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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, March 28, 2011, 5:00 am

April 28 Journal wine conference to focus on M&A, sales

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    The business of making ultrapremium and luxury wine may be reaching a turning point after almost three years of heavy competition for consumer dollars.

    “Turning point: Those who are shaping the future of wine” is the theme of the Business Journal’s 11th annual Wine Industry Conference on April 28 in Santa Rosa.

    Mergers and acquisitions panel

    • Peter Byck, co-founder, chief executive officer and president of Winery Exchange, Novato
    • William Foley, president and CEO of Foley Family Wines, Healdsburg
    • Dan Leese, president and co-founder of V2 Wine Group, Sonoma
    • Stewart Resnick, Fiji Water and recent buyer of Justin Winery and Vineyards, Paso Robles
    • Pete Scott, CEO of The Vincraft Group, Sonoma
    • Mario Zeppponi, principal of Zepponi & Company

    Social media and direct sales panel

    • Ron Denner, owner of Denner Vineyards, Paso Robles
    • Lawrence Dutra, president and CEO of Adams Wine Group, Westlake Village
    • Bill Leigon, president of Hahn Family Wines, Napa and Soledad
    • Lisa Mattson, communications director of Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Geyserville

    One panel will include a number of wine business proprietors who are on the hunt for wines, vines or producers to acquire. Another panel will explore varied successful direct marketing efforts via social media and more conventional methods.

    Except for makers of lower-priced wine, that turning point largely remains to come, according to local wine financial experts. But a number of business models are looking for opportunities to acquire wine brands that have potential for growth under a different capital and leadership structure.

    Fewer wineries that Moss Adams works with are struggling as badly as they were in the last few years, particularly for newer, less established brands with higher retail prices, according to partner Jeff Gutsch, founder of the accounting firm’s wine practice.

    “It seems the overall mood is getting better, and the financial information we are seeing seems to support that,” said Mr. Gutsch.

    Competition for consumer dollars remains “stiff,” but ultrapremium wine sales have been rebounding in recent months. Though it will take time to regain lost sales, he noted.

    Delaying the wine business turnaround for most producers outside of those with strong lower-priced brands is the “fragile” positive direction in the U.S. economy, according to Mr. Zepponi. Whether the growth in ultrapremium sales will continue to ripple to higher retail prices or reflects a sustained shift down from prices above $50 a bottle remains to be seen, he said.

    “We haven’t seen that market come back yet,” he said. “There’s too much mobility because too many went down in their price points.”

    The mergers and acquisitions panel is a “dream team” of those actively seeking wine business acquisitions, according to Mr. Zepponi. Peter Byck is co-founder, chief executive officer and president of Winery Exchange in Novato. Earlier this year, the global wine, beer and spirits corporate brand builder acquired Echelon from Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines for a new division of its own national brands.

    William Foley is president and CEO of Foley Family Wines in Healdsburg. He acquired Chalk Hill Winery from celebrity trial attorney Fred Furth to add to a portfolio that includes more than a dozen North Coast, Central Coast, Washington and New Zealand wine brands plus two hotels.

    Dan Leese is president and co-founder of V2 Wine Group in Sonoma. The firm has been forging strategic marketing agreements with several wine producers since launching last year.

    Stewart Resnick is co-owner of Fiji Water and expanded his agricultural investments recently with the purchase of Justin Winery and Vineyards in Paso Robles.

    Pete Scott is chief executive officer of The Vincraft Group in Sonoma. Since 2009 he and fellow former Beringer wine group top executive Walt Klenz have been assembling a number of high-end “boutique” brands, including Kosta Browne.

    The direct marketing panelists bring together varied approaches. Ron Denner, owner of Denner Vineyards in Paso Robles, uses direct sales tactics and social media to keep a loyal following for the more than $50-a-bottle wines.

    Lawrence Dutra is president and chief executive officer of Westlake Village-based Adams Wine Group, which makes private-label wines through Adler Fels of Santa Rosa and has a stake in direct-shipping fulfiller Pack n’ Ship Direct.

    Hahn Family Wines President Bill Legion is a sought-after expert in wine marketing through social media.

    From four years at St. Helena-based luxury wine marketer Wilson Daniels to her current position overseeing communications for the past two years at high-end Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Geyserville, Lisa Mattson has been a big advocate of video as a wine marketing tool as well as use of social media.

    The conference will be held Thursday, April 28, from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa in Santa Rosa. The deadline for registration is April 22. To register, call Linda Perkins at 707-521-5264 or use the online form with secure payment options.

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