How the Cork Industry Works With Dustin Mowe of Portocork

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Jan 5, 2023

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Last Updated on January 5, 2023 by rise25

Dustin Mowe
How the Cork Industry Works With Dustin Mowe of Portocork 11

Dustin Mowe, is the President and CEO of Portocork, a premier supplier of natural cork closures to the North American wine industry. He has been in the cork business for more than 22 years and started a sales career at Sabaté Cork Company, which took him to every major wine-producing state in America. He then joined Portocork in 2001 and was promoted to President in 2006. A native of Burney, California, Dustin studied business before moving to Napa Valley to live and work in the wine industry.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Dustin Mowe shares how he started in the cork industry
  • How product segmentation works
  • Dustin talks about Portocork’s difficulties with exchange rates
  • Is the supply chain still clogged up?
  • The truth about cork: it’s one of the most sustainable products in wine production
  • Why bottle cork rarely comes from countries other than Portugal
  • Dustin reveals his ventures into wine production
  • What is lacking in today’s wine industry? 
  • Where Dustin sees the cork industry going in the next few years

In this episode with Dustin Mowe

So much goes into the development of corks, from extracting it from tree bark to removing volatile organic compounds and beyond. Cork businesses also face many challenges in terms of exchange rates and the supply chain. How does the industry overcome these difficulties?

In today’s episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks is joined by Dustin Mowe, President and CEO of Portocork, as he talks about his 22-year career in the cork industry. Dustin also discusses his new business venture, the sustainability of cork, and how he sees the cork sector growing in the next few years.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show

Drew Thomas Hendricks 0:19

Drew Thomas Hendricks here, I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. On this show, I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Today we’ve got a veteran of the cork industry on the show. But before I formally introduce him, I got to do the sponsor message. Today’s episode, sponsored by Barrels Ahead. Barrels Ahead we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Go to today to learn more. Today, I’m super excited to talk with Dustin Mowe. Dustin is the president and CEO of Portocork. Welcome to the show. Dustin.

Dustin Mowe 1:02

Thanks for having me.Happy to be here.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:03

Thanks for being on. So Dustin. 22 years or 20 some odd years in the cork industry.

Dustin Mowe 1:09

Yeah, yeah. It’s been a fun ride. think people are surprised, you know, I’ve been the company on that going on, I think 20 21 years, something like that. And, and yeah, longevity in this business is usually not always seen, but I’m happy where I’m at. It’s been a good ride.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:30

Oh, that’s fantastic. How did you actually get started in the industry? With corks? Yeah, so really kind of a

Dustin Mowe 1:36

crazy story. I, I met a guy socially. And, you know, just I was, you know, I just moved to the area, had just a job that was kind of providing food on the table kind of thing and always had, you know, kind of a knack for sales and talked to this guy and asked him what he did. And he said, he sold pork. And I kind of made a joke. I said, That’s like saying you sell shoestrings. And we both laughed, and he said, you know, well, the guy that sells the soup strings on your shoes probably makes a good living. And it resonated with me and I, I, you know, I always wanted to get in the wine business. And so you know, within a couple of weeks, I had been perusing the local Napa register, you didn’t have much Internet back then. And I saw an advertisement for a cork salesman. So I called the guy just out of the blue and said, Hey, can I you know, buy you a beer or coffee and pick your brain about cork because I have this interview. And so I went and I met up with him that evening. And he told me at ironically, his company was hiring and, you know, I ended up meeting his owner. And you know, few, within a few weeks, I was working with him as a colleague. So very, very kind of funny way. And so I started out in sales, start

Drew Thomas Hendricks 2:48

off selling corks, like when you’re going into accounts, like what do wineries look for? When they’re choosing between a provider? Sure,

Dustin Mowe 2:57

yeah. So so we, I mean, it’s very interesting in that, you know, the cork is kind of the final guardian of the wine, you know, you you have the bottle, but you have the cork. And so, cork has been a product that has given fits to wineries and consumers, you know, for a lot of years. And so, you know, typical sale, our customer would be, you know, a winemaker or an assistant winemaker or bigger wineries, procurement manager, and, you know, you’re just going in, and you’re talking about the merits of your product, and your, your company and so forth. And when I first got into it, there’s probably, you know, 25 competitors. And, you know, in the early 2000s, you know, the, the alternative closures kind of came on the scene, and it really forced the industry to have to clean up its act and so a lot of wine, a lot of suppliers went to the wayside and, and, you know, sort of the cream rose to the top and people had to invest in research and development and building new, you know, processes and technology in order to make work cleaner. Yeah.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 4:03

Now talk to me about some of the innovations because you don’t really think of you think of Courtney, it’s such a natural off the train into the bottle. What what sort of innovations have happened over the last 20 years? Your tenor? Sure, sure. Yeah. Well, so

Dustin Mowe 4:15

you know, back in the day, it’s funny in that, you know, it was a very archaic industry. You know, when I first the very first time I ever stepped foot in Europe, and went to a cork factory, there was dirt floors, and you know, you had people with sandals and cigarettes and other mouth. And I’m being honest. And so, you know, you, you go today and it’s like going to Toyota factory, I mean, all robotics and high tech equipment, and, you know, that sort of thing. So, so it really has changed a lot. But back in the day, you know, it was like a unique selling point is you said, you know, feel the cork, when you take it from a tree and he’s the season for a certain period, and then you you boil it, and back in the day was like, Oh, our factory we changed the boiling water every two weeks, you know, and that was a selling point. And that water was so nasty. But but then you know, you look at today, I mean, you have continuous filtration of the bathwater, you have different types of eradication methods that you employ in order to be able to either eradicate the TCA or any other volunteer organic compound that that could potentially affect the flavors of wine.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 5:20

Yeah, I would see, I guess back in the day, like I started selling wine in the early 90s. And different regions have different, there’s, there’s some regions, and I’m just going to call it burgundy. If you’re, we’re buying Burgundy in the early 90s. At least one out of every bottle was one out of every bottle in the case was cork, and we didn’t see that in the US. And that’s greatly decreased. As far as what I’ve anecdotally that I’ve seen. Yeah.

