The wine culture in St. Louis is evolving with some help from Vin Fraiche Wine Group
Growing up in St. Louis, Michael Kennedy’s imagination was captured by wine at the tender age of 12, thanks to a French teacher from Bordeaux. A post-college job at Chandler Hill Vineyards in Defiance quickly snowballed into a career in wine with the Ritz-Carlton, first in Washington, D.C., and then as head sommelier at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, where he worked with world-renowned chef Eric Ripert. In 2018, he founded Vin Fraiche Wine Group, which is headquartered in St. Louis and encompasses Component Wine Co., SOM Wines, Gagnon-Kennedy Vineyards and La Caccia di San Giovanni. Here, Kennedy discusses the unique aspects of Vin Fraiche’s business model and how St. Louis’ wine culture has evolved since he first started working in the industry.
“Vin Fraiche Wine Group is our collection of four small boutique wineries, kind of all over the world: We're in Bordeaux, Tuscany, Provence, Napa, Sonoma, Oregon and Washington. They're all wineries that I own with partners, and we focus on single-vineyard sites – really focused, boutique production wines.”
“We have an amazing tasting room in Napa Valley and two estates in Tuscany where we host people. So, we have a big hospitality aspect on top of the winemaking. And then we distribute our wines in 21 states and seven countries.”
“What we do is very different. Most wineries are one winery, and so you typically live on-site, you might have a tasting room, you definitely make wine, obviously, and you probably sell it around.”
“We're a lot different in that our wineries are spread out. We have teams in most of the places, but how much we invest in hospitality is a big piece of what we do. The way we distribute is very different because we created this company, Vin Fraiche, to manage the logistics and production and distribution and even hospitality.”
“So, it is a little different, and it's certainly different that we're so spread around the world. That's something only huge companies typically do. For a small company like ours to do it, it's a unique model.”
“We started our first winery with the 2014 vintage, which we released in 2016. And that started this whole cascade; it seems like every two years after that, we started another one. And maybe we've stopped now, I don't know. Probably not. We just bought our fifth last month. It's been a crazy decade, for sure.”
“Wine drinking [in St. Louis] has evolved so much. When I was coming up … it was very much focused on the classics. It was like, ‘Oh, we love Burgundy, Bordeaux and Italy here in St. Louis.’ We weren't a big West Coast [wine] city, we didn't really drink much California wine or Oregon wine.”
“I remember when Chris Kelling opened Elmwood, the wine list there was heavily California because he had been out at [The Restaurant at] Meadowood and Napa. And it was like, all the cool kids of West Coast wine. That was something St. Louis had never had before Chris Kelling did that.”
“Since then, I think he and Bill Kniep from Pinnacle [Imports] and Tony Bommarito with his Analog Selectionssli, I think they've ushered in this whole new wave of American wines that are, in some cases, way more interesting than things in the Old World. People are really taking risks on wine.”
“[There is] a lot more natural wine in St. Louis, which is awesome to see – because I think it's the future. I don't think natural wine as we know it now will stay this way; I think the two worlds of wine will collapse on each other, because they're going to be pulled to the center of gravity. It's a revolution in wine, and it's the future. So, it's so great to see St. Louis ahead of that.”
Wines from the Vin Fraiche portfolio of wineries are available locally at retailers including The Wine Merchant, Clayton Winehouse and St. Louis Wine Market, and at restaurants such as Olive + Oak, Annie Gunn’s, Casa Don Alfonso and more.
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