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Interview: Charles de Bournet Marnier Lapostolle, CEO, Marnier Chile

December 28, 2016

Yesterday, SND reported that Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle has agreed to reacquire Chile’s Lapostolle winery and related assets for $31 million from Gruppo Campari, which had gained the business in its deal for Grand Marnier parent Société des Produits Marnier Lapostolle earlier this year. The purchase includes Lapostolle and Clos Apalta wines—imported by Terlato Wines in the U.S.—as well as Kappa pisco, all grouped under the Marnier Chile banner. Shanken News Daily senior editor Daniel Marsteller spoke with Charles de Bournet Marnier Lapostolle, chief executive of Marnier Chile, to discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead for the newly reacquired business.

SND: After Société des Produits Marnier Lapostolle was acquired by Campari, how did your family’s repurchase of the Chilean unit come about?

Bournet: Very quickly after the purchase in July, Campari told us they were going to sell the winery. I talked to the team, talked to my parents (Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and Cyril de Bournet), and said, “Look, this is an opportunity for us,” and everyone agreed. My parents started it in 1994, and it’s really their baby. Some members of the team have been working here for 20 years. We didn’t want to let the opportunity go to someone else. After six months of negotiations we finally came to agreement on the 24th of December. The whole team remains the same, so there will be no disruption to our ongoing business.

SND: How is your wine portfolio faring in the U.S. currently?

Bournet: We’ve been with Terlato in the U.S. for the past four years. Since then we’ve gradually increased our positioning at retail, and focused more on the on-premise. Four or five years ago, our Casa Lapostolle range started at $8.99 a bottle. Now it’s at $12.99. The Cuvées, which were at $16 or $17, are now at $24.99. It was key for us to regain our premium position, even if it meant that we lost a bit of volume. We want to be the premium leader in Chilean wine.

SND: How much of your business is concentrated in the U.S.?

Bournet: The total production of the winery is around 200,000 nine-liter cases. We now deplete 55,000-60,000 cases in the U.S. annually (including both Lapostolle and Clos Apalta). Four or five years ago the U.S. represented 60% of our business. Due to the change in positioning it’s now at about 40%. Latin America, Asia Pacific and Europe/Middle East/Africa all take 20% each. So we’ve diversified our global profile while gaining a more premium position in the U.S.

SND: Do you expect to release any new products in the near-term?

Bournet: We’ve revamped all the packaging on the Lapostolle wines, and the new look will hit the U.S. at the beginning of next year. It’s a contemporary twist on our original labels from the 1990s. We’re also launching two new wines from Lapostolle next year, a rosé ($12.99-$13.99) and a red blend ($15.99). On Clos Apalta ($135), we’re launching our second wine, Le Petit Clos, retailing at around $49.99. In spirits, we’ll continue to help grow the pisco category with the Kappa brand. Pisco brings much more depth to cocktails than vodka, but it’s not as challenging for consumers as gin. Kappa used to be a direct import from the Marnier Lapostolle corporation in the U.S. With the changes over the past year, it will be with Campari America for the next six months, but we plan to find a new permanent importer for it. We’re also looking to launch our other pisco, Jean Baptiste Lapostolle, in the U.S. market.

SND: What’s your take on the future of Chilean wine in the U.S.?

Bournet: That’s what everyone is trying to figure out. It’s always been a struggle, even though Chile has one of the best price/quality equations in the world. There are some very big wineries that take the easy road of concentrating on the off-premise. We want to reduce our dependence on the off-premise and build the Lapostolle brand and the Chilean category in the on-premise. In the past five to 10 years a number of new boutique Chilean wineries have emerged that are focusing on quality. I think the industry has woken up a bit, but it will be a long-term play. We can’t depend too much on one grape. There’s a temptation to go full-on with Carmenere as Argentina did with Malbec. That could be good for the short-term, but not over the long-term. Chile can produce amazing Cabernet, Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir as well. The strength is really in the variety of terroir. We think of it as France 2.0. There’s a lot of French influence, and as prices for French wines have risen, putting them beyond the means of some consumers, Chile offers very strong quality at more accessible prices.

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