Wine: Profitability top wine business concern, survey says

Profitability is the top concern this year for wine industry professionals, according to a University of California, Davis, survey prepared for the 20th Wine Industry Financial Symposium, to be held  at the Napa Valley Marriott hotel in Napa on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 19 and 20. The event typically attracts several hundred industry and financial services professionals.

[caption id="attachment_38857" align="alignright" width="403" caption="One of the questions Dr. Robert Smiley, professor emeritus of the U.C. Davis Graduate School of Management, asked 132 wine industry professionals this year in an annual survey for the Wine Industry Financial Symposium was,"][/caption]

Of 132 responses to an annual survey and analysis by Dr. Robert Smiley, professor emeritus of the Graduate School of Management, "profit margins" ranked the most significant wine business trend, garnering virtually a 4 on a five-point scale. Other major factors, in order of ranking, were "cost of materials" including fuel, "pricing pandemonium: Can I raise prices?" "distribution," "new consumer values and how to work with them" and "inflation."

The theme for this year's symposium is "Flexibility in the Global Marketplace."Afternoon seminars that Monday will touch on tasting room management, vineyard management, wine company valuation, trends in equity and debt financing and direct-to-consumer sales metrics.

Speaking on global changes in the businesses during the Tuesday symposium will be Jean-Charles Boisset, president of Boisset Family Estates, whose recent acquisitions include Buena Vista Carneros and Raymond Vineyards. John Gillespie of Wine Market Council and Wine Opinions will be presenting new marketing research.

One of the panel discussions has founders of Justin Vineyards and Seghesio Family Vineyards and the respective acquirers, Stewart Resnick of Roll Global, which also acquired Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood more recently, and Erle Martin of Crimson Wine Group.

Event registration starts at $225 to $775 per person for the Monday seminars only or both days. To view the schedule and register, visit


Speaking of wine-related presentations, Mario Zepponi, a principal of Santa Rosa-based wine industry transaction consultancy Zepponi & Company, will be among the speakers at the Business Journal's annual Impact Napa conference at the Meritage Hotel & Spa in Napa the morning of Sept. 1. He's set to talk about recent trends in vineyard and winery valuation.

Headlining the conference will be Beacon Economics managing partner and go-to pundit Chris Thornberg. He will be providing an overview of the national and local economic forces weighing on key Napa County industries such as wine.


In addition to a new base of operations and high-tech tasting room on the premises of Sebastiani Vineyards in Sonoma and a $3 million funding injection, Crushpad has a new chief executive. Peter Ekman, who was executive vice president and co-founder of Ascentia Wine Estates, assumed day-to-day oversight of Crushpad, a custom-winemaking business for thousands of hobbyists and 100 small-scale pros.

Crushpad founder Michael Brill now is focusing on developing international partnerships and new products, such as Crushpad Syndicate and options for wine from international producers.

"We've been working on the idea of me focusing more of my energy on the areas where I'm strongest -- product, winemaking, marketing and sales support -- and bring on some fresh blood to take on overall responsibility," Mr. Brill wrote in the company's email newsletter. "The big difference now is that I can be a lot more effective in areas that matter to you -- and me."

Mr. Ekman said he "strongly" believes in the Crushpad vision.

"With an intense focus on the customer experience, wine quality and the innovative use of technology, my plan is to bring Crushpad from its humble urban winery beginnings to a global company that enables millions of wine enthusiasts to achieve their dream of being a winemaker," he said.


Taking a cue from holiday-targeted stores, beverage industry supplier Gusmer Enterprises, which owns The Wine Lab in Napa, opened The Gusmer Harvest Store in a shopfront at 9025 Old Redwood Highway, Ste. C, in Windsor on Aug. 1. Gusmer plans to sell fermentation-related supplies such as the new proprietary direct-inoculation yeast FrootZen and offer certain on-site testing there until the end of  November. Hopefully, the 2011 North Coast winegrape harvest will be done by then.


George Petersen Insurance Agency is partnering with Lodi-based SN Potter Insurance Agency as the appointed Sonoma County broker for WineryPlus, a specialty insurance program for wineries, vineyard estates and custom crush facilities.

