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Impact Seminar Snapshot: Shapira, Wagner And Deutsch On The Family Approach To Brand-Building

March 27, 2014

While much of last week’s Impact Marketing Seminar put the spotlight on digital trends, social media and the Millennial demographic, independent players Heaven Hill Distilleries, Caymus Vineyards and Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits were on hand to discuss the advantages and challenges of being a family-held drinks business.

Founded in 1934, Heaven Hill Distilleries and its flagship whiskey portfolio—which includes the Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and Henry McKenna brands, among others—has endured many ups and downs over the past eight decades. With America’s whisk(e)y renaissance now in full swing, however, the company’s Bourbon stable is enjoying steady growth, bolstered in part by Heaven Hill’s family-held heritage. “There are a number of societal drivers that dovetail perfectly with the renaissance of Bourbon, including the movement toward craftsmanship,” said Heaven Hill president Max Shapira, citing recent farm-to-table, all-natural and organic trends, as well as the nostalgic role Bourbon and whiskey play in popular television series such as Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.

Meanwhile, the Wagner family—producer of brands such as Caymus, Conundrum, Mer Soleil, Emmolo and Belle Glos—is the epitome of the California family winery. Represented at the Seminar by owner and winemaker Chuck Wagner, whose parents—Charlie and Lorna Belle Glos Wagner—purchased their estate in Napa’s Rutherford district in 1941, the winery also enlists the help of three of Wagner’s children—Charlie, Joseph and Jenny. Caymus made its debut with a 1972 Napa Cabernet priced at just $4.50. The Wagner family has since successfully expanded and premiumized its critically-acclaimed portfolio, currently retailing for $20-$140 a bottle. In particular, the Meiomi brand, a Pinot Noir crafted by Joseph, has done notably well in recent years, nearly doubling its volume in 2013 to reach 400,000 cases in the U.S. “What sells wine for us? Relationships, ratings and our family story,” said Wagner.

Another privately-held enterprise, Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, prides itself on a family-oriented approach to long-term brand-building. Chief executive officer Peter Deutsch—who joined his father, founder Bill Deutsch, in the business in 1985—told Seminar attendees that the company’s business model has always revolved around strong relationships with other family businesses. “My father’s vision was of a small family company in the U.S., working with family-owned producers and family-owned distributors. That vision has never changed,” said Deutsch. Some of Deutsch Family’s most fruitful partnerships have included its tie-ups with Australia’s Casella family (Yellow Tail), France’s Georges Duboeuf, Spain’s Zamora family and, recently, American sportscaster Jim Nantz, who partnered with Deutsch to launch California wine brand The Calling in 2012. Through these alliances, Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits has emerged as the U.S. market’s largest wine importer, with annual volume of 10 million cases of wine and spirits and revenue of more than $490 million in 2013.

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