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Ownroot Collective: Championing the Undiscovered Underdogs of Wine
By Miranda Franco
Feb 22, 2023
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It's a Monday evening, and I'm fixed to Zoom listening to a burgeoning young winemaker, Ben Matthews of Terratorium Wines, discuss leaving a comfortable corporate career to start from the beginning as a winery intern.  The opportunity to connect with Matthews is a perk of being part of the Ownroot Collective community.  The Ownroot Collective is a unique wine club concept where members can join talented winemakers for virtual tastings and access and purchase high-quality wines that are only available in small quantities and have primarily been undiscovered.
Winemakers like Matthews, who join forces with the Ownroot Collective, are offered a platform to showcase their craft.  With the collective's support, these small-production, lesser-known, and often less-resourced winemakers can hit a wider audience and grow their businesses.  This inspired platform was launched by Terra Jane Albee in 2020 with a mission to promote winemakers whose production may be small, but whose impact on the wine industry could be significant.

For years Albee, a wine marketing veteran and leading voice in the Napa Valley wine community, had been working with established wine brands to build their consumer businesses.  Meanwhile, she watched small producer friends struggle to achieve marketing success, as knowing how to make wine does not translate to knowing how to sell wine.  She knew that these budding brands could not afford to hire her as a consultant, but she thought wine enthusiasts might value a subscription-based service that would give them access to exciting and lesser-known wines, and from there Ownroot Collective was born.  

“Ownroot is a reference to a sacred way for vines to grow," Ablee said during a Zoom call.  Grapevines are grown on their own roots; however, many Vitis Vinifera grapevines are susceptible to damage from phylloxera (a microscopic louse) compared to grafted vines known to have resistance to phylloxera.  However, at specific rare vineyards, the conditions are conducive for a grapevine to thrive without such rootstocks, instead growing by using only their own roots.  Much like grapevines thriving on their own roots, the brands Albee works with are "finding their own place in the wine industry and making their own roots."

To join Ownroot Collective, subscribers have two ways to participate at $8.95 a month or $89.95 a year; in return, subscribers get exposure to some of California's most exciting wine projects.  The subscription gives you access to virtual events, educational content, and the ability to purchase the wines (most under $40).  However, notably, there is no minimum purchase—so you decide what to buy.  When you buy, the shipping is also heavily subsidized at a flat rate of $20 to ship 6 to 12 bottles of wine anywhere in the U.S.

Albee started this project from a list of 40 winemaker friends beginning their path to building their wine brands, often developed on the side while learning the trade at their day jobs at more established wineries.  Albee shared three objectives regarding what the winemakers needed to deliver to subscribers, "wines that are refreshing, well-balanced and over-deliver for the price point."  After those requirements are met, it’s on to the monthly tasting panel to vet what will be offered to subscribers and when as to not have similar offerings shared back-to-back.

You will only sometimes find typical wines such as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon in the Ownroot Collective lineup.  Instead, Ownroot features winemakers experimenting with more esoteric varieties, as small production winemakers often have the flexibility to experiment with different grape varieties, techniques, and blends that larger wineries may not be able to produce due to production volume constraints.  

A few examples featured by Ownroot include Wilson Foreigner's 2019 Valdiguié, a dark and effusive wine often mistaken for Gamay, which many folks don't grow anymore, let alone produce single variety bottlings.  Another example is Ottavino 2021 "Alfaro Vineyard" Santa Cruz Mountains Grüner Veltliner.  Grüner Veltliner is Austria's most widely planted grape variety but is scarcely found in California.  Ottavino proves that the varietal can thrive in California soil.

Many of the featured Ownroot small producers are also often family-owned and operated and tend to source grapes from local growers.  This means that when you buy wine from the Collective, you support the local economy and help to sustain the livelihoods of farmers and winemakers in the Northern California community.  While the exposure benefits to subscribers are significant, the benefits to winemakers are also substantial.  Albee, whose passion is infectious and whose personality is utterly inviting, uses Ownroot Collective as a megaphone for these tiny labels and provides an opportunity to get their wines out into the world.

This is critically important at a time when independent and small wineries are trying to survive in an era of rapid consolidation.  These small producers and wineries are the ones that are engaging new wine drinkers through forums like Ownroot Collective because they are providing personal experiences and connections with the producers, and they are largely the ones driving innovation.  Still, they have to make money to survive – underscoring the importance of Albee's mission.  Ownroot is not only a chance to enjoy and celebrate wine from the latest generation of small California wine producers – it's also an opportunity to support these producers and ensure their independence.     

More wine columns:   Miranda Franco   
Connect with Miranda on Twitter:   @Miranda__Franco