The bankers’ view of wine

Banks are important to wine companies, as they are to other businesses. How the banks see the industry is important, for it determines how much money they will lend to those companies.

In the past few months, two major bankers to agricultural companies — including wineries — have disclosed their views.

In its 2012 Annual State of the Wine Industry Report, Silicon Valley Bank forecasts long-term steady growth in the fine wine business. It expects 7 percent to 11 percent sales growth in 2012.

Dan Aguilar, senior relationship manager for the wine division, said wine inventories are evolving into a state of shortage that will last for some time domestically. Meanwhile, prices for grapes and bulk juice are increasing as growers finally start to see recovery.

Aguilar does expect increasing plantings to feed the looming grape shortage though imports are taking larger market share in the U.S.

Bottle prices are also increasing, but he doesn’t expect a return to the price level prior to the recession. “It’s increasingly difficulty for third-party marketers that have sold with a culture of discounting,” he said; this includes competing with Internet sources that create a ‘Fifth Column’ sales channel.

He adds that so-called millennials as fine wine consumers are over-valued in their importance today.

An international banker to agricultural companies with strong ties in Napa, Rabobank reports that global wine inventories are tightening as wineries move to fill production shortfalls.

According to Stephen Rannekleiv, executive director of Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group, U.S. bulk wine imports showed sharp growth in second quarter of 2012.

The Dutch-owned Rabobank, which bought Napa Community Bank in 2010, estimates global wine inventories are at their lowest point of the past decade. Indications are that the industry has finally moved closer to balance after years of oversupply problems. This tighter inventory arrives as consumer demand continues to grow and production remains constrained.

In the U.S., the wine grape market remains tight, with little domestic bulk wine available. Prices have increased dramatically leading many wineries to sign long-term contracts with growers or buy vineyards and other wineries.

Rabobank reports that the value of U.S. wine exports declined 2 percent last year largely due to the increasing strength of the U.S. dollar.

Imports, however, increased sharply in the first four months of 2012 as wineries sought alternative supplies in the tight bulk wine market. Bulk wine imports more than doubled with the greatest growth coming from Chile, Argentina and Australia.

Fortunately for wineries, this year’s crop looks above average.

Finally, the head of French-owned Bank of the West’s wine division, Adam Beak, notes that consumers are driven by value, and that’s not the same as cost. “A $2 bottle or a $100 bottle can be a good value to a customer.”

Beak says Bank of the West is the second largest ag lender (after Wells Fargo) and works with many wineries, specially on the North Coast.

Beak said that we are recovering slowly from the recession, but he says this downturn has demonstrated one thing clearly: Some wineries have done better than others, and it’s not necessarily due to their price, location or business model. “Well-managed companies are doing well. This is not a situation where a rising tide lifts all boats.”

The leaky ones will still sink.

Wine Industry Financial Symposium

To find out more about what’s happening financially in the wine industry, the 21st annual Wine Industry Financial Symposium is the place to be Sept. 24 and 25, at the Napa Valley Marriott.

Its theme this year is Thinking Positive – A Bright New Day For The Wine Industry.

For details, visit winesymposium.com.

The Business End by Paul Franson