Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Wine Group

With sales of fifty-three million cases of wine annually, The Wine Group is the second largest wine company in the world.  As generic as The Wine Group name sounds, you can understand how they may have flown under the radar for a lot of us.  Maybe that was the plan all along: Lay in the weeds as long as you can and then make your move.  Or something like that.

Actually The Wine Group didn't ambush anyone.  Some of us in the trade just weren't paying attention.  What The Wine Group did was they built their empire incrementally with sound business sense at every opportunity.  They did it "the old fashioned way" as John Houseman would have said.  Constellation, the mass marketer they recently surpassed, had been a juggernaut in its own right.  A recent serious miscalculation on their part, an error that will remain unmentioned here, may have been their undoing.  S__t happens.  If you want to know more, stop in the store for the details.

Does the elephant in the room, Gallo, have reason to fear The Wine Group?  Probably not.  But wouldn't that be something if they did!

The Wine Group was established in 1981 but their prehistory is worth documenting.  Giuseppe and Teresa Franzia were Italian immigrants to America at the turn of the last century.  They settled in the Central Valley of California where they bought eighty acres for their vineyards.  At their beginning they were growers who sold their grapes to interests in the Midwest and on the East Coast.  They may have had winery dreams early on but Prohibition curtailed that plan until its repeal in 1933.  The Franzias then took out a $60k loan and were in the business.

In 1973 the Franzias sold their business to Coca Cola which already owned Mogen David.  In 1981 Coke sold their winery portfolio to their wine division CEO, Art Ciocca.  The contrast in wine business acumen at this juncture is hard to ignore.  For people in the know, 1980 marks a turning point in this industry.  It had become evident that wine was going to catch on as a part of our culture.  The signs were there.  Moreover wine coolers were on the cusp of their own boom.  Coke should have seen that opportunity but didn't.  With their buying power in glass they could have dominated that market.  

Upon losing that Coke glass-buying asset, Art Ciocca innovated.  He created the bag-in-the-box format that continues quite profitably today.  Now The Wine Group represents more than sixty wine brands which are predominantly in-house creations but their portfolio also includes historic wineries they have purchased along the way.  In their portfolio are labels like Concannon, 7 Deadly, Cupcake, Imagery, Tribute, Almaden, Beso del Sol, Chloe and Benziger.  These and many others can be found in grocery stores everywhere.

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