Dustin Mowe 5:47

And the US really what has happened, I mean, the US has been kind of a leader and pushing the industry forward and being very demanding. And so you know, what the US kind of 19, I want to say was in 1998, or 99, the, a bunch of cork suppliers got together and formed a core quality Council. And what it did was it set standards for cork that was entering the US market. And it was by listening to the customers and the customers were like, this stuff that we’re getting is not acceptable. And if you don’t change, we’re going to go to alternatives. And so it really forced the industry to to make many changes. And as I said, I mean, you know, we started, I think, with eight members of that organization of which three may Yeah, I think three are no longer around. So it’s, you know, I mean, it the, the, the real issues that have plagued our industry through those those years are speaking of are not there today. There’s different products at various price points for various wines that, you know, we have products that we can guarantee each and every cork is free of detectable TCA or off flavour type compounds. So, so we have, you know, products in the arsenal today to kind of meet every price point of wine. So, not not so much spoke up today. But it took many years, and it took so getting beat up a little bit by some alternatives.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 7:16

And I can see, I can see that it’s it was more the very traditional regions back in the day that you saw, the more corked and that would entirely correlate with some of the rested conditions of the production shops back then. Yeah. And I can’t imagine like with the technologies, being able to identify, like, basically analyze every single cork, like if you’ve got a wine at $900 A bottle, it’s worth it to know for sure. Why that how does that work? Is it like a spectrometer? Yeah,

Dustin Mowe 7:47

so we have, we have a couple of different things. So we have essentially, like you take a natural cork, and you punch it out of the bark of a tree, right, and so you’re left with leftovers. And essentially, it looks you know, a strip after you’re done punching, it looks a bit like Swiss cheese, you have the cylinders that are punched out of it. So we take that leftover, and we grind that. And then we do make a reconstituted cork, that’s called a micro agglomerated cork. And those corks are 100% guaranteed to be free of TCA, because once you break them down into the small particulate, you can remove any, you know, volatile organic compound. When it’s a full size punched cork, if you utilize the same technology, it would destroy the core. Yeah. And so what we had to do was then go to other technologies that cleaned it considerably. But then analysis, which is a court by cork analysis, so, you know, the micro agglomerated corks are kind of more for the, the, you know, premium to popular premium and below price segment, and the quirks that then get analyzed, individually, that’s going to be for your more ultra premium and luxury segment. So, yeah, that’s kind of how, how we, how our products are segmented.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 9:05

Yeah, talk to me about your segmentation that you’re different, like the product work your product line from the icon, premium performance.

Dustin Mowe 9:13

Yeah, so So basically, what we do is it’s very typical to propose a product based upon the price point of wine. So if you have a wine that’s going to be, you know, above 75 bucks, typically you’re going to be if it’s a red wine, it’s going to be utilizing a two inch cord or 49 millimeter. It’s referred to as both. If it’s a, you know, a burgundy bottle or white wine, typically about an inch and three quarter or 45 millimeter, and you know, it’s based on that price point, we propose a product and you have various grades we have nine grades, with every size, and typically in the US, that we’re selling like the top four grades, but there are nine grades in total from The from every you know, every time you punch in court you have nine grades so, so yeah, so we have customers coming in, you know, for instance, we have a, you know Eiseley vineyards are Screaming Eagle or some of these guys mean they’re paying you know over $2 Of course it’s the very, very absolute best money can buy that ology winery for instance, saline, I mean these guys they don’t care they want the absolute best. And and so you could sell a cork at $2 or above, then again, you can sell a cork to one of the multinationals that’s a micro agglomerated cork for, you know, less than than seven cents a piece. So you kind of cover that full gamut of from from the north of $2 to two, that’s, you know, seven cents can be very typical. Because it really kind of depends on the price point of the wines. And so

Drew Thomas Hendricks 10:51

yeah, you can, you can definitely you can you have a $2 cord in your hand, you can tell? Yeah, that’s a nice statement. Yeah. And that’s part of that’s part of the thing about natural corks, is when you pull that cork out of the bottle, there’s something about that whole experience of it. It really allows, is one one level allowing you to eat but how you address or how is pork work addressed all the alternative closures and remaining competitive over the years?

