With their wine merchant business, Craig Mayer and Daniel Kelada believe they are fulfilling an important need for the Texas wine industry as it continues to grow and find fans both in the state and beyond.
Vinovium Partners, helmed by entrepreneur Mayer, provides a variety of services for wineries and stores and restaurants carrying Texas wines.
As négociants — a French term that describes wine merchants who purchase wine at any point in the production process, from vineyard to bottle, and often sell the final product under their own label or brand — Mayer and Kelada source wines from some of Texas’ top wineries, such as William Chris Wines, Hye Meadow, Flat Creek and others, with the goal of bringing Texas wines to the market in new ways. They maintain strong relationships with these wineries, Mayer said; sometimes the wine is even made for them by a specific Texas winemaker, and it’s then showcased as part of the Texas Winemaker Series.
Under the Vinovium Selection label, some of the wines they procure (“the best yet discovered Texas wines,” according to Kelada) go into bottles in limited batches; many of them are kegged.
That’s the other key component of Vinovium: kegging wine to keep it fresh longer and potentially reduce the cost of a glass to the consumer. The kegs are available for retailers like Whole Foods and for consumers throwing parties or wine clubs.
“The wine industry is developing so much, to the point that it needs marketing and merchant services and needs experts in those services,” Kelada said. “Vinovium fulfills the merchant side. We are hoping to spread Texas wine to the world.”
As Mayer noted, he and Kelada, a sommelier and wine educator and the company’s vice president of sales, have no interest in growing grapes and making wine. They only want to make it easier to bring Texas wine to anyone who might want it. “Our goal is to identify the best wines being produced in the state that are not currently being distributed, consolidate them and bring them to buyers in a professional and honest way,” the Vinovium website reads.
Because they’re négociants, they can also be importers and exporters, distributors, blenders, and much more. It’s an age-old profession, Kelada said, that Vinovium has brought to the Hill Country.
Eventually, Vinovium (a Latin word that means “wine road” and hails from Mayer’s days as an archaeologist excavating a Roman fort in England called Binchester) plans to open a tasting room in a new facility so that people can try the various wines in one space. In the meantime, look for the wine at places like Whole Foods in the Hill Country Galleria, the Whip In and Dai Due, as well as area farmers markets. Mayer and Kelada are expecting that number of stores and restaurants to grow.
Although the négociant side of Vinovium Partners is a service that’s been around for quite some time in more developed wine regions, including France, the kegged component is a newer trend, and one that’s probably here to stay as a solution for what happens when restaurants sell wines in bottles.
In opened bottles, wine can stay fresh for only a few days — so what happens when a wine bar pops the cork on a bottle of Riesling for a customer who has only a couple of glasses, and no one else orders the Riesling in the next few days? It gets thrown out, Mayer said, noting that about 30 percent of wine gets wasted when restaurants offer a wine-by-the-glass option. The wine that isn’t sold becomes an expense for customers, he said, who often pay higher prices for wine by the glass than they might have to if none of it went to waste.
Vinovium’s alternative is a KeyKeg, entirely recyclable, that can keep wine fresh for six months if tapped and a full year if left untapped. One keg equals 26 bottles.
“We see kegged wine as a trend validated by its efficiency and common sense,” Kelada said.
They aren’t the only ones who recognize the benefit of kegging certain beverages. I recently published an in-depth piece on kegged cocktails, which are gaining steam of their own in local restaurants and bars.