Wine Packaging Maverick Rejects Investors

Oregon winemaker/inventor turns down a second offer from 'Shark Tank'

by Jane Firstenfeld
james martin shark tank wine copa di vino
James Martin is the only "Shark Tank" contestant to appear on the show twice.
The Dalles, Ore.—The star investors on ABC’s reality series “Shark Tank” sweetened the pot, but not enough to buy into Copa di Vino, James Martin’s innovative, ready-to-drink (RTD) wine package. In an unprecedented second appearance on the high-rated show, Martin turned down a collective offer from Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec and Mark Cuban of $600,000 for 30% of the business.

Mulling the offer, Martin phoned his friend and mentor Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams beer. “He still owns 100% of the voting shares” of his wildly successful brand, Martin said; that weighed heavily in his decision to reject what he termed a “low-ball offer” for a business that’s already growing rapidly, racking up the equivalent of more than 1 million 9-liter cases in just 18 months.

Wines & Vines
first wrote about Copa di Vino in a section of our May 2010 packaging cover story “Too New to Be Trendy.” Martin had just begun to market his concept, loosely based on singe-serve wine sales aboard France’s bullet train.

Unlike other alternative wine presentations, including the AstroPouch profiled in the same article, Copa di Vino’s package is itself a sturdy wineglass, making it a true RTD wine product. RTDs dominate the worldwide beverage industry, accounting for 80% of beverage sales (alcoholic and not), Martin pointed out last week.

Single-serve 187ml containers
Martin patented the package and the bottling process, and he brought a mobile bottling line to the Sunshine Mill, a landmark flourmill he refurbished on the Columbia River to house his Quenett Cellars and Silver Salmon Winery. He hoped that presenting fine wines in single-serve containers would tempt consumers to upgrade, by offering individual 187ml glasses at a fraction of the bottle price: $3.99 vs. $16 per bottle.

At the time, Martin suggested that he could take his mobile bottling system to other Northwest wineries. Copa di Vino goblets are filled to the top, with just .1% residual headspace, which reduces the need for sulfur dioxide additions as an antioxidant.

Since then, however, the market has grown so fast it absorbs 100% of the bottling capacity, and Martin is adding capacity at the mill to handle demand. “It’s more efficient for everything to come here,” he told Wines & Vines. “Wine comes in in bulk and goes out as case goods,” he explained. “We need to adjust the line for each wine. So far it’s been all Copa (brand).” To meet the changing market, Martin just added Moscato to the Copa di Vino line of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and White Zinfandel.

Copa wines are now available in 42 states, including some 200 Ralphs markets in California. So far, he said, “We’re off-premise driven,” although he revealed that, after his first appearance during the second season of “Shark Tank,” he had been contacted by “multiple NFL stadiums” interested in on-premise sales.

Getting ‘tanked’
Although to date he is the only two-time pitchman on “Shark Tank,” Martin said he never actively sought the limelight. Producers approached him after Copa di Vino was served at industry award celebrations, notably the Emmys. That time, the investors wanted only to buy his patents. Coming back for a second bite, he said, was a new angle.

Martin’s reluctance to part with a share of his business was fueled by the investors’ evident ignorance of the wine industry’s singular character. One suggested selling his process to the largest three wine producers, the virtual antithesis of Martin’s concept—making premium wines available with less monetary commitment. “Having all five billionaires firing at me, I felt I was upholding the standards for the industry,” he said. 

His competitors during the second round included a cookie-making grandmother, a young fellow with a patented process to reveal invisible printing on wet t-shirts and a scientist/alchemist who promised to transform seawater into gold.

He may not be plagued by paparazzi like winemaker Ben Flajnik of ABC dating show “The Bachelor,” but Martin said, “This kind of national exposure is fantastic with distributor and retail accounts.” A week after his second appearance first aired, he tallied up more than 8,500 emails. View the episode at copadivino.com.
Martin fanned the flames of fame by hosting a “release party” April 13, when the episode first aired. It drew 300 viewers, who were entertained by Tommy Tutone, a band from nearby Portland that made its name in 1982 with the insidious earworm “867-5309/Jenny.”

According to Martin, developers of the new Stacked Wines are using Copa di Vino technology in four-packs of California Chardonnay and Merlot, now available in Southern California and online for $14.99/750ml; each stemless cup bears a Copa di Vino quality stamp, Martin said proudly.  “We’re looking to share with the industry,” he said.

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