Dustin Mowe 11:20

Sure. I mean, we’ve had difficulty primarily when we’ve been faced with huge exchange, exchange rate, you know, deficit. So, you know, really, like when we’re, I’ve sold, I’ve been doing this a long time. So I’ve been trying to sell a European based product, or a European manufactured product, when we’ve had, you know, the Euro dollar and 160. You know, it’s pretty difficult to compete with, for instance, synthetics that are made in North Carolina. So our screwcaps that are made in Modesto. So during those periods, it’s created some some difficulty in the premium or the popular premium and value segment. But, you know, in terms of, of, you know, just how, you know, with alternatives, how it sort of transpired is, you know, you have, back in the early 90s, their very first synthetic came on the market 1992, or 93, I think it was, they didn’t really start making any noise until the late 90s. Then the the industry, which is primarily based in Portugal said, Oh, my gosh, we need to respond, we need to really fix our product here. Until then, we had no no reason to clean up our act. And in the early 2000s, they started investing a lot in factories and technology, we had a brand new factory we we built in south of Portugal in 2001, another one in the south of Portugal in a different forested area in 2003, I believe, and then continued to progress and move the industry forward from there. So by the time we got to about, you know, 2010, cork had shrunk down to perhaps as low as 60% market share from 100. Well, now, most of that market share had been eaten up by synthetics, but some of that market share had been eaten eaten up by by screwcaps. And I’m speaking of, you know, the global market. And if you look at where cork stands today, so that’s 2010. And I’ll give you another number to think about in 2010. If you looked at the top 30 wineries in the US, I think it’s like 19 of them were using synthetic stoppers. So when I say the top 30, that’s by volume, your largest wineries in the US, they were using synthetic. Today, you literally have three so so really, you have synthetic was was chipping away at us, but as the industry respond, and we showed that cork can can seal a bottle of wine and can be competitive from a cost perspective, we were able to really gain a lot of that market share back however, some of the market share this athletics had had taken had then drifted over to screwcap. So today, you kind of have the real vast majority of the market is core and screwcap. And, you know, I would say synthetics still has some visibility because of a few very large wineries. I mean, Gallo is still using some is still using synthetic. And you have a couple of others, Sutter Home for instance. So you know, I think that’s still known as doing some volume, but in terms of wineries it’s it’s very, very low.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 14:30

Yeah. Yeah, I didn’t really think about that. But it would make sense that synthetics would lose the market to the screwcaps get that kind of price point. You just want the bottle open.

Dustin Mowe 14:41

Yes, exactly. Yeah. And but I think that as the so as I went kind of skipped over the exchange rate thing. So the exchange rate was as high as 160 to the dollar or $1.60 to the euro and and once we got back down into that, you know 120 range, which had hovered for a long time, between one intanon 125, let’s say we were able to be then competitive with synthetic. And we started really calling back and driving customers back to court by showing a product that performed and didn’t give TCA issues or core pain issues, and was cost competitive. And so as we’ve continued to move forward, and and you know, as factories become more automated, and so on, we’ve been able to, to have a lot of efficiency. And so today, we’re cost competitive. No problem, we have a product that goes head to head with synthetic, and then, you know, are there on a synthetic is the cheapest right now people buy synthetic because of cost.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 15:37

Yeah. You’re talking about the dollar. And we’re recording this episode in late September. And right now the dollar is historically strong against the euro. Is, how’s that affecting? Is it the good times? Or is it more of the scary times? Do you want it just to equalize? Yeah, I

Dustin Mowe 15:56

mean, it’s, it’s, it’s good right now, but we’ve had some historic cost increases across the board, just as everybody knows, you speak of when you turn on the news, that’s all you hear about is the inflation, you hear about our we’re in a recession, although some times the government doesn’t want to acknowledge it being a full blown recession, and so forth. So we have been hit with the astronomical cost increases from packaging, to transportation, we used to in 2020, we were paying about 3500 euros for a container to get from the door of our factory in Portugal to the door of our factory here in Napa. And today, that cost is 15,000. It’s unbelievable. So and I’ll give you another statistic is isn’t 2020 20, it was taking on average 47 days, and in 2022, it’s taking on average 112

Drew Thomas Hendricks 16:51

isn’t any benefits from the strong dollar, definitely offset.

Dustin Mowe 16:59

And then we’re also tied to the cost of our raw material. And if we have if we happen to have a, you know, a year where the yield is maybe not quite as strong as some other years, we harvest the cork on a nine year cycle. And so we kind of know and can prepare some but for instance, in in 2022, the harvest that we had had about a 20% premium attached to it. So between all of the cost increases the inflationary increases, and transport and all that it was just pretty much and then you know, offset with the the, the the euro to dollar, it we’re still in a negative position. So, so yeah, prices are having to go

Drew Thomas Hendricks 17:43

Are you seeing that supply increase? Like are the delivery times contract a little bit now? Or is it still just clogged up at 100?

Dustin Mowe 17:52

Yeah, still pretty bad. You know, we receive anywhere from seven to 15 containers a week. And, you know, so we have a pretty good understanding as to what’s happening at the port. And you know, we’ll get a surprise, and we’ll get all the sudden one that shows up at 72 days. But the averaging right now is I think we’re at 112 days when we used to average 47. So heavy congestion at the port, we we went to some alternative ports, we start shipping into the East Coast, as well as Houston. Oh, and then trucking it across. But everybody did the same thing. So yesterday in the news, they talked about, you know, New York being totally congested. And the world’s largest, you know, are the busiest port at the moment. So pretty, pretty messy situation on the supply chain side for sure.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 18:43

Yeah. And I gotta say, you’re one of the first people I’d be able to talk about it. Usually. I love it. Thank you usually the pre show for this listeners, like, is there anything you don’t want to talk about? Pretty much. That’s what comes up all the time. Just don’t mention supply chain.

