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Interview: Santa Margherita USA Looks At The Road Ahead

March 3, 2016

After a long, successful run as part of the Terlato Wines portfolio, Italian winemaker Santa Margherita recently opened its own U.S. import unit to take its flagship brand to the next level, as well as galvanize efforts behind the other Italian properties of its owners, the Marzotto family. SND’s editors met with Santa Margherita USA CEO Vincent Chiaramonte and vice president, marketing, Mark Lyle to hear about the newly founded importer’s plans for its Italy-focused portfolio.

SND: Santa Margherita remains among the top 10 above-premium wine brands in the U.S. What’s the state of play as it transitions to your portfolio?

Chiaramonte: Santa Margherita has been in the 650,000-700,000 case range for the past four or five years. This is an upscale brand that the consumer embraces, and we don’t foresee taking a step back. We’re putting a lot of resources in play, in terms of manpower—we’ll eventually have about 65 people, up from 55 now—marketing and programming with the distributor network. We want to create a halo effect with our ultra-premium Pinot Grigio, distinct Chianti Classico Riserva and ultra-premium DOCG Prosecco (all $22) from Valdobbiadene.

Lyle: We recently launched a 60-second TV spot nationally, which is an evolution of the Santa Margherita story. We want to broaden our base and bring some younger consumers into the brand. We’ll follow with a couple 30-second spots. One of the strategic changes we’re making is focusing on the Santa Margherita trademark as a whole, not solely the Pinot Grigio.

SND: The Marzotto family properties also include Torresella, Kettmeir, Lamole di Lamole, Sassoregale and Feudo Zirtari. You also have Fattoria Sardi as an agency brand. Where do you see expansion opportunities?

Chiaramonte: Over the years these brands were haphazardly placed in the U.S., and never really had the full resources to tell their story. Now we can do that. In its heyday, Torresella was pretty volumetric here. Over time. priorities shifted and it became somewhat lost in the shuffle. More recently it’s been a price-positioned brand, at about 30,000 cases, of which 9,000 cases have been 1.5-liters. We’re not going to fight with Mezzacorona and Cavit in the 1.5-liter arena. This spring, Torresella is rebranding and going into the premium category at around $15 a 750-ml.—and eliminating the 1.5-liter size.

SND: Which Torresella expressions will be the priority?

Chiaramonte: Over the years, Torresella had different SKUs—a Pinot Noir and Nero d’Avola from Sicily, for example. We’ve decided that’s not the right approach. We’ll focus on Veneto Pinot Grigio and Prosecco, and we’ll add a red, probably a Valpolicella.

SND: Where else in the Marzotto family’s portfolio do you see growth opportunity?

Chiaramonte: From Alto Adige we have Kettmeir. We’re devoting time to its Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and Müller-Thurgau (about $22). These are relatively small brands, but they offer tremendous opportunity with the infrastructure we’re putting in place.

Lyle: We also have Sassoregale, our Maremma Sangiovese. It has just one SKU, and it’s a little more male-focused. There’s some heat behind Maremma right now, and we’re putting significant effort behind that as well.

SND: Do you plan to add more brands to the portfolio?

Chiaramonte: Santa Margherita USA won’t stop with the Marzotto properties. We’ll look to round out the portfolio with agency brands that we feel will be complementary, and we’ll strive to be a good full-service importer. We’ll start with what we know—Italy. Then, if viable opportunities from other regions come along, we’ll go from there.

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