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Cape Classics Expands French Portfolio, Warily Eyes Tariff Situation

January 17, 2020

New York-based importer Cape Classics has built its reputation over the years as a champion of South African wines, but more recently the company has expanded its portfolio with a variety of French offerings from the Loire, Burgundy, and Roussillon, among other regions.

So far, the entry into France has complemented Cape Classics’ roughly 30% share of the 900,000-case South Africa category in the U.S., and in recent months the importer bolstered its French range with five new producers from the Rhône and the Languedoc. Cape Classics’ CEO Andre Shearer and president and COO Rob Bradshaw tell SND that the new direction is paying off, but they’re also wary of further tariff hikes on French wines, following the imposition of a 25% levy on the category last fall.

While many of Cape Classics’ French wines were exempt from the initial round of tariffs because they’re bottled at over 14% abv, the threat of further escalation looms. The company’s initial response was to hold for 90 days before making any pricing or portfolio decisions. “We’re right on the edge of our seats waiting to see which way this goes,” says Bradshaw. “We’re going to keep driving forward, offering wine we believe in and hope that ultimately a trade battle involving aerospace and tech giants does not strip away access to the wine in our glasses.”

Cape Classics’ latest French releases include Domaine Combier and Domaine du Colombier from the Northern Rhône, Domaine Rouge Garance and Château La Croix des Pins from the Southern Rhône, and Château Haut-Blanville from the Languedoc. The initial launch for those wines totaled about 7,000 cases, focused on New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California. Overall, the company now counts 22 French wineries within its portfolio.

While Cape Classics’ French range spans a variety of price points, the $15-$25 segment is a priority. “We don’t want to collect wine, we want to sell it,” says Bradshaw. “We’re focusing on wines that can be featured by-the-glass and generate traction at retail.”—Shane English

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