Dustin Mowe 18:59

Yeah. You know, I’ve been I’ve been dealing with it for for several months now. And we’re, you know, as I said, I mean, just in 2022, we were, you know, having 47 days and 35 or 3500 years a container and now to be sitting at 112 and 15,000 is a is Yeah, so it’s really difficult situation. Yeah,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 19:23

how so? Um, how are you overcoming this? Is it just constant adaptability? Streamlining operations?

Dustin Mowe 19:32

Yeah, you know, really what we’ve had to do is essentially it’s just cost us a lot more we we would have I would normally have in transit at any one time. Let me back up. We work in in our Napa office. We work on a rotation of about every 90 day stock. Well, if you’re not getting stock, you know, on a consistent basis, what are you doing, you’re gonna go ahead and you know, put enough in transit to get you to to, to, to kind of buffer that those long windows of when you’ll receive things and so on. So, I mean, let’s say I used to have at any one time between the door of Portugal and my door, maybe $10 million, and inventory. I mean, that numbers, you know, doubled. So we’re having to just send a lot more product out, just to kind of, you know, to kind of offset you know, the timing of when it’s going to arrive.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 20:28

Absolutely. Let’s, let’s talk about the product for the second and specifically sustainability. I mean, it was it. Few people, I think people realize it’s a natural product that I think few people realize it’s maybe one of the most sustainable aspects of wine production.

Dustin Mowe 20:44

Yeah, yeah. Well, I think, you know, it’s one of the beautiful products of cork is, is that you know, it’s, we don’t cut down the tree. So a lot of people don’t even realize that but you it’s a very particular type of, of oak that thrives once you strip the bark. So you have this, you know, oak species that’s very common near the Mediterranean region of Europe. So you have some in North Africa, you have Portugal, Spain, a little bit south France, Sardinia. And basically, you you strip the bark of the tree, and then it just regenerates. It’s very nine year so it’s a little bit like us clipping our fingernails. And it just keeps growing. So we don’t get down.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 21:32

What’s that? Like? Well, you got the sheet. Exactly, exactly.

Dustin Mowe 21:37

So we and we actually have some statistic we’ve we’ve heard that you know, it’s like a cork tree that has its bark strip every nine years and the normal cycle will outlive one that never has its bark stripped you know by 50 years or so. So it’s actually a good you know, healthy thing to have the the bark stripped every nine years, but we so we stripped the bark, then then we you know we make products out of it, there’s not one thing of that bark that does not get used whether it be for a high quality stopper, and then the leftovers being ground to then make a composite stopper or micro agglomerated work where then leftovers of that process we use to burn to create energy for our plants. Were over 70% self sustained in terms of our energy usage and that has a lot to do with it and then just all the different byproducts so we have you know cork that we use for automotive industries or for wall and insulation type products or flooring floor. I’m standing on a cork floor right now. Nice. Yeah, we

Drew Thomas Hendricks 22:47

are Oh, my office, I love it. I soft springiness to it.

Dustin Mowe 22:53

It has a nice springiness to it, and also it has some really good acoustic properties. So we’re we’ve had the company which, you know, I’m not responsible for the flooring division, but we work very closely and they, they, you know, do a lot in the, you know, any acoustic acoustic spaces, whether it be you know, music halls or that sort of thing. Yeah. Yeah,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 23:13

it does have that insulation, and it’s always warm. Yeah, it’s not hot, but I’ve got a cold day walk in the room and it’s comforting. Yes. The on like on a hot day. It doesn’t. I don’t know. There’s something about it.

Dustin Mowe 23:26

I love it. Yeah. You know, our people over in Portugal, they had this bright idea thinking of the the cooling effect is they said, you know, of course you probably know that in Europe, soccer is incredibly popular. And they the soccer stadiums have artificial turf. And then what they put on artificial turf is they always have these little beads of rubber that are laid across the turf and create that little bit more of that spring Enos for cotton for, you know, when guys are tackled or fall to the ground, whatever. And so they had this idea, they said, why don’t we use cork, and they did some experimentation. And they said, you know this, this is absolutely fantastic. Because not only does it create the spring Enos, it also has this cooling effect. So if you go to a soccer stadium or you go to an artificial turf field, that is you know, on a day of 100 degrees, yeah, the temperature at the surface is actually 120. Yeah, well, the one with cork on it was like 105 or 103. Really significantly cooler than the one with the Yeah, the rubber pellets. So they started promoting the heck out of this and they start filling these these soccer fields and difference different stadiums with this court granulate everything was great until the first rains floated up.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 24:53

I didn’t think about Yeah,

Dustin Mowe 24:54

so we’ve had to make some engineering changes to the core And now pork is actually I just say because it’s really funny. But they are using a lot of pork for it now and it’s not floating. So they’ve just had to create, you know, some, some some different products to be able to add to the granules. But yeah, so very cool in effect.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 25:18

It does it does.

