When Delicato Family Vineyards decided last year that it wanted to launch a new upscale California Cabernet Sauvignon, the company found a partner in an unlikely place—country music star Zac Brown. The Grammy Award–winning artist was introduced to Delicato’s team in Napa by a mutual friend and embraced the project quickly. The result is Z. Alexander Brown wines, which launched in January with the 2013 Uncaged Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2013 Uncaged Proprietary Red Blend sourced from California’s North Coast (each $19.99 a 750-ml. bottle).
The wines have been well received. Z. Alexander Brown is the top-selling new wine brand of 2016, according to Nielsen data. Nielsen reports that the label has contributed 47 percent of new dollar sales of all new wine brands launched this year, with the Proprietary Red Blend holding the top spot for new red blends and the Cabernet Sauvignon coming in at No. 2 in its varietal category. Through May 2016, the brand has shipped 67,000 cases and sold to almost 11,000 on- and off-premise accounts, according to Delicato. The inaugural vintage of the two wines sold out on Wine.com, and Delicato released the 2014 vintage for both wines in May.
“Our goal is to be a leading Cabernet brand in the super-premium price segment,” says winemaker John Killebrew. “While Zac was crystallizing his vision for the brand, our team in Napa was simultaneously focusing on diversifying our portfolio with a super-premium Cabernet. In the preliminary stages, we didn’t know what it would look like, where we’d be sourcing from or what style we’d be targeting for the wine—until we met Zac.”
Killebrew and Brown have worked closely together on the Z. Alexander Brown project from its start, and Killebrew notes that the musician is heavily involved. Along with his music career, Brown has owned and operated a handful of restaurants and hosts the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, every year. Brown attends blending and tasting sessions for his wines in Napa and has welcomed the Delicato team into his home in Georgia and on his tour bus. He designed the brand’s wine label, which features an owl, and the term “Uncaged” refers to Brown’s best-selling album of the same name. In addition, he attends meetings with wine buyers, promotes the brand during his concerts and hosts a Z. Alexander Brown VIP tasting lounge with wine and food pairings at several tour stops.
“One of my fondest childhood memories is spending time in the kitchen cooking with family,” Brown says. “Bringing good food and wine together with family and friends is part of who I am. Z. Alexander Brown is about delivering great quality wines that are responsibly produced and reflective of the land from which they came. This is a project I’m very passionate about. I’ll be an important voice for the brand now and always.”
The country star has specific taste requirements for Z. Alexander Brown wines. He wants them to have a deep color, a full and robust mouthfeel and a soft finish with polished tannins. “Zac has a sophisticated palate and does a good job of articulating his style preferences,” Killebrew says. “We achieved his style benchmarks by sourcing from the North Coast, which is known for rich, flavorful fruit. Our approach is to allow the grapes to be honest, unrestricted expressions of their vintage and origin. Zac has really stretched me as a winemaker and I think our wines are better for it.”
At 14-percent abv, the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon has rich aromas of blackberry, plum and baking spice with bold tannins and flavors of Bing cherry, vanilla and black pepper. The 2014 Proprietary Red Blend, which is 14.5-percent abv, boasts aromas of blueberry, caramel and toasted oak, followed by flavors of blackberry, plum, black cherry and milk chocolate.
Killebrew notes that quality and authenticity are paramount for the brand, while Brown says that big, bold flavor is also important. “I’ve always believed in putting everything you have into what you create,” Brown explains. “Wine is a part of who I am, and I look forward to what the future holds.” For now, Killebrew, Brown and the Delicato team are focusing on the next vintage of the two existing wines, though they’re open to exploring additional varietals in the future.
“Delicato Family Vineyards and Zac are both committed to building this brand for the long term,” Killebrew says. “We launched at the beginning of this year and thus far, both wines are thriving in the market. If you were an average consumer in a wine aisle and saw a bottle of Z. Alexander Brown on the shelf, chances are you would have no idea that Zac Brown the musician is behind the brand. Consumers who want to know more will learn that Zac is the real deal. He has an extensive culinary background that’s interwoven into everything he does. Z. Alexander Brown is an extension of that passion.”