WineryPlus offers specific, niche-focused coverage such as wine contamination, spoilage, property and transit, wind drift and overspray, among others, specifically for the wine industry.

It is a national winery program that was established in 2006 by SN Potter, a specialty program manager, and is underwritten by Argonaut Insurance  Co.

"Our agency has been insuring some of the finest wineries and vineyards in California for over 75 years," said Doug Dilley, chief operations officer and a partner at George Petersen. "We will continue to build upon our long-standing reputation as wine industry specialists." ---Dan Verel, Staff Reporter***

Edgewood Partners Insurance Center in Petaluma is hosting a workshop for winery and vineyard managers, titled "How to Stay Alive and Productive During Crush."

The workshop will highlight 10 essential safety topics that concern the wine industry. Topics include: night harvest, machine safeguarding, use of volunteers and non-employees, safe vehicle and forklift operation, emergency planning, owner-operator hauling grapes, claims management from the field, heat stress and Cal-OSHA notification requirements

The workshop will be led by Rich Lawler, EPIC's safety consultant who for 20 years has consulted with wineries. He is a registered environment assessor, a certified professional in ergonomics and is an OSHA 10 and 30 hour instructor.

The workshop is Sept. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at EPIC's new 5350 Old Redwood Highway location in Petaluma. Space is limited. For more information call 707-794-7411 or email ---Dan Verel, Staff Reporter***The 17th annual Staglin Family Vineyard Music Festival for Mental Health is set for Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Rutherford winery. Sponsored by the International Mental Health Research Organization, the event features keynote speaker Steven Hyman, M.D., Harvard Medical School neurobiology professor and university provost, a concert by Dionne Warwick and appearances by Rep. Patrick Kennedy, part of the One Mind Campaign, and actress Glenn Close, who works with the organization Bring Change 2 Mind.All proceeds go directly to scientific research and treatment programs at a number of universities groups, including Napa-based Aldea Children and Family Services. For tickets, which start at $750 a person, call 707-944-0477 or visit Admission to Dr. Hyman's lecture is free.***

Wine PeopleCustom winemaker Sonoma Wine Co. named Scott Loopstra director of operations for the company's 116,500-square-foot American Canyon winery as part of adjustments to accommodate growth plans. Previously, he held the same position at Vintage Wine Estates' Grove Street Winery in Healdsburg.

[caption id="attachment_38871" align="alignleft" width="176" caption="Terry Nolan"][/caption]

As part of the rampup of VML Winery on Westside Road in Russian River Valley, the owners hired Terry Nolan as general manager. Investor group H.D.D., LLC, which includes Bill Hambrect and sustainable winemaking advocate Paul Dolan, started VML early this year.

For the past five years, Mr. Nolan was general manager of ultrapremium custom winemaker Owl Ridge Wine Services in Sebastopol. Before that, he was Benziger Family Winery director of winemaking.

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Napa-based cork distributor Portocork America named Erick Rojas to the new position of operations manager. For four and a half years, he was general manager for Santa Rosa-based distributor M.A. Silva Corks USA. Before that, he was logistics manager for The Coca-Cola Co. for almost 13 years.

Patti Fetzer and Gregg Hileman, proprietors of Patianna Organic Vineyards near Hopland in Mendocino County, named Charlie Tolbert winemaker. The previous winemaker, Mike Lee, died in May. Mr. Tolbert was director of cellar operations for Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland and has been involved with brands Chateau St. Jean, Haywood, Arrowood and Amapola Creek.

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The 2011 Sonoma County Harvest Fair named Jordan Vineyard & Winery viticulturist Brent Young "Outstanding Young Person in Agri-Business." Mr. Young was selected for his extensive community service and leadership in the Sonoma County farming community. He joined the company in 2008 and has been overseeing sustainable farming initiatives, namely earning credentials in the new Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing program. Winners will receive awards at a gala in Santa Rosa on Sept. 24.


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Correction, Aug. 23, 2011: Jean-Charles Boisset, president of Boisset Family Estates, will be speaking at Wine Industry Financial Symposium in September. The original story had incorrect information.

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