Dustin Mowe 25:20

I can I can testify to that warm days. Now, it really don’t think of all the different uses for it. But the one thing you always think about any invention that cork trees are grown in other countries. Is there a reason we don’t see a lot of cork from other countries? It’s just that Portugal has the monopoly on it? It’s a great question. So it’s not that they have the monopoly, it’s that that is the country where you have the vast majority of the thick wood. And so you have to have, the cork has to be of a certain thickness in order to be able to punch stopper. And then also you have the climatic changes of how the cork grows. So for instance, in the North African countries, there’s plenty of cork, we have some factories down there. But none of the cork that comes from the North African countries is of a good enough quality that actually is able to be able to make a stop route. That’s where we get a lot of our insulation or flooring and our composites type corks so it’s very thin wood, it doesn’t ever get reached the thickness that it reaches in Portugal. Then you have countries like Sardinia and Sardinia has very dense cork, it’s a little harder, it’s very dense. Sardinia, cork usually is quite beautiful. But Sardinian cork is also it’s known that there’s a far greater TCA risks from Cork in Sardinia than any other country has to do with you know, cork, the TCA is try Clora and Asal. It’s a it’s a particular chemical compound that’s associated with cork chain. It can be formed in the presence of, you know, certain animals and chlorine. And in this particular part of the Mediterranean, there’s higher chlorine content in the natural environment. And so we think that that has something to do with it. So there’s just different regions that do better for various, you know, kinds of reasons. But the center of the cork production for stoppers is going to be Portugal, Spain, and it’s kind of through that Extremadura region of Spain and South Portugal. That’s, that’s the real heart of it.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 27:28

Yeah. You always being being in the United States, we always think we can do everything. Is it? Is there a reason we don’t see any court grown or tried to be grown in the United States or North America?

Dustin Mowe 27:39

Yeah, yeah, it’s mostly, if, for one, it’s far too cost prohibitive. You know, California Land is far too valuable. And so to give you an idea, if I went out and I planted a cork tree, it would take me 25 years before that cork tree would be mature enough to where I could strip its bark. And that first stripping, is actually what they call the Virgin cork, wood. And it’s real gnarly looking. It doesn’t have you know, the, it’s not nice and smooth, like, the more mature bark is. And so that first bark, you could only grind and use and insulation type products are composites. So you need another nine years after that. So really 34 years before you have your first harvest, and then nine years there every every, you know, thereafter. And so it’s just far too cost prohibitive. It comes from Portugal because it was native to the Mediterranean. And that’s where it were originated from. So in Portugal land is far cheaper than then places the like in the United States. So. So I think, you know, there are some what have been what we’ve been told as being native trees around that just somehow have gotten here. But the vast majority of any quarter you see in California has has been planted. I had on my home, I have a few of them. And it was really just by chance that I was coming to view the home. And I looked up when I got to the gate and said, Oh my God, that’s a cork tree. And so is that. So is that. So I’ve three, that’s an element. So you’re saying

Drew Thomas Hendricks 29:19

nine years away from your first version harvest?

Dustin Mowe 29:22

Yeah, exactly.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 29:24

That’s amazing. That’s funny. So I heard, I heard through the grapevine that you’ve made the leap from the supply side to the production side, you’re now running away or have your own winery operation going

Dustin Mowe 29:36

a little wine brand. Yeah. So we, you know, I’ve been a huge wine lover for years. We’re, you know, extremely passionate about the product. And I’ve always really, you know, like to say kind of geeked out on wine and how it’s made and so forth. So, we, we acquired a vineyard some years ago and I It was kind of like our intention of some day making wine. And so, you know, the stars aligned. And we said, We’ll let’s just do it. And we kind of embarked on that journey a little sooner than we anticipated. But it was more of a retirement project. But it’s, it’s become a, you know, real thing. So yeah, so we harvested this year I’ll the grapes for for our own good deal and Cabernet. And yeah, so so it’s fun. We’re we’re enjoying it. And I look forward to getting on that side of the fence when it comes time to get good wine and market.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 30:38

That’s awesome. So this is your first harvest and first, first vintage,

Dustin Mowe 30:43

exactly this year. So the 22, which we had some challenges, to, you know, some great growing season happening. And then all of a sudden, we got that extreme heatwave kind of Labor Day is really crazy. So we had 100 Nate team, three different days in the vineyard. And but you know, we weathered the heat, okay, and we brought it in before the rain, which was good. So that rain kind of threw a wrench in things, too. So what became a, or what was, you know, coming into being a really good year, was, is now probably going to be considered a little bit of a difficult year and a winemakers here. So we’ll, we think we have something pretty special, you know, going down the barrel soon. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 31:30

can you tell us the name of the brand?

Dustin Mowe 31:32

It’ll be my family name. So it’ll be Mo Yeah. So. So we’re more Napa Valley. And our goal is to do single vineyard Cabernet, we have a vineyard, as I said that Cabernet and we will do, you know, a few 100 cases from our vineyard. And then in a couple of years, we’ll do a few 100 cases from another vineyard of a region that we really, really love, you know, pitcher Hill, so then we you know, expand upon that as well after that, and probably do a few 100 cases from, you know, one of the valley four sites, Rutherford, Oakville, something like that. So kind of just taking what we love, and along with our estate, you know, taking what we love, and really just trying to do a few single vineyards, Cabernet blends. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 32:17

how is what’s it like being on the the creation side versus the supply side?

