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Interview: Jon Moramarco, President and CEO, Winebow

April 29, 2013

After more than three decades of uninterrupted growth, New Jersey-based fine wine importer and wholesaler Winebow has set the goal of crossing 2 million cases with its import business this year. In addition to its strong position in Italian wine and its range of brands from Chile, Argentina, Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Australia, Scotland, Brazil and Japan, Winebow is nurturing a few domestic brands as well, and exploring a deeper entry into that segment. Shanken News Daily recently met with Winebow president and CEO Jon Moramarco to get his views on the fine wine market, and Winebow’s place in it looking ahead.

SND: How has Winebow’s imported wine unit fared over the past year?

Moramarco: Our business had another good year of growth in 2012, and we continue to grow methodically. Kris Pinot Grigio is leading the way in our import portfolio. Allegrini Palazzo della Torre, which is more of a proprietary red, is another growth driver. We’re also seeing gains with Argiolas from Sardinia, Catena from Argentina, Clean Slate German Riesling and Marqués de Griñón from Spain. We have a nice niche portfolio from Portugal showing some opportunity as well. On the challenging side, our Chilean business been a bit soft. It’s odd because Argentine Malbec is growing rapidly.

SND: What are your volume goals for this year on the import side?

Moramarco: I’d like us to reach 2 million cases this year. We’re closing in on it. The average retail price of all our wines is about $16-$17, and that’s a hot spot that we want to continue to target—the $15-$20 range. We have some wines that occasionally are featured at $9.99, but the fact is that we’re not big enough to fight with the likes of Gallo and Constellation at that price point, so we want to define our own space. Obviously we have a lot of great wines that are $50-$100 or more, but that segment isn’t thriving as it was five or six years ago.

SND: Are there any areas of the Winebow business you’re looking to expand?

Moramarco: We do a small amount of domestic wine. We have a brand called Flying Fish from Washington, and another called 24 Knots from the Central Coast of California. We’re looking at California, Oregon and Washington to see if we want to develop the domestic business further, as part of our long-term plan.

SND: How is on-premise performance compared with the off-premise currently?

Moramarco: Off-premise is still a little stronger. The trend in fine dining of less bottle business and more by-the-glass is having an impact on total volume sold on-premise. Unfortunately for our business, I’m seeing fewer bottles of wine on the table in restaurants—but people are going to the bar, drinking a high-end cocktail and bringing it to the table. Then maybe they have one glass of wine with dinner, and maybe not. We have to adapt to that shift, and we are—with hundreds of wine by-the-glass programs now across the portfolio. In this industry, you need to keep evolving.

SND: What are your expectations for your wholesale business in the Illinois market since the acquisition of Vintage Wines last fall?

Moramarco: We entered Illinois about two years ago with our own wholesale operation and last August we closed on the acquisition of Vintage. We’re operating the company as “Vintage, a Winebow Company,” because of Vintage’s heritage in the market. We’re seeing very nice growth. I believe we’re the best fine wine wholesaler in Illinois today. We’re probably either fourth or fifth in the market right now in terms of size. Our goal is within two or three years to be number-three—behind the two big guys, Wirtz and Southern—and to be the drivers of the fine wine market.

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