Alex Remy is not only an accomplished winemaker, he’s a food scientist as well. Originally he started out in the chocolate industry while studying at the University of Montpellier in the South of France, but his final internship in wine packaging would change the course of his career.
During this internship, Alex had the opportunity to help run a micro winery on the side where he fell in love with the wine industry. When he realized he could combine his passions for food science and the outdoors, he started his journey to become a winemaker.
A true world traveler, Alex has worked in Languedoc-Roussillon, Rhone, New Zealand, Australia, and Tasmania. For years he worked as a wine technical consultant with Vivelys, where he oversaw Maturity Assessments, Sensory Analysis, Yeast Selection, Fermentation, Aging Management, and R&D programs for the likes of Kendall-Jackson, Diageo, Opus One, Mumm Napa, Domaine Chandon, Gallo, Constellation, and Concha Y Toro.
In 2014, Alex Created Atlas Wine Co. in partnership with Barry Belli and Mike Cybulski, the owners of Atlas Vineyard Management, with a mission to make wine more accessible in the American market. His passion for educating consumers on wine runs deep. One of the most rewarding parts of his career, he remarks, is hosting wine tastings where people discover new wines they love that they would never before consider trying. Currently Alex and his team at Atlas create some of the best value wine brands in the market.
Atlas Wine Co. is producing 15,000 cases of wine this year, and is on track for 18,000 next year. Its brands, like Oro Bello and Omen wines, are distributed in 40 states.
What did your journey into winemaking look like?
There were two options in front of me: the first one was to restart school and the second one was to travel the world and learn from scratch despite already having a master’s degree. I started from the bottom in South France as a microbiologist then went to New Zealand to learn the basics of winemaking in the cellar. Then I traveled to France, Australia, Tasmania, and Argentina. I kept traveling the world throughout harvest time and learned a lot of different winemaking styles, and I loved it.
For six months I worked in a wine store in Seattle pro bono, and I learned the wine buying and selling side of the industry which was very interesting because when you learn wine, you tend to never talk to the consumers. Then I worked as a consultant with big companies like Kendall Jackson, Gallo and Constellation but also with boutique wineries. I did that for almost six years, and then I started with Atlas as a winemaker.
About two years in, I decided to launch a very dear project to me which is making wine affordable and value-centric rather than a luxury product. I decided to go after the big companies: making better wine at a better price; very much inspired by what the craft beers did 20 years ago when Bud Light and Coors Light were dominating the market. Now there are a lot of smaller wine producers, but a lot of them are making very high-end wines rather than wines at a customer-friendly price. It’s like being the “David against Goliath” in the sub-$20 supermarket wine wall. Now Atlas has been making wine for about seven or eight years, and we’re small fish in a big pond, but we are strong.
What is the hardest thing about winemaking?
To me, the system is set up for the consumer to not learn more about wine. That’s the most frustrating part. Every time I do a blind tasting with my consumers, they find products that they never even thought of trying– because of lack of education, lack of information…they haven’t found the right wines for their palates.
There’s an anxiety of not knowing what you like. That’s the challenge: consumers knowing what they like. The West Coast is heaven for winemaking in terms of agriculture. I mean, we have a couple of problems, but mostly, grapes grow perfectly.
What is the most rewarding part of your career?
Helping people discover something new they like that they thought they would never like. When I do a consumer tasting and someone says, “I would never drink Chardonnay,” and then they say, “I really liked your Chardonnay.” Then they realize they thought they didn’t like Chardonnay because they were buying the wrong kind of Chardonnay. I try to make wine less complicated to understand and very approachable.
As far as awards, I was a part of 40 Under 40 Tastemakers for Wine Enthusiast Magazine for my work and innovation, and that is great, but that’s not what I’m chasing.
What sets you apart from other wineries?
We are a very small-medium sized winery that goes through the same channel as the bigger wineries but with very few resources on our hands and really focused on product-market fit. So we’ve reversed the process: going to the distributor and focusing on the consumer first, then making it financially sound. Because as a winemaker, I’m capable of making anything as they want, so I ask distributors, “What do you want me to make?” rather than me making a wine for myself.
What makes your wine unique?
Our number one mission remains to make great wine, and we differentiate ourselves by being open about how we do it. This includes sharing our ingredients and processes, because we know that for some corporations this isn’t so easy. My goal is to create transparency and foster education in our industry for the benefit of the customer. If we make better wines that are also better for people, then everyone wins.
