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Mercer Estates opens wine bar at KeyArena
SEATTLE – Mercer Estates just missed Justin Bieber, but the family from Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills opened its new wine bar at KeyArena in time for The Boss.
“It’s really cool,” said General Manager Will Mercer. “KeyArena has had some big concerts, and quite a few have been sold out, so that’s great for us, too. The brand awareness is what I’m really excited about because they get well over a 150,000 people through there in a year, and we’re well under 5,000 through our tasting room in a year.”
The Mercer Estates Wine Bar inside the 17,000-seat KeyArena operates whenever there’s a concert – starting with Bruce Springsteen on March 26 — or a sporting event such as the Seattle Storm of the Women’s National Basketball Association or Seattle University men’s basketball.
Featured wines in the wine bar, which Mercer estimated at 1,000 square feet, include the Mercer Canyons Red Blend and Riesling.
“Those are the two poured by the glass,” he said. “They will eventually have all of our tiers in there, and the people in the suites will even have access to our reserve wines.”
Mercer Estates touts Washington winery award
Signage and graphics throughout the wine bar and along the concourse KeyArena make reference to Mercer Estates’ award as the 2016 Washington Winery of the Year for Wine Press Northwest magazine.
“I’m really pleased with how it came together,” he said.
Winery owner Rob Mercer, who is Rob’s brother, said, “We are using that award in our POS (point of sale) materials throughout the country. When you are talking with consumers and distributors, it’s important and makes an impact.”
The performance of winemaker Jessica Munnell’s entries in the latest Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition factored into the magazine award. And news of the 2012 Reserve Cavalie as the Houston judging’s top red blend and a double gold for the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon attracted the attention of wine merchants in the Lone Star State.
“She’s done a phenomenal job,” Rob Mercer said. “When I hired her (in 2012), the plan was to keep production at around 20,000 or so cases. Things change, and we’re pushing her.”
Mercer Estates in all 50 states
Production now stands at 70,000 cases annually, but there’s room for 100,000 at the Prosser facility. Mercer wines are sold in all 50 states, and the family with 130 years of farming in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills owns more than 2,000 acres of vineyard to maintain shelf space and placements.
“Fifteen years ago, unless you were Ste. Michelle, no one gave you the time of day,” Rob Mercer said. “The Washington wine story has gained a whole lot of traction nationally in just the last five years.
“People are more aware and they are talking about Washington,” he continued. “More often than not, they are looking for it because they know it is such a great value. The wines are phenomenal, and they are half of what you’d pay anywhere else in the world. It’s a testament to the vineyards and the growing region. There are some definite advantages here, and we have some great winemakers here to show that off.”
Mercer, KeyArena enter 2-year deal
Los Angeles-based AEG Facilities owns and/or manages arenas and stadiums throughout the world, including Staples Center (Los Angeles), AmericanAirlines Arena (Miami), Barclays Arena (Brooklyn), Tele2Arena (Stockholm) and Estádio Maracanã in Rio.
Will Mercer credited Joe Aigner, sponsorship manager at AEG Worldwide, with the idea of adding a wine bar at KeyArena.
“They decided since KeyArena’s main events are concerts, they felt they needed to embrace not just beer gardens,” Will Mercer said. “They were looking for a winery, and they chose us. We put a two-year deal together with them – all of 2016 and all of 2017.
“Hopefully it works well, and we just renew it and keep it going,” he added.
There was no bid process, the Mercers said, but the winery needed to agree to the terms, which the family declined to disclose.
“We’re doing it for the brand recognition and to get our wines in front of a lot of people,” Will Mercer said.
“And it’s on Mercer Street,” he added with a smile. “When we were trying to decide on a name for the wine bar, we thought about confusing people who might think, ‘Oh, it’s just along the Mercer Street exit out of the arena.’ That was kind of a funny sidebar.”
Latest KeyArena remodel now 20 years old
Mercer is toying with the idea of approaching AEG to stage events such as release parties for Seattle-area wine club members. At this point, the family said it has no plans to open a satellite tasting room in greater Seattle area, so it recently celebrated its magazine award with Western Washington wine club members at the Palace Ballroom near Belltown.
“It was just a little over four years ago that the Mercers took a leap of faith and hired me to make their wines,” Munnell said during the celebration. “It’s been a pretty awesome ride, and getting the Washington Winery of the Year award is an amazing honor. We’re beyond thrilled.”
Upcoming concert acts at KeyArena include Andrea Bocelli, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Adele, Gwen Stefani, Carrie Underwood and Maroon 5. Bumbershoot also will utilize KeyArena on Labor Day weekend, and the Pacific-12 Conference women’s basketball tournament agreed to a contract extension through 2019.
“I really want to go to Maroon 5 (on Oct. 11),” Will said.
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the KeyArena remodel, which prompted the Seattle SuperSonics to play its 1994-1995 season at the Tacoma Dome. If the Seattle City Council had its way, the NBA would return – again – after another remodel of KeyArena.
“Yeah, if that would happen, we would be ecstatic,” Will Mercer said.