How do you stay fun and playful when you're ready to get serious? That's the whole trick in wine marketing, as the creators of the Taken Wine Company have learned. But they think they've found the right balance, and they're ready to seduce their millennial peers into a world of affordable and only slightly sassy wines.
All three tiers of Taken Wine fit into a coherent, racy theme. But the brand's origins weren't nearly so suggestive, according to co-founder Josh Phelps. The son of a Napa Valley winemaker (no relation to Joseph Phelps Vineyards), Phelps grew up with Carlo Trinchero (of the same Trincheros with the runaway White Zinfandel success) in St. Helena. After college, they reconnected to brainstorm a new wine brand: "We wanted to make a wine that was appropriate to our generation," Phelps says. "At the time, we were 22, 23 years old. We priced it at $30—in terms of Napa Cab, it's at the lower end of the spectrum."
Impressively purple-hued in the glass, Taken's 2013 Napa Valley Red ($30) is a blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with 40 percent Merlot. A just-overripe fruit bowl of aromas is detailed with peat smoke and purple marker notes, but it's Merlot softness that carries the mild palate.
The packaging for Taken is more suggestive of Zen than anything else, but originally the name referred to the feeling that all the good brand names were already taken, and, as well, the two friends' circular path that has taken them back to their roots in Napa.
Having recently turned 30, Phelps is on the leading edge of the millennial generation, which he hopes to target with the Taken brand. "Our age group is growing up from college, and they have careers," says Phelps, "and they're starting to have disposable income for wine." Taken's ideal customers are in their late 20s or early 30s, but not ready to get into the fancy stuff. "Even a $15 price point is not considered cheap," says Phelps. "I think our wines are perfect for that. You don't have to speak Italian to say 'available.'"
Available is the duo's latest project, planned as a "world tour" of varietal wines. They chose Puglia, in the "heel of the boot of Italy," for their first region because of their Italian heritage. The 2014 Available Pinot Grigio ($13) offers a striking, spicy perfume, like a spritz of lemon verbena.
The middle-tier Complicated 2014 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($18) straddles a line between Muscat and caramel, with partial malolactic fermentation adding a creamy tone to the finish. As for the theme: "I will say," Phelps admits, "people tend to steer away from the Complicated wines at weddings."