A lot of wines have sugar added to them. The impression of sweetness and acidity is all about balance. My entire winemaking style is about finding that balance. I aim to create an impression of sweetness without making additions to the wine.
Are you exploring the chemistry and how you can increase the apparent sweetness of wine without adding sugar?
Instead of making excess additions, we focus on the potential aromatics of our wine that can contribute to the perception of sweetness. For example, if you taste cherry, then your brain creates an impression of sweetness. Also, if we are trying to create sweetness in our wines, we minimize the components that counteract sweetness such as bitterness. Oak can also be a great tool because vanilla gives an impression of sweetness. So there are many techniques we use to manage the wine to create the desired profile without additives.
To us, it’s about pre-correcting everything while you are in the winemaking process so that you create the profile you want instead of relying on additions to alter the product. The only way to do this is to understand your final goals and how to reach them. Making the best wine is a common goal to set, but the real question is how to make the best wine that doesn’t waste the products you are blending.
How have you used Tastry to help you in this process?
What I love about Tastry is that when my product is finally finished, I can actually compare it from the previous year and the consumer match. At the end of the winemaking process, I analyze every single one of my wines through Tastry, and I use that information as a sales tool with my buyer accounts.
For the private label sector, I would use Tastry Marketplace in the blink of an eye if I was a big grocery store. Financially it can be challenging to make private label wine. As a winemaker, you get no brand awareness from private labels. So those tools are tremendous for this kind of market.
On some private label wines, you are required to match a profile that the consumer wants, and Tastry has better visibility on what millions of consumers will like better than me as a winemaker. Consumer preference can be confusing and Tastry provides clarity.
When I was consulting, after 25 samples I always stopped tasting even if there were 200. People were always surprised by that.
What are some of the new concepts you are working on?
The current concepts we are working on– low calorie, low alcohol, and non alcoholic wines– are very interesting and challenging. These are fueled by the healthier lifestyles people are trying to create. We took our first step by making a wine without any additives. We have also experimented with kombucha, CBD, and hops in wine.
Before COVID and hopefully relaunching this year, we had a mentorship program that allowed us to collaborate with young entrepreneurs who shared their ideas with us, and we coached them to think about their product idea in a realistic way in terms of the laws, compliance, pricing structure, and budget.
I utilized Tastry as a way to rebound from COVID. Previously, we relied too heavily on selling in restaurants, but once COVID hit, wine in grocery stores is what sold- not in restaurants. We are now focused on getting our core products in grocery stores, and Tastry helps us with this.
What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from winemaking?
Patience. Making wine and selling wine is a very long process. Don’t be too eager, and instead think about the long run. Wine is a very slow evolving industry. I used to do a similar analysis to Tastry by hand to evaluate my wine on the market. I would set up tasting panels that gave descriptors of my wines and competitors wines, but I don’t have the time to do this for every wine, and it is way too complicated to do alone.
What is one piece of advice you would like to pass on to newer winemakers entering the field?
Go travel, go learn, go meet people. The culture of wine is wonderful. You can meet people who have made wine for decades that are full of stories to share, so be open minded to everything and listen well. The wine business is a very, very unique beast. As a young winemaker there can be a lot of challenges, but it’s extremely rewarding in the end.
Is there something that new wineries can do to make wine with less of a financial burden?
To do this, I shortened the typical wine cycle from 18-24 months to 9 months. I made this happen by reducing the amount of time my wine spent in barrels. I found that it’s not necessarily true that you have to do everything just because that is how it’s “always been done”.
As for large productions, any big winery that doesn’t use Tastry right now is certainly making a big mistake. They have the volume and flexibility to use Tastry to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s. Tastry has the power to save you millions of dollars when it comes to creating the right blend for your market. I also use it as a tremendous marketing tool to reassure buyers that I am doing my part to meet the expectations of the marketplace.
Are there any questions about today’s wine consumer that you find you haven’t solved yet?
What’s interesting to me are the purchase trends. Personally, I have noticed that Americans favor sweet and smoky flavors, which I call the “barbecue sauce” palate.
What I am curious to see is whether this smoky and sweet trend I have observed through our sales patterns will continue with the younger generations. Will they prefer more acidity and freshness? These trends can’t be predicted based on what celebrities or influencers are promoting. I want to know what real people are drinking. Having data on what customers are drinking through Tastry allows me to see what trends are staying and what trends are going. That’s what I look forward to.