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Interview, Part 1: Rocco Lombardo, President, Wilson Daniels

December 14, 2021

Wilson Daniels, part of the Underwood family’s Young’s Holdings, is carving out an increasing share of the fine wine market in both the import and distribution tiers. 

This year, the company’s revenues are projected at $200 million, split evenly between its national portfolio and its wholesale business, which has expanded to five states. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller recently spoke with Wilson Daniels president Rocco Lombardo for an update on the business as 2021 draws to a close.

SND: As a player in both national sales and marketing of fine wines as well as at the wholesale tier, how are you finding market conditions at the moment?

Lombardo: From an industry perspective, the off-premise has softened up a bit, and hospitality is coming back, although not at the levels of 2019. But we’ve seen an explosion in our business. We had one of the most successful years that I’ve had in my career and it spans 28 years now in the wine of spirits industry. If I look from 2021 to 2019, our business is up 42%.

SND: What’s driving those gains for the company?

Lombardo: Our sparkling portfolio has experienced dynamic growth. One of our lead brands is Schramsberg. We’re allocating 75,000 cases across the country because demand is outstripping supply. We would have the opportunity to grow that business probably another 30% or 40% if we had supply. But it’s a qualitative approach. We’ve allocated just in the last six months of this year 31,000 cases of Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs because we just don’t have the availability. In addition, we surpassed one million bottles sold of Bisol Prosecco, of which 30% is Prosecco Superiore. We’ve seen the same success with the Cremant Rosé from Pierre Sparr and also with Champagne Gosset. So our sparkling portfolio has definitely been leading the way, but we’ve seen growth throughout the portfolio. We also had a very successful launch of Família Torres, based in the Penedes in Catalonia, and another successful launch during the pandemic of Commanderie de Peyrassol from Cotes de Provence.

SND: How is the luxury segment performing?

Lombardo: The super-premium and luxury sector of our portfolio has continued to really grow in the past two to three years. Even during the pandemic, there’s no doubt that the consumer has continued to stock—and deplete—their cellars, if you take a look at the growth that we’ve seen with Biondi-Santi, Dal Forno, Elvio Cogno, Famille Joly, Domaine Leflaive—both from the Maconnais and Puligny—and of course Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. We’re only able to supply so much but we’ve never seen such demand for the luxury sector. We’ve seen the average retail price of our portfolio grow by approximately 10% over the past couple of years, and that’s without the impact of inflation.

SND: What categories are interesting as far as potentially adding to the portfolio?

Lombardo: I think you’ll see us regain more focus, more attention toward the West Coast. Over the past six years since I joined Wilson Daniels we’ve done a lot to grow our Western European portfolio from France, Italy, and Spain. It’s time for us to rebalance somewhat, and I think you’ll see our activity in recruitment of domestic properties intensify.

SND: What’s your outlook for the holiday season?

Lombardo: I think the recovery is starting to happen in hospitality. The strength is still clearly in the Southern states, but we’re finally starting to see the import markets of New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and California recover. It’s inevitable to see retail soften up as that happens. As a company we’re selling 5,000 more accounts in 2021 than we did in 2019. Most of that has come through retail, but looking at this year, we’re now selling more restaurant accounts compared to 2019.

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