If you’re not from Canada, the name Aquilini is likely unfamiliar (unless your last name happens to be Aquilini). The Aquilini Investment Group manages one of the wealthiest family-owned businesses in Canada with a net worth of more than CAD $3B. In addition to owning the Vancouver Canucks National Hockey League team, other business ventures include real estate, hospitality, dairy farming and agriculture.
In 2013, family members traveled the world visiting wine regions looking for an up-and-coming area that could be the “next big thing.” They chose the Red Mountain AVA outside of Benton City, Wash. In November of that year, an anonymous bidder from Aquilini showed up at an auction of 500+ acres on Red Mountain. Representatives from Chateau Ste. Michelle, Duckhorn Vineyards, and local vineyards were interested in bidding on a portion of the parcels, but the stranger in attendance surprised everyone with his winning bid of $8.2M for the “whole enchilada.” The acquisition also included 100+ acres located in the Columbia Valley AVA. In 2014, Aquilini added to their holdings by purchasing 1,100 acres in the Horse Heaven Hills.
Red Mountain is the smallest AVA in the state with approximately 2,300 acres planted. It is renowned for Cabernet Sauvignon. With their 500+ acres planted in 2015, the majority Cabernet, Aquilini became the second largest Red Mountain grower, topped only by Shaw Vineyards.
The Aquilinis maintained a stealth profile until bringing Robert Chin onboard. He was the CEO of the Aquilini Beverage Group from June 2019 until June of this year. Chin is no stranger to the wine industry. He is a 32-year veteran whose rapid rise through the Gallo ranks culminated as a Vice President in Marketing. His challenge at Aquilini would be to transition the business from a bulk wine model into retail distribution. Chin’s first move was to develop new brands at various price points to complement the flagship Aquilini brand.
Chin wanted the brands to be evocative. “The brands were created early in the morning on Christmas Day 2019 while my family was still sleeping,” he recalls. “All the names [Roaming Dog, Be Human, Dixie & Bass, Chasing Rain, 10,000 Hours and A56] have relevance to either something in society, the AVA, or the company … they have an element of human truth or a socially acceptable standard of positivity.”
It was important to Chin that each brand had a credible story behind it. “All of our wine brands have unique stories, especially our less expensive brands, to make them more accessible and easier for consumers to make purchase decisions,” he adds.
One way to make purchase decisions easier is to deliver new standards of quality at a given price point. In these inflationary times, who doesn’t like discovering two 90-point Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons priced at less than $30? Especially when they drink like wines costing substantially more. That’s what the 2018 Dixie & Bass Red Mountain Reserve Cabernet ($22) and 2019 Chasing Rain Red Mountain Cabernet ($25) do.
To complete this hat trick, even more rewarding is finding a crowd-pleasing Cab priced in the teens. Don’t let the Columbia Valley AVA designation of the Roaming Dog 2018 Cabernet ($15) mislead you. The grape source is the Columbia Valley vineyard acquired in 2013 located literally across the road from one of Aquilini’s Red Mountain vineyards. Despite lacking a Red Mountain designation, Roaming Dog Cab delivers many characteristics of the terroir but at a dramatically lower price point.
In a little over two years since their entry into the U.S. market, Aquilini has grown remarkably, shipping about 80,000 cases in 2021. To learn more about all the wine portfolio, locate retail stores, or purchase direct, visit Aquilini Wines.