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Interview: On-Premise Specialist The Mark Wine Group Projects 25% Growth

January 21, 2015

Austin, Texas-based wine sales and marketing firm The Mark Wine Group has carved out a niche as a specialist for the on-premise arena, connecting family-owned and independent wineries with national restaurant and hotel chains. Launched in 2007 with a single partner producer—Napa’s Boisset Collection—The Mark Wine Group’s portfolio has since grown to include Mionetto USA, Vintage Point, Hahn Family Wines, Bogle Vineyards and O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, among others. This year, it’s projecting growth of 25%-30% and sales of roughly 230,000 cases. The Mark Wine Group founder and president Mark Gmur recently spoke with Shanken News Daily associate editor Christina Jelski to discuss the outlook for both the company and the on-premise market as a whole.

SND: What are some of the best-performing wines in your portfolio?

Gmur: The Boisset Collection was our first partner, and remains our largest by volume. DeLoach has been part of our portfolio from day one. Since then, Jean-Charles Boisset acquired Raymond Vineyards in 2009, which has become one of our best-selling wines, and Buena Vista in 2012, which is also starting to grow very nicely. Mionetto USA has the fastest growth rate of all our partners. Vintage Point is also growing in leaps and bounds, particularly Layer Cake Malbec, Educated Guess Napa Cabernet and a new wine called Cherry Tart Pinot Noir. And there’s a lot of interest in Hahn’s new SLH tier Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Smith & Hook Cabernet.

SND: Are you actively seeking more producers?

Gmur: We’re thrilled with our current portfolio, but we will always entertain adding brands that we feel either fill a gap or are of such high caliber that we cannot turn them down. We also examine the sales and marketing structure, distribution network and internal support to determine whether a given brand can adequately service national wine programs, which is very labor intensive.

SND: What trends are driving on-premise wine consumption?

Gmur: The hottest categories continue to be Prosecco and Malbec. Red blends and Moscato have done very well in retail, but that hasn’t been mirrored in the restaurant world. Cabernet and Chardonnay continue to dominate because that’s what the average consumer still drinks, and Pinot Noir is the number-three selling varietal ahead of Merlot. On-premise-exclusive and chain-exclusive wines are becoming increasingly popular.

SND: What are some of your biggest accounts?

Gmur: We have developed relationships with more than 150 different national and major regional chains. We’re working with all the major steakhouse chains such as Morton’s, Fleming’s, Del Frisco’s, Mastro’s, Ruth’s Chris, The Palm, Smith & Wollensky and, more recently, The Capital Grille. We’ve also had a long relationship with Legal Sea Foods, for whom we make a very successful Pinot Noir from DeLoach named “Block 1950.” We’re a partner in almost every concept of Landry’s, and have become a partner of Darden through their Specialty Restaurant Group. We also have great relationships with non-typical chains such as Alamo Drafthouse, Vino Volo and TopGolf.

SND: What key challenges is the on-premise currently facing in your view?

Gmur: Operators are still seeking a lot of support in generating creative marketing ideas to help wines sell through, so our challenge is to help them think outside the box to achieve that. There’s also a more competitive front in terms of mind-share when it comes to competing against craft cocktails and craft beer, which have grown significantly in recent years. Raw traffic data tells us that the on-premise is flat to slightly up, but if you talk to people on the street, you’ll hear that the average dollar per bottle sold is increasing, and convention business is coming back to its strongest level in seven years, both good signs.

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