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Vintner Group, Virginia-Based Wholesaler And Importer, Expands To Multi-State Presence

April 18, 2012

Since 2005, Virginia-based The Vintner Group (formerly known as The Country Vintner), has embarked on an acquisition run that has expanded its presence to eight markets, and company executives say at least two more acquisitions are in the works.

The Vintner Group began as a fine wine wholesaler in Virginia 32 years ago. President and CEO David Townsend joined the company and became a shareholder in the mid-1990s, and in the mid-2000s recapitalized the business with a private equity partner, PNC Equity. (Last September, the group’s private equity backing shifted from PNC to another investment firm, Brockway Moran.)

The Vintner Group’s acquisitions over the years have included the East Coast holdings of wholesaler The Henry Wine Group in 2008; leading Bordeaux importer and Florida wholesaler Stacole Fine Wines in 2010; and South Carolina wholesaler Carolina Wine Source in August 2011. “We have two new acquisitions cooking,” says Townsend. “There will be a smaller one and then a larger one right behind that.”

The company now operates as a fine wine and craft spirits wholesaler in Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida (where it does business under the Stacole name). “We try to find the hidden gems from around the world and bring them to the U.S. with high-quality service and sales,” says Townsend. “Right now, we pretty much cover the Southeast, with the exception of Georgia. We believe we can take the model and replicate it throughout the country.”

The Vintner Group’s core wine wholesaling business (which handles over 1,500 labels) has been seeing solid growth. “The Mid-Atlantic has been growing at low double-digits,” Townsend says. “The super-premium and luxury category is really strong. We’ve been spending a lot of time looking for those wines—the cult California wines for example—that a couple years ago you wondered if anyone would ever buy again. The on-premise is the fastest-growing segment for us currently.” About 55%-60% of The Vintner Group’s wholesale business is on-premise.

The Vintner Group’s import unit, now called Craft + Estate, has a wine portfolio primarily from the Southern Hemisphere, as well as Stacole’s strong position in Bordeaux. In craft spirits, a new stable of brands dubbed The American Still Life Collection is currently at around 20 labels. Brands include Boyd & Blair potato vodka from Pennsylvania and Balcones whiskey from Texas. “Some of our competitors in fine wine wholesaling are dabbling in craft spirits as well, but none that we know of have seen the value as we have in selling them as a collection across our wholesale markets,” says Vintner Group director of marketing Clay Farmer.

The name change from The Country Vintner to The Vintner Group is occurring this spring, Townsend adds, and is meant to provide an umbrella for the company’s growing holdings.

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