Husband and wife duo, Shaji and Vijna Mathew, created the wine club Terra Vigna as a way to bring wine straight to American consumers.
Terra Vigna, Italian for “earth” and “vineyard,” operates through its parent company Sierra Nevada Imports, which the Reno-based couple established in 2013.
“We started getting a lot of inquiries from consumers directly,” co-founder Shaji said in a phone interview. “So we decided to expand a little bit into the direct-to-consumer aspect of Sierra Nevada imports.”
The wine club launched in December of last year.
“The focus of Sierra Nevada Imports is small to mid-size growers,” Shaji said. “Some of our producers only make 400 cases. They are not the kind you will find in grocery stores.”
Shaji became fascinated with wine while studying biochemistry at the University of Nevada, Reno. While there, he met a student who was experimenting with fermentation. It was the science behind wine which inspired him to learn more. He got a certification in viticulture from UC Davis in California.
According to Shaji, what make his wines special are the winemakers themselves. They come from diverse backgrounds and regions across Europe.
“These are people who are not afraid to get their hands dirty,” explained Shaji.
Among Shaji’s list of contributing winemakers is Veronique Cunty of Domaine De Font-Sane. Her family has been making wine in Gigondas, France, for generations.
“(Veronique) has been working with my grandpa since she was five or six years old just helping,” Romain Cunty, Veronique’s son and manager at Font-Sane, said in a Facebook video interview. “And then when she studied viticulture and oenology, she learned everything about wine.”
The estate itself has been around since 1860 and spans approximately 39 acres of land in Gigondas. Romain took over the business side of things about three years ago. His father, Bernard, works in the vineyard. Romain’s grandparents work with customers and tourists who visit the estate. Meanwhile, his sister Constance is studying in Bordeaux to become a winemaker for Font-Sane herself.
“It’s a family business,” Romain said.
Then there’s Marie Toussaint and Vivien Roussignol of Les Paissels who may not necessarily come from a lineage of winemakers, but have years of experience in a number of continents and wineries.
Marie Toussaint comes from a small town outside of Paris. She knew very little about wine growing up but always had a big interest in the art. This interest led Marie to L’Aventure in Paso Robles, Calif. in 2006 where she trained with Stephan Asseo. She later met Vivien in 2007 while studying oenology in Montpellier, France. The pair produced their first vintage in 2011.
“We have the same point of view for a vineyard,” Marie said about Vivien in a Skype interview. “We try to work with nature, we don’t use pesticides.”
Les Paissels uses vines that are 30 to 100 years old. They specialize in red wine using syrah, grenache, carignan, cinsault and mourvédre grapes all harvested by hand. Les Paissels ships their wine to a number of restaurants and businesses in France and a few countries in Europe. Sierra Nevada Imports is currently their sole American importer.
Shaji found most of his winemakers through a mixture of happy accident and actually seeking them out. He stumbled upon Font-Sane in 2005 while traveling through the south France with his wife and kids. He heard about Les Paissels from an article profiling their wine.
“One of the side effects of seeking out producers like this is that they tend to be much more conscious of how they’re growing their grapes and much more hands on,” Shaji explained. “And obviously you can taste the quality.”
Due to varying state laws on direct-to-consumer alcohol sales, there are limitations to where Sierra Nevada Imports can send its wine as well as how much it can send. According to Shaji, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Idaho and Oregon are among the states where his company’s wine can be delivered.
“Direct-to-consumer wine sales have been the fastest growing branch of wine sales in 2016,” Shaji said.
Terra Vigna offers two clubs to choose from: Club Terra — which features only red wine — and Club Vigna — which has a little bit of everything from red, sparkling, rosé wine and more. Club members receive three bottles of wine four times per year. Prices vary between the two clubs. Club Terra goes for $100 per shipment while Club Vigna goes for $75 per shipment. Both are subject to tax and shipping fees. Wine enthusiasts can sign up for both clubs if they choose. Club members get 20 percent off the normal retail price for both orders and reorders of wine.
“Some of these wines are so good … I don’t want to sell them. I just want to keep them to myself,” he joked.
For more information and to sign up for the wine club, visit http://terravigna.com/.