Dustin Mowe 32:23

Yeah, I mean, well, yeah. I mean, I’ve, we’ve been dealing, you know, if you’ve kind of segwayed in when we started, I’ve been doing this a long time. So I’ve seen so many different winemakers across my career. And I think what it did is it, you know, when I first starts seeing harvest happening, and I was on that, you know, on the vendor side, I was just like, wow, I mean, I went to the guy, the winemaker where we make it. And I was like, Man, I just have a whole new level of respect for you. Because, you know, this is today was just an absolute, you know, shit show and you you, you look like, you’re barely bothered, you know, excuse the French but, and he just kind of chuckled and, you know, is what they do. And so it’s just really, I mean, the, the juggling the, you know, all the grapes coming in at once this year, because of that he, you know, accelerated everything, so just won’t be level of respect for these guys. And, you know, because I’ve been a wine lover for so long, I really, really let that translate into how we, how we provide pork to customers. I mean, we’re a little bit of a control freak. So you know, I’m we’re over 50 people in the company and I’m still out on the factory floor every day looking over the orders that I say no, no, you know, none of our customers you know, and especially in the luxury side there were never leaves without seeing my eyes. So I’m always looking always making sure things are to my standard and our standard and so being like that, because these are wines I love and I don’t want to open up bottles and having issues and or having customers complaining and so I just saw a lot of winemakers being very very meticulous and so on and then now being on that bitter side as I said, you know, I kind of translated that over to that side and I was like gosh, you know I would be a tough customer Good thing I’m going to have a little little in there on the cork side so

Drew Thomas Hendricks 34:27

absolutely I’m sure being that would be a huge level up though they have so much experience on the supply side like knowing how to source this material. What is that? What’s one thing about the starting this new wine operation that he had to do it over again you would change you know, I

Dustin Mowe 34:46

think it’s has started out really well. So I’m I would say if I could do it over again and be the that he hid his labor because we were having a fantastic growing season. Um, but you know, I’m learning a lot every day, every, you know, we’ve, you know, I’m very heavily involved in the vineyard side, that’s where I spend my evenings and weekends. I absolutely love it. You know, if I was to, you know, start, you know, if I was to not being in where I’m at today with my primary job, running a cork business, I definitely would be would have gone back to school to become a winemaker and taking that, you know, as my career so

Drew Thomas Hendricks 35:31

that loving it, that’s a question I asked quite a bit is now what is it that you love about the wine industry with what’s kept in the game for so long?

Dustin Mowe 35:39

You know what, these people are so passionate about what they do? I mean, that’s, you know, I always say, what has kept me in this this game for so long is, you know, yeah, I, you know, I’m the CEO, I take care of full, you know, oversight of this, this business, and it’s a sizable business, and but I never lose touch with the customer. I’m at least one if not two days, a week out, having lunch with a customer interacting with the customer love him have become dear friends of mine. You know, so So I just I think that this industry has created such amazing people. And I’ve had some amazing friendships as a result that really just comes down to the passion that these people have. I mean, once in a while, I’ll run into a guy who, you know, said, Yeah, I think there’s gonna be my last harvest and kind of losing my, you know, passion for it. You know, I’m on day, I’m on day 22. Straight, you know, because it’s harvest season. I had somebody tell me that the other day, but I think for the most part, what I love about it is just that, you know, people people really love that creative side, the making of something grapes, the glass, I think is is fun, it’s really fun.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 36:48

That’s, I think that’s you’ve hit the nail on the head. And that’s some of the same thing that’s kept me passionate about the industry for so long. And also the fact that it’s still a conversation, it’s still it’s not maybe done a little more than a handshake now, but it’s still a lot of that just personal referrals and connections.

Dustin Mowe 37:08

Yeah, and I always say to people, jokingly that because some people will knock Napa, you know, it’s been in the news a lot lately for, you know, costs going up, can’t get a hotel under 1000 bucks a night and that sort of thing, which is disappointing. But, you know, when you’re involved in the industry, and for instance, Napa, it’s still a good old boys network. I mean, it’s still like, there’s still farmers on the ground that have been doing it for 30 years in this valley. And there’s still a young winemaker coming up. I mean, you got, you know, a lot of guys in this valley that are in that, you know, 30 to 45 year old range that are really doing it. And they are extremely passionate about what they’re doing. And they’re sharp. I mean, they’re there. There’s, you know, I think, you know, there’s one thing that this industry has is, you know, is there’s a lot of really talented people that are extremely passionate about what they’re what they’re doing, and that just makes it exciting. There there is, there’s so many talented people, and it’s such a competitive industry,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 38:11

what advice would you give someone that’s, you know, maybe graduating from college and trying to get their foothold in the industry?

Dustin Mowe 38:16

You know, I think that, you know, really, what it comes down to is a lot of people think they need to gain that experience, they need to, you know, go work in the tasting room and work their way up. And you know, this type of thing. And what I really say is, the wine stuff can be taught, what is lacking in today’s society, is young people that want to put in the work. I see a lot of young people coming out of college today that that think it’s, you know, working four days a week is okay, you know, not wanting, wanting to come in at nine and leave at 230 Taking off every other Friday or Monday, you know, I mean, I just, I really, I mean, it got to where I am today, because, you know, I was the first guy in the last guy to leave for a lot of years, and I wasn’t just there, in presence, I was there trying to make things happen and move the business forward. And so, I really think that the work ethic is what I tried to, you know, really promote to people and his work ethic will be noticed, and a lot of the you know, a lot of what I see today is a lack of work ethic in the young people. So, so that’s, that’s my, my kind of first and foremost that I tell people, I hire people, based upon what I see in them and what you know, I think, how driven they are and that sort of thing. I think, you know, degrees are important, but not the end all be all. I think that having the experience of the industry is is in Beer is important, but not the end. LBL I don’t necessarily have to hire somebody with Wine Experience.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:04

Yeah. And that makes entire sense because what wines the medium, but what you’re really looking for is like passion and excellence.

