The Anatomy of a Successful Wine Launch in a Brutal Market

Spoiler alert: It’s not easy, but it’s probably worth it.

Launching a wine brand is like having a baby. 

While the motivation, approach, and process is going to be slightly different for everyone, when the result is successful—and everyone involved, it should be noted, may define “success” differently—there are certain common themes that emerge. 

Keep in mind that there have arguably been fewer times in wine’s history when it has been more challenging to launch a brand successfully than present day. The only growth segment of the wine market is in the 60+ years-old demographic; younger buyers are increasingly less invested in trading up to premium wines; and, an increasing number of people are opting to not drink at all. (These insights are culled from the 2024 SVB State of the Wine Industry Report. Click here for a full download.) 

The Vintner Project sat down with three very different, highly successful new brands to get a sense of what works, and why. 

Figure Out the Why: Souleil Wines

Souleil | Photo Credit: Laurent Vilarem

Marianne Fabre-Lanvin was born in France’s Languedoc region, surrounded by the vineyards her family had owned since the 1800s. The growing, making, and consumption of wine was an essential part of her paradigm from childhood onward, so when she began working in communications and events as an adult, Fabre-Lanvin gravitated toward wine, and eventually launched a boutique consulting agency. (Fabre-Lanvin’s MFL represents Gérard Bertrand, Champagne Billecart-Salmon, and many other legendary brands). 

“Eventually, my childhood friend Thomas [Delaude] and I decided that we wanted to launch a brand.”

The concept—the hardest part for many people—came naturally to them.

“It was a passion project from the beginning,” Fabre-Lanvin explains. “We wanted the wine to be excellent, of course, so we could gather all of our friends and enjoy it together. But we also wanted it to be organic, sustainable, and to give back. Oh! And we also wanted the packaging to be beautiful.”

Because Fabre-Lanvin and Delaude grew up shucking oysters and surfing together, the direction they wanted to go was obvious – create a wine that was a celebration of summer. But they also wanted to build in a philanthropic element, so a portion of the wine’s proceeds goes to 5 Minute Foundation, an action-based global movement that has led more than 35,000 beach cleanups in 90+ locations around the globe.

Beach Cleanup at Plage de la Grande Motte | Photo Credit: Laurent Vilarem

“We also host five or six ocean cleanups every year in France and the U.S.,” Fabre-Lanvin notes. “Everything about the wine is made for what we and our friends want from wine. A beautiful áperitif on its own that can also be enjoyed with food.”

In addition to sourcing organic grapes from growers they are friends with in Southern France, they recruited a winemaker to help them make and blend the trio of wines (Le Blanc, a blend of Piquepoul, Terret Blanc and Ugni Blanc; Le Rosé, a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah; Le Rouge, a blend of Grenache and Syrah) in their own facility.  

But the bottle itself, Fabre-Lanvin knew, would have to be shorthand for their complex array of passions and motivations. Something that would arrest busy eyeballs in a shop with hundreds of other options.

Souleil Lineup | Photo Credit: Laurent Vilarem

“The bottle is lightweight, and there is no foil cap,” she says. “The label itself incorporates the meanings of our name. Souleil means sun in ancient French and Bonté means goodness. The label, created by my friend Anna [Polonsky of Polonsky & Friends] is sun-washed and evokes the French Coast of the 1970s and 80s.”

The label has won design awards and a placement on the Netflix series 7’10”, and has no doubt helped the wine grow almost two-fold in production from 45,000 bottles in 2021 to 85,000 in 2023. 

Know the Who: Oceano Zero

Oceano Zero Pinot Noir | Photo Credit: Emily Schultz

When winemaker Rachel Martin launched the California-based Oceano Zero, she had a very specific wine lover in mind. 

“As a winemaker and wine lover at Oceano, I drank daily,” Martin says. “During the pandemic, I added spirits to my repertoire of favorite beverages. I am 52 and I was starting to be concerned about the impact on my health. I was often consuming a cocktail and a half bottle of wine a day. But I didn’t want to eliminate it completely.”

Martin also happened to have enrolled in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses class, a program designed to fuel the engines of economic growth for entrepreneurs through education, mentoring, and access to capital. 

“The whole point is to look for growth opportunities in your market,” Martin says. “And obviously, non-alcoholic (NA) wine is growing, and I have a personal reason to want to invest in creating a premium NA wine.”

As Martin notes, the NA sector is one of the few booming areas of wine, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 20.72% expected between 2022 and 2028. 

“I knew that there were so many other wine lovers out there like me, who wanted to be healthier, but still wanted to honor the ritual and beauty of wine with a glass or two at the end of the day,” Martin notes. “During the Goldman Sachs course, I conceptualized the brand, the process, and sales strategy over four months. I am now creating essentially the same wine with Oceano Zero as I do with Oceano, [using] he same quality grapes and barrels. But I do have to look at picking times and winemaking differently, because it doesn’t age like wine with alcohol.”

Rachel Martin | Photo Credit: Oceano

Martin launched Oceano in October of 2023, with 500 cases. 

“The response has been outstanding,” Martin says. “Oceano Zero, at $55, is the most expensive NA wine on the market, but we are selling very well on both coasts. As an experiment, I also began offering a set with two bottles of Oceano Zero and one bottle of Oceano online. Those have been selling incredibly well, and I’ve heard that they are a hit as hostess and corporate gifts.”

Understand the How: Profanity Life

Classic Scene from A Christmas Story | Photo Credit: The Movie Screen Scene

Profanity Life is the product, in many ways, of a highly successful other launch, with an asterisk. 

In 2019, Scott Maybaum launched Good Fucking Wine, with the idea of making a great wine rooted in traditional winemaking techniques, but that cuts through the B.S. he saw bogging down the industry.

“Before launching Good Fucking Wine, I worked in the retail and brand side of the business for more than 30 years,” Maybaum explains. “Wine is a relationship business. From the beginning, it was my goal to get the wine in as many stores as possible. We’re active on social, but that’s mostly for brand recognition. Sales that happen online are miniscule compared to the sales that happen in stores that know and support you.”

Maybaum aggressively leveraged his rolodex, and also made himself available for anyone with a question 24/7. “Distributors, retailers, sales people, they know they can always call me,” he says. “That means a lot in this business.”

And while the name got attention— you have to admit it is memorable— not all of it was the right kind. “Certain states are more active in policing language than others,” Maybaum says. “So I thought I could get the same point across with Profanity Wines.”

Launched in 2023, Profanity Wines is of the same spiritual ilk as Good Fucking Wine, but the brands are different. (They both exist under the umbrella of Good Fucking Brands).

Good Fucking Wine | Photo Credit Good Fucking Wine

“Good Fucking Wine now offers eight different products, including wines from California and Italy, and spirits from Mexico, Minneapolis, and Indiana,” he notes. “Profanity Wines offers two wines sourced from South Australia.”

Last year, Good Fucking Wine sold about 27,000 cases of wine and 10,000 cases of spirits. Profanity Wines sold about 2,600 cases. He expects to increase production on both lines this year. 

“I knew what customers and people on the retail side of things wanted after watching from the sidelines for 30 years,” Maybaum says. “It is great to see our brand connecting with people who want great wine without the bullshit.”

Launching a wine brand may be rough, but it can still be a wild success, if you know who you are and who you’re selling to—and maybe have a little luck along the way.