Recovery is upon us…that is if you are producing over 3 million cases…

Financial Symposium attendees hear details of who benefits most from ongoing sales boom

 by Paul Franson

Napa, Calif.—The Wine Industry Financial Symposium held Monday and Tuesday was itself an indication of the health of the recovering wine business. Fully 330 lenders, growers, wine companies and suppliers attended the conference, up from 260 last year.

Vineyard executive David Freed started the symposium 21 years ago to improve communication between wine businesses and sources of capital. The only surprise this year was that more wine executives didn’t attend to gain valuable insights and rub elbows with bankers and other lenders who could make the difference between success and distress sales of their businesses.

Big three’ grew 8% Freed noted that domestic wine producers are increasingly splitting into two segments: the top 16 to 20 who are good at building brands and producing efficiently in volume, and the rest, whom he said “exist in the luxury space.”

He noted that the big three—Gallo, The Wine Group and Constellation—grew 8% on a huge base of 150 million cases. “They represent in real terms almost half the industry’s growth.” The next five players—Trinchero, Bronco, Treasury, Delicato and Kendall-Jackson—represent 51 million gallons and grew at 3.5%. “They were very successful, too,” Freed noted, with Trinchero doing an outstanding job.

He also noted that Kendall-Jackson had the lowest growth from that group, but conceded, “They seem to be managing for profitability.”

The next players—Don Sebastiani, J. Lohr, Bogle, Charles Krug (Peter Mondavi family), Diageo’s Beaulieu and Sterling, Korbel and Fetzer—grew 1.3%.

That doesn’t leave much for smaller wineries.

In a panel discussion of lender representatives, Perry DeLuca from the Wells Fargo Bank Wine Industry Group assessed winery growth, too. He noted that it’s tied to increased retail sales, U.S. wine exports and California winery shipments, all of which have long-term trends going up.

DeLuca said the top 10 wine companies produced 222 million cases in 2011, up 7% from 2010. These companies have been making acquisitions, mostly with cash, to buy vineyards and winemaking facilities. Interest rates are very low, so money in the bank earns little, and these cash-rich wineries are investing in assets as a more likely way to make money.

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