Dustin Mowe 40:11


Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:13

Yeah. And I think a lot of people forget that they go out on a wine weekend, and they’re like, this is great.

Dustin Mowe 40:19

Yeah. Work in this business.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:24

Is a lot of hard work on both sides is speaking about hard work going forward? Where do you where do you see the closure industry going over the next like, six, seven years? Yeah, I think I mean, so cork is is during your cycle. So that was pretty bad. Good guys already been cast?

Dustin Mowe 40:42


Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:44

Cork has been on

Dustin Mowe 40:46

a huge comeback. As I told you, you know, we went down to, you know, probably, in the matter dipped into the 50 percentile 5859. But I used to say 60% of market share. And we feel like we’re up well over the 70% mark. Nowadays, I think that you have well, and you know, the there’s still some synthetic stopper is being purchased. And it’s primarily due to price. I think that when those wineries see that, they can buy a core closure that can be cost competitive. And they see that that that pricing can can be somewhat, you know, flat not be so tied to exchange rates that are volatile, I think that those guys will come over. It looks like that roses and Sauvignon Blanc and some of the early white wine or you know, light white wines, fast rotation, people are okay with screwcaps. So it’s going to have its place we see bag in the box and some of those single use even wine in the cam or keg, we see that you know is going to have a share of the market. But we feel like something that has happened in the US is that has been a very traditional market, the US consumer and we’ve done a lot of work with various customers where they’ve done focus group work. And customers associate a higher quality product with a cork stopper. So if you’re gonna go to the store, and you’re gonna buy a $10 bottle of wine, you’re you are going to gravitate to the same package. But what is a cork and what does this group get, you’re going to gravitate to the cork. Now if you come above, say that $20 price point, you will never grab the screw cap, you’re always gonna grab the cork if you have the sip. So it’s like we’ve seen these tendencies. What cork has done is given headaches to wineries over the years. Today, cork is not giving headaches to wineries. So if we give them the option of having a core versus an alternative, and the cork is going to give them the headache, they’re going to choose cork every time as long as it’s cost competitive with our streamlines processes that we’ve we’ve implemented in Portugal and manufacturing excellence, we’ve we’ve we’ve really been able to be cost competitive and and so we see core continuing to maintain its its superior market share. And we see it in other markets. I mean, I was in Germany recently and absolutely love Mosel Rieslings in Germany, this these guys are all screwcap. But they’re top wines. So if you look at any of their, their, you know, ground crew level wines, all of them have worked. And so they believe that pork is superior for for long term aging, and so forth. So we think that sooner or later will kind of continue to trickle down. And markets like that we’ve seen Australia all the top highest end wines are all in Cork and New Zealand. These are these are huge mainstays for screwcaps. And we see cork making comebacks there. And you know, like for Australia, one of their big markets was China. China is a fan of traditional packaging, they do not want to see they do not want to go to the supermarket or wherever they buy their wines and see a crater on the label, they will not buy. They want to see a you know, a picture of a chateau or something like that with a capsule and a cork. And so the Chinese market has really helped the cork industry as well. So, so we see this is a long winded answer, but we see cork remaining in a majority position. But we see those alternatives such as screwcap, or bagging the box cans, those sort of things where they

Drew Thomas Hendricks 44:27

will have a share, for sure. And and so on the lower price point, there’s work or compete, but a lot of the share that they’re taking over, maybe it’s not the best use for court anyway. It’s like if you’re doing kegs in a bar, absolutely. So I hate the fact that versus opening up five cases one and eight.

Dustin Mowe 44:49

Yeah, yeah. Then we see we’ve seen that for a long time. And it’s actually frankly in when we have discussions with the with our board in Portugal. We He kind of chuckled at it. It took so long for people to to come on to, for instance, the bag in the box. If you didn’t Northern Europe, and you’re in a restaurant, and you buy a glass of wine, they bring out a bottle and pour a glass, they go to the back of the into the kitchen, and they pull out the bag and the box picket and Philip Glass is it’s all over northern Europe. They’ve been using these for years.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 45:23

Oh, for sure. Yeah. No, I want to jump to the upper end, we’re getting towards the end. But I okay. Yeah, as far as age, mobility, cork, undoubtedly, is the closure if you want to lay your toys down for a long time, but eventually it does start to degrade. Yeah, you know, you’re just a part of the natural, has there been lack of a better word technological improvements, and like the upper end courts that allow them like a greater age ability? Yeah,

Dustin Mowe 45:49

the biggest correlation to age ability of the stoppers is storage conditions. So if we, if we put wine under a stopper, and we put it into a condition that is, is, you know, a is good storage condition, meaning, you know, above 50%, humidity, you know, temperatures are below 70, let’s say, you know, it’s going to live a very, very long life, and be a very, very good functioning stopper. The problem is, is not all conditions are equal. And so you have wines that have been subjected to various conditions that then create problems. So big thing is humidity. But then, you know, really, it’s, it’s just overall storage conditions, heat, you know, sunlight, you know, whatever. So, so you have, you know, those those things at play, I can’t say there’s anything that’s really done to try to prolong the longevity, I mean, surface coatings are a huge part of how a stopper performs in the battle. So we take a cork, and in order to make it go in and out of the bottle, easily, you have to put a surface coating on it, but there’s twofold to why you put the surface coating. So for high end corks, we use a very special type of coating where we, we put this, it’s almost like a solid paraffin wax on the core. Yeah, so we use, we try to encapsulate the cork and create a little bit of a barrier between cork and bottle Nick interface. And then we just put a light spray of silicone that gives it it’s slippery ness to go in and out of the bottle. So we have a for our highest in course, we want to create that really tight seal, close off the porosity of the cork, by that paraffin, and, and therefore, you know, help it age longer. So some improvements with stuff with with, for instance, what we know and surface coatings and how to apply it and so on. Really just telling the processes, you know, something I’ve been curious about is that, yeah, age, a lot of wines and they’re all moving at my humidity is not 50%, but they’re definitely at 55 degrees. Yeah,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 47:54

