MIX IT UP Wine behemoth Gallo hopes to open minds and wallets with its new line of apertifs.
A new Napa or Sonoma-based wine label will surprise no one these days, and yet wine country keeps reinventing itself in an effort to keep consumers interested. One avenue for innovation is the aperitif, a strong player on the up-and-coming mixology scene and an increasingly popular member of the home bar.
Aperitif wines, vermouth and amaro are slowly on the rise, with names like Sonoma Aperitif out of Penngrove and Portworks of Petaluma crafting a local niche that caters to a younger, adventurous crowd. This summer, a new brand is aiming at the millennial market and trying to take the lead.
LoFi Aperitifs, based in Napa, is a joint venture by industry giant Gallo and Quaker City Mercantile, a Philadelphia branding and consulting agency specializing in spirits, with clients like Guinness, Milagro Tequila and Hendrick's Gin. The unlikely union is perhaps the perfect example of conceptual shifts in the industry, from traditional to start-up-oriented.
"Gallo reached out to Quaker City Mercantile because of the company's track record helping to create innovative brands," says Claire Sprouse, LoFi's spokesperson
who has spent the last two years working closely with all parties involved. "They wanted to use this experience and resources to tap into a brand-new category: American-made aperitifs."
Fittingly, it was Napa, rather than Philadelphia or Gallo's Central Valley headquarters, that was chosen as the manufacturing spot. "Napa obviously has a reputation for being a great wine-producing region of the world," Sprouse says, "and thus the perfect setting to kick off the American aperitif category."
Bottled at William Hill Estate Winery with Central Coast grapes, LoFi's current lineup includes dry and sweet vermouth and an Amaro made with bitter gentian root. All three share a stylish, modern label.
While the sweet vermouth is crisp, slightly spicy and perfectly drinkable on its own, the dry vermouth and the deeply colored amaro are team players. Following the advice on the website, I mixed the amaro with sparkly Prosecco and a splash of bitters and a memorable cocktail ensued. The dry vermouth, with a delicate anise note coming through, is a good base for a martini, which turns out crisp and refreshing. The product sells for about $25.
"One main idea behind the brand was to demystify the aperitif categories, to make it approachable to anyone who is interested in trying something new," Sprouse says, "which is why we list all of our ingredients on the front of the bottle—no secret recipes that need to be decoded."
LoFi's name aims to convey a simple, approachable message. "It refers to using whole ingredients and quality wine, as opposed to highly industrialized processes," Sprouse says.
Positioned as cocktail ingredients and products to experiment with, "Aperitifs are definitely trending," Sprouse says. "In the '90s, there was a resurgence in the classic cocktail movement as the pendulum swung back away from cloying and fake flavorings and overly sweet 'club drinks.' Now that [aperitifs] are here to stay, bartenders are looking toward lower ABV cocktails and imbibing in general."
LoFi Aperitifs are available at Bottlebarn, 3331 Industrial Ave.,
Santa Rosa. 707.528.1161.