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News Briefs for February 21, 2012

February 21, 2012

•Italy, the number-one exporter of wine to the U.S., carved out an imported wine market share of 31% valued at nearly $1.5 billion in 2011, according to the Italian Trade Commission. Italian wines’ U.S. shipment volume increased 15% to 31.66 million cases. The success of Prosecco, which topped 1 million cases in the U.S. in 2011, led to a 36% volume increase to 3.24 million cases for all Italian sparkling wines. Among imported still wines, the Italian Trade Commission said Italy’s U.S. market share is now 34% by value, ahead of second-ranked France at 19% and third-ranked Australia at 13%.

•Real estate finance and advisory group Meridian Capital and Napa-based consulting firm Axton Wine Group have teamed up to help facilitate foreign investment in wineries in Washington, Oregon and California. The partnership said it will primarily target investors in China, where consumption of imported wine is growing at 50% annually. The two companies will work mainly with small to mid-sized, privately owned West Coast wineries seeking to grow capital and distribution. “Most foreign investors we have identified are looking to make a minority investment in high-end wineries and acquire the rights to distribute the wine in their respective countries,” said Axton Wine founder Gordon Axton. Meridian is currently in talks with several Chinese corporations that have expressed interest in entering the U.S. wine business.

•St. Helena, California-based Wilson Daniels has added Italy’s Bibi Graetz wines to its portfolio. Wilson Daniels is now the exclusive U.S. importer of a Bibi Graetz portfolio that includes Casamatta, Grilli, Soffocone, Testamatta and Colore. The wines range in price from $10.99 to $800 a 750-ml. Wilson Daniels’ Italian wine portfolio also includes Ceretto, Castello di Volpaia, Prelius, Tenuta di Biserno and Barrymore. The company also handles wines from Australia, Chile, France, Hungary, New Zealand, South Africa and the U.S.

•Review website company Yelp, which offers information on local restaurants, nightlife spots and other businesses based on user-generated reviews, plans to go public in March, pricing its initial offering of 7.15 million shares at between $12–$14 a share. The IPO is expected to raise as much as $100 million for the San Francisco-based company. Yelp’s total revenue, which is generated from advertisements on its website, was $83.3 million in 2011, up 74.6% from $47.7 million in 2010, while its net loss for 2011 was $16.7 million, up 74.2% from $9.6 million in 2010. Yelp’s free website service receives 66 million monthly visitors and features profiles for more than 600,000 businesses throughout the world.

•Cape Classics, U.S. importer of more than 20 South African wine brands including Jam Jar and Indaba, has named Molly Choi as executive vice president of sales and marketing. Choi will manage the New York-based company’s sales force, national accounts, marketing team and program initiatives while retaining the marketing management responsibilities of her previous title, senior vice president, which she has held for six years. Prior to joining Cape Classics, Choi had served on the marketing team for luxury goods conglomerate LVMH.

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