it is amazing to see after 1012 years, the variation, you can definitely tell a good cork when you pop up when you pop open a 13 year old bottle. And

Dustin Mowe 48:06

there’s a lot of things that go into bottling that you know, a lot of times it gets pushed on to maybe the closure. But you know, like when you bottle wine in your scene, I’m sure on a bottling line and the bottles are going by and there’s corks being shoved in well, there’s a there’s a vacuum that happens to the bottle goes up underneath the Corker, it sucks out the air in the headspace and quickly a cork gets shoved into the bottle. If you do or not pulling an adequate vacuum, you have positive pressure inside there. That pressure builds as soon as that wine gets even changes a few degrees of temperature. So you ship it across the country or whenever it leaves the winery. It’s going to change temperature and you’re going to have some some you know, the wind is going to to swell and so therefore you’re putting more pressure on the cork and it’ll kind of you know, that creates some issues and so I always say like there’s there’s a lot of things that can go you know, a little bit sideways with bottling and people don’t respect the headspace, you know, so,

Drew Thomas Hendricks 49:02

I mentioned that one of the biggest frustrations ever had was selling revenue Chablis. They are selling three $400 bottles of wine and he puts zero headspace in there. It has two degrees it’s gonna blow.

Dustin Mowe 49:17

Yeah, yeah, I mean, I don’t know, off the top of my head. But it’s like, you know, I think it’s like five, five degree change. You move to millimeters or something like that. It’s it’s, it’s crazy. So why people would do that? I don’t know. But yeah, so there’s a lot of issues.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 49:32

It’s definitely me complaining didn’t fill up high enough. Yeah, exactly. And so, um, Dustin is wrapping down here. I got to always kind of ask him this. How have you stayed motivated over the last 20 30 years? 20 years and how do you stay motivated?

Dustin Mowe 49:49

Yeah, you know, our business is very repetitive. So you know, it’s, we have we sell all 12 months out of the year. Some of our bigger customers bottle 12 months out of the year, but then with our ultra premium ultra premium luxury, these guys are typically bottling, you know, spring, then right then you know whites for instance, then right up in June, July right before harvest, they bottle the reds, they get the space for, for the new vintage in the winery. And so it’s, you know, over the years, you get, you know, customers that you’ve had forever, you know, that call you every year and may or call you every year in April, and you know what, you know, so it’s, it’s interesting, it’s like, here we go again, you know, but I think that, you know, the times in the industry right now, it’s a crazy time, you know, you you think of how where things have come from over the last, you know, 510 years and where they’re at today, I think the business continues to be exciting, I think when becomes not exciting is when you really struggle. And I think that as I’ve gotten older, my passion for the product has, has, you know, become greater. And I do a lot of tastings, I organize a lot of tastings, I’m in tasting groups with various winemakers, various friends, you know, where we’re tasting stuff all the time. So I just, I really, really enjoy the product. Yeah. And so I think that that really kind of keeps me sucked in and, and then now kind of embarking on this new venture with with a small brand. It’s also I mean, for my primary business, obviously, with cork, it has kept me you know, lit a new fire. And so it’s just I think it has to do with just my passion for the business and the product. And, and so yeah, I don’t you know, my wife jokes, and she said, You’re never going to retire. And I say probably not, you know, I might step down from, from my position, but I’ll always be involved most likely with the with the court business and for certainly for the with the wine business specialists doing what you love. It just doesn’t seem like work. Yeah, yeah, I know. And that just you just hit it. I mean, it, like I said, and parts of what were we were discussed it as I just I think it comes down to you’re dealing with just wonderful people.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 52:05

Yeah, absolutely. So Dustin, where can people find out more about you? And Portocork? Yeah. So

Dustin Mowe 52:12

on the web, we’re available at It’s We receive people all the time, you know, when it’s just consumers. Sometimes we can get really busy and, you know, we our schedules don’t align. But we do receive people at times, you know, that are just general consumers. So somebody comes to Napa and wants to learn about course, they can, by all means, look us up and try to book something. But anybody in the business, we’re ready to receive you. I think it’s a very, very interesting product. A lot of people are usually amazed that they come and spend an hour with us at our facility just right in South Napa business park. So

Drew Thomas Hendricks 52:52

yeah, I’m gonna have to stop by next time. I’m up there.

Dustin Mowe 52:56

You need to for sure. Love to see you.

Drew Thomas Hendricks 52:58

I would love to come up there. So Dustin, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dustin Mowe 53:02

Yes. Thanks for having me. And, yeah, we’ll do it again in person maybe?

Drew Thomas Hendricks 53:06


Dustin Mowe 53:07

Thanks. Thank you.

Outro 53:16

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