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Volume 20 No. 42
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Kevin Buckler, CEO, The Racer's Group

Kevin Buckler started Adobe Road Winery as a hobby, but he always believed in its business potential.

The former NASCAR team owner and longtime owner of the sports-car team The Racer’s Group opened the winery with friends in 1995. They bought grapes from local growers and made a barrel of cabernet sauvignon, a barrel of pinot noir and a barrel of zinfandel. It was a total of just 75 cases of wine.

But Buckler was convinced that the wine they were making was good enough to sell, and he spent the next five years developing a business plan and buying out his friends. He hired a winemaker and began producing wines in Sonoma County using grapes grown in the Russian River Valley, Napa Valley, Dry Creek, the Sonoma coast and Knights Valley. He named the winery Adobe Road after a road near the first pinot noir grapes he bought.

“I really liked the architecture of the adobe mission period and thought we could put that into the winery if we ever built one,” Buckler says.

In 2008, he completed construction on the winery. The 8,000-square-foot, mission-style building sits directly behind TRG’s facility in Petaluma, Calif. It employs six people and will bottle about 5,000 cases this year.

Adobe Road already has won critical acclaim. Wine Spectator, which rates wine on a 100-point system, recently gave its 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Georges III ($95) a 94 score, its 2009 Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Kemp Vineyard ($45) a 93 score and its 2009 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Bacigalupi ($39) a 92 score.

Buckler says that most of the credit for the wine’s success belongs to his winemaker, Michael Scorsone, but the winery owner says he has a good palate and enough knowledge of current wine trends to influence what flavors punctuate Adobe Road’s wines.

“The old days of a Burgundian-style pinot, a very acidic one, no one likes those styles any more,” Buckler says. “Syrah’s the same way. I want people to say, ‘Wow, that’s great. That’s really interesting.’”

His goal is to turn Adobe Road into a boutique national brand. He’s managed to get the wine distributed in Morton’s restaurants nationwide and other high-end restaurants. The rest of it goes exclusively to members of Adobe Road’s wine club.

The venture has been successful enough that Buckler now splits his time evenly between Adobe Road and The Racer’s Group. He’s also begun cross-marketing the winery and the team. He does wine pairings at restaurants across the country and intermingles talk about the wine with conversation about his race team’s success with Porsche at Le Mans and the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

“Bringing a professional sports team to its potential and boutique winery to its potential is a challenge, but doing it together is a fun challenge,” Buckler says. “It’s like individual chess.”