Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
Here at The Quality Edit, we tend to have a healthy skepticism of celebrity brands. The first time I heard that Cameron Diaz had launched a wine business, I somewhat pretentiously assumed they weren't selling bottles I'd be interested in drinking. (And I say this as someone who has seen Charlie's Angels upwards of fifty times.)
Yet Avaline has swiftly and undoubtedly made a name for itself in the wine industry, and not by resting on its (co-)founder's star power. They've become the #2 selling organic wine brand in the country by embracing radical ingredient and nutritional transparency, a chicly modern aesthetic, a price point that feels both approachable and aspirational, and most of all, a quality product.
While co-founders and best friends Diaz and entrepreneur Katherine Power might be the marquee names you've heard of, I was delighted to chat with Jen Purcell, Avaline's President and CFO about how she's managed to cut through the noise in day-to-day operations. Avaline's mission of making organic wine free of pesticides, additives and sugars accessible to a wider audience is as admirable as it is tricky from a business perspective. Jen's candor and expertise make for a delightful read — perhaps one you might enjoy with a nice cold glass of vino.
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Tell me a little bit more about where your grapes come from and what it’s been like forging relationships with different vineyards.
JP: “Making organic wine accessible is central to the Avaline mission, and making that possible starts with our producer partners. First and foremost, all of our producers need to farm organically, embrace the same style of winemaking we champion, and to be able to grow with the business as we grow.
Instead of having one producer who does all of our wines, we've built relationships with producers who specialize in each type of wine that we produce. Right now, we have five ongoing producer partners ranging geographically from Spain to France to Washington State — all of which are highlighted on our website. Some of these partnerships were established at the onset of the brand by our founders Cameron Diaz and Katherine Power during their first sourcing trip to Europe, but others are more recent to support our expansion. With every producer, we’re visiting their facilities and meeting with them extensively before we bring a wine to market.
It’s definitely been a challenge to build an organic supply chain that can scale with the brand’s ambitions, but it's also really wonderful to work with great partners who are aligned with our mission and values. Several of our producers sell their own wines under their own brands, but have been excited to work with Avaline because we’re able to get the word out about organic wine in a much bigger way through our marketing, which benefits the whole industry.”
Using organic grapes and fermenting them with minimal intervention is obviously hugely important to Avaline, but I noticed you don’t advertise your products as “natural wine.” Is that a branding choice or are they different disciplines?
JP: “We choose to focus on the organic certification and minimal ingredients because it’s what our consumer is looking for. With our wines, we want to deliver an organic alternative to our customer’s go-to conventional wine, something that delivers that consistency and clean taste, which means adding minimal sulfites and filtering our wines. “Natural wine” often means that sulfites aren’t added and the wine isn’t filtered, which can lead to some funkier sensory experiences. While I personally drink a natural wine from time to time, it’s not the focus of our program.”
For the consumer who’s maybe less concerned with transparency in their wine and more about taste, do you feel that Avaline’s approach pays off on the sensory side as well?
JP: “Oh, yes. We always say ‘Taste comes first.’ At the end of the day, if the product doesn’t taste good, we’re not going to be able to win our customers back again and again. Several steps go into our process to ensure that all of Avaline’s wines meet our taste standards. With each new wine we go out to our community to learn what they look for in the varietal, then layer in the Avaline style and start with that as our brief. Our winemaker Ashley Herzberg will then find the right producer and work with them to hit that taste profile. With a final sign off from our founders on the taste, we then bring the product to market. For some wines this means delaying launches by over a year in search of the right wine, but being able to deliver quality consistently makes it worth it.
We’re proud to have over a thousand five-star reviews on our wines which I believe speaks to how delicious it is!”
Most of our readers are avid DTC shoppers, but traditionally we think of wine as something you buy in a brick-and-mortar. Since Avaline is available both online and in person, how have those processes been different for you on the brand side? Is there a benefit to the DTC consumer here?
JP: “Our goal is to make it very easy for our customers to buy Avaline, and selling both retail and DTC helps us achieve that goal. For DTC, we’ve seen that convenience is a big driver for the channel. For some people that means having access to all of Avaline’s varietals in one place, for others it means not having to lug bottles home from the grocery store. DTC also allows us the opportunity to test varietals with our community and evaluate them for wholesale distribution. A good example of this is our Cabernet, which launched in September and has since been a top three product on our site. We’re excited to announce that it will be available in Sprouts, Total Wine & More and Harris Teeter this spring! We’ve also created a holiday LTO (limited time offer) program for our DTC customers that highlights more niche varietals that will not have a place on the grocery store shelf. This is a special experience just for our DTC customers.”
As someone who shops with my eye more than I should admit, I have to say your labels are pretty gorgeous. What was the design process like in honing that aesthetic?
JP: “We know that a lot of our customers make a decision on what wine they’re going to buy based on if they like the label or not, so making it really beautiful was a must. I think a lot of more ‘millennial-focused’ wine brands have taken a cheekier approach to label design but our founders wanted to maintain more elevation. With that they pulled inspiration from fashion and beauty, referencing brands like Céline and Le Lebo as they were concepting the labels with our design agency, Aruliden. The final label communicates everything we hoped for both in words and visuals.”
What’s surprised you the most in building this brand?
JP: “How much the brand resonated not just with millennials but with older women in their forties and fifties — moms of millennials and/or moms of Gen Z who really embraced the brand. Even though they weren’t our original target, they’ve been big supporters of the brand as well.”
What’s your desert island bottle: the one you could drink night after night if you had no other choice?
JP: “The Avaline Rosé because it’s so delicious. If I’m ever on a desert island where it’s super hot, it'll be refreshing enough to take me to a happy place.”