such as port congestion, that frustrated large numbers of importers.
BREA would like to add a few more states to its list. However, its real focus is going deeper into the markets in which it’s already operating.
As the company grows, it will rely on Elenteny Imports. Dealing with the myriad financial, operational, and other issues that occur daily can sidetrack business owners from their ultimate goals. “If you have a reliable partner that can save you time,” Elenteny says, “it’s worth all the resources that you can put into it.”
Casebook Study: A Good Year
BREA Wine Co. wanted to grow its just-launched company, while still effectively managing the compliance and logistics functions.
Partner with a logistics provider that has developed the compliance and logistics expertise for alcoholic beverage companies, leaving ownership more time to focus on building the company.
Over the past eight years, BREA Wine sales have grown from 800 cases per year to 10,500, with just one full-time employee.
Add a few more markets and more deeply penetrate existing markets.