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Stoli Owner SPI Takes Aim At Fine Wine

June 23, 2016

A year ago, Stolichnaya vodka owner SPI Group tapped Moët Hennessy veteran Manuel Louzada to lead its newly formed Stoli Prestige Wine unit, comprised of Argentina’s Achaval-Ferrer, recent acquisition Arinzano (based in northeastern Spain) and SPI’s minority stake in Italian estates Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Castelgiocondo and Luce della Vite (held in partnership with the Frescobaldi family and Michael Mondavi). SND senior editor Daniel Marsteller recently spoke with Louzada to discuss SPI’s plans for its growing wine stable.

SND: What are your aspirations for the Arinzano brand, which you recently launched in the U.S.?

Louzada: Arinzano is classified as a Vino de Pago, Spain’s most prestigious quality designation. When SPI acquired it a year ago, total sales were roughly 3,500 bottles. We set about studying the terroir and developing a long-term plan for the vineyards. Previously there were only three wines: La Casona (a Tempranillo-Merlot blend, $40) and a Gran Vino red ($100) and white ($80). I felt there was an opportunity to create a range that’s an entryway into the Arinzano world. That was how Hacienda de Arinzano was born, with a Tempranillo-based red at $25, and a Chardonnay and Tempranillo rosé at $20. Hacienda launched in the U.S. earlier this year, with about 2,000 cases for each wine to start. From a volume standpoint, these are the wines that will drive growth in the U.S.

SND: In Achaval-Ferrer ($28-$140 a bottle), you have an Argentine brand that has made multiple appearances on Wine Spectator’s annual Top 100 Wines list. How do you plan to continue its upward trajectory?

Louzada: 2015 was a very successful year for Achaval-Ferrer and I’m sure it will continue to grow, as the quality recognition and brand reputation are getting stronger and stronger. The U.S. is by far the key market for Achaval-Ferrer, accounting for 50%-60% of sales. We need to take advantage of all the work that’s been done on the route-to-market. (Achaval-Ferrer joined the Stoli Group USA portfolio in 2014; prior to that it was handled stateside by Guarachi Wine Partners.) At slightly higher price points, the quality that you get out of Argentina is amazing. Our challenge is to continue overdelivering. We’ve also started doing some small trials with additional grape varieties (beyond Malbec) from specific terroirs and under the exact same high-quality philosophy as the existing Achaval-Ferrer wines.

SND: Can we expect SPI to add more wine holdings looking ahead?

Louzada: My recommendation to our team is, if you find a jewel, bring it to the table to be evaluated. It doesn’t matter where it comes from, so long as it’s a fantastic wine and has the potential to develop. Portugal, France, Australia, New Zealand and California are all possibilities. We see our starting price point as $20, and there’s no limit on the high end.

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