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After Years Of Expansion, Winebow Looks To The Future

May 22, 2019

Winebow has undergone a sweeping transformation in recent years, assembling a bicoastal wholesale presence while continuing to build its portfolio of imported wines and spirits. The Virginia-based company now represents 1,200 producer partners in 20 states that cover 70% of the country’s wine consumption, and its revenues total $770 million a year.

“We’ve positioned ourselves as the only national importer and distributor of scale focused exclusively on fine wine and spirits,” says Dean Ferrell, president and CEO of Winebow. Ferrell took over the company’s top spot about a year ago, after serving as executive vice president and CFO for more than a decade.

For years, Winebow has steadily added import brands and wholesale markets, and recently has benefited from notable growth in both areas. The company’s newest wine and spirits import partners include Spain’s Bodegas Volver, Scotland’s GlenAllachie single malt, France’s Domaine Louis Moreau, and Italy’s Aldo Rainoldi, Achille Boroli, and ColleMassari Wine Estates. In addition, Winebow merged with fellow importer Negociants USA last spring, adding wines from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa to the fold. Following that deal, Winebow’s national import business grew to approximately 2 million cases.

On the distribution side, Winebow made its first move to the West Coast in late 2015 when it expanded into Washington and Idaho. Nine months later, the company entered California—a critical step as it works to become a major bicoastal wholesaler—and has since added Oregon.

“We were already a national importer in all states, but we felt it was very important to establish ourselves as a nationally focused distributor too. We’re now in eight of the top 10 U.S. wine markets,” Ferrell says. Previously, Winebow added distribution houses under its umbrella but kept their original names intact. That changed earlier this year, and all of the company’s distributors now share the Winebow name.

Wine makes up 90% of Winebow’s business. The company was founded with a focus on higher-end wines and still emphasizes the luxury market today, representing more than 150 supplier partners on the import side and more than 1,000 producers on the wholesale side. “We’ve always been upscale,” says Richard Driscoll, Winebow’s executive vice president of supplier relations and a 30-plus-year veteran of the company. “The market has been moving upscale, but it’s not a new evolution to us. We’re pioneers in high-end luxury and premium-to-luxury wines.”

Driscoll cites higher-end wholesale clients like Laurent-Perrier Champagne, Hahn Family Wines, Rombauer Vineyards, and Frog’s Leap Winery, alongside import partners like Chile’s Casa Lapostolle and Spain’s Bodegas Borsao, as illustrative of the company’s premium vision. Ferrell points to longtime partners like Italy’s Zenato Winery and Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata.

The company got a big boost in French wine in 2017 when it acquired import rights to nine Burgundy labels previously handled by Treasury Chateau & Estate. “The Treasury Burgundy portfolio has been a successful acquisition,” Driscoll says. “We believe the Burgundian offerings will have a halo effect for our foray into the future with French wines.”

While the vast majority of Winebow’s import portfolio comes from producer partners, the company launched Amble + Chase, a premium canned wine from Provence, last year. It’s the first owned-brand innovation Winebow has launched in recent history. Ferrell says the company will look to incorporate one or two innovation brands annually moving forward. Market Watch has more on Winebow’s transformation and the outlook for the future.—Laura Pelner

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