Food & Drink

San Francisco company to co-own Bookwalter’s Notebook wine

One of Washington's oldest wineries is turning another page in its history.

J. Bookwalter Winery, which has been making wine for 32 years, said Thursday that it has entered into an agreement with San Francisco-based Maritime Wine Trading Collective to handle the Washington winery's sales and marketing efforts in North America.

As part of the deal, Maritime will own half of Bookwalter's popular Notebook brand.

“It’s another evolution for distribution throughout the United States and Canada,” owner John Bookwalter told Great Northwest Wine.

Bookwalter began in 1983 by Bookwalter’s parents, Jerry and Jean. Since returning to the family business in 1997 and ultimately taking over ownership and winemaking, John Bookwalter has built the winery from 3,000 cases to nearly 30,000 annually.

Bookwalter created the Notebook label four years ago, and it now makes up more than a third of his production. The moderately priced wines — a red blend and a Riesling — sell for $12 to $15 and are nonvintage, meaning Bookwalter and his winemaker Caleb Foster use wine from several vintages to craft a delicious, affordable bottle.

“I love blending,” Bookwalter said. “It's a great way to add a lot of density, texture and flavor. I think you can build a better wine.”

Most wines are vintage-dated, though there are notable exceptions, including sparkling wines made in Champagne and fortified dessert wines from Portugal. Bookwalter said he has received no push back from consumers because he blends these wines from several harvests.

“As long as the wine is good, they’ll come back,” he said.

The red blend typically is dominated by either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, though it usually contains a sizable percentage of Syrah.

Bookwalter’s biggest issue with Notebook is that it is so popular, he runs out of it quickly.

“It is tough to build branding when you're going to be dry for three to six months of the year,” he said. “The idea is we can scale it with (Maritime’s) sales efforts. We have to make sure the wine stays at the high quality that it's been the last four releases.”

Bookwalter and Maritime hope to subtly build Notebook, perhaps at a clip of 2,000 to 5,000 cases per year. Currently, he and Foster make the Notebook wines in-house, often supplementing them by blending in wines bought from other wineries.

The Notebook wines are sold in the Pacific Northwest, as well as Texas, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Illinois and Missouri. Bookwalter said he and Maritime want to first be able to provide year-round supplies to those markets, then look at new opportunities, such as New York.

“We’ll expand cautiously and carefully,” he said.