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Interview: Pacific Highway Wines Aims For 1 Million Cases

June 23, 2022

Importer and marketer Pacific Highway Wines has assembled a growing portfolio spanning California, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, France, Spain, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, with annual volume currently totaling approximately 540,000 cases. With brands like Giesen and Garzon driving organic growth, Pacific Highway has also made a number of portfolio additions recently, including Oregon’s Dobbes Family, California’s Gaslighter, and most recently Argentina’s Luigi Bosca. Company president Mark Giordano says Pacific Highway is aiming to double the business again and attain the 1-million-case mark in the next five years. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller spoke with Giordano for an update.

SND: How do you plan to reach the million-case milestone in the next five years?

Giordano: First, we’ve got the organic growth of our current portfolio, taking care of our existing partners and maximizing their potential. One area in particular that we’re very excited about is the non-alcohol category, where we’re expanding rapidly with the Giesen brand. And then we will align with some new brands over the next several years in regions where we don’t yet have partnerships. Italy, Washington, and Sonoma would all be important. We typically look for family-owned vineyards, brands that are scalable, and ownership that has a vision and knows where they want to be in 10 years.

SND: What are the latest developments within the existing portfolio?

Giordano: The Giesen business continues to grow quite rapidly, and to do that with a really short vintage in 2021 was very challenging. We’re fortunate that the 2022 vintage is already shipping. On the 0% alcohol side of the brand, we launched with a Sauvignon Blanc and did 15,000 cases the first year. In March we launched a rosé, and now we’re launching a red blend and Pinot Grigio. Our target for that business is around 50,000 cases over the next year, and I think Giesen in general has a lot of room to grow. Garzon has also been an exciting project. I could see Albariño becoming its largest product in the next two years if we have enough supply. And Faustino from Spain has seen nice growth with its Gran Reserva, which will continue to get a good push, as well as its Art Collection series. From California, Merryvale and Starmont are doing well, as is Argento from Argentina, which has redesigned its branding around organic.

SND: Tell me about some of your more recent portfolio additions.

Giordano: Gaslighter is an interesting project with the band The Chicks and Gundlach Bundschu. We’re not really positioning it as a celebrity brand—the wine has to stand on its own merit. But we already sold out of the initial allotment, and their tour is now kicking off. We think Gaslighter will be at around 35,000 cases in the next 12 months. We started with Dobbes Family and Wine by Joe in January, and for the first few months were just finding our footing. But I’m confident we’ll have that brand around 55,000 cases. Most of that business is in the Pacific Northwest, so we’re trying to introduce the brand in other markets where we see a lot of upside. Le Grand Courtage, from France, is also relatively new, and with the reopening of the on-premise, it’s up 43% for us this year and is around 50,000 cases. Luigi Bosca is the latest new brand, and we start with that on July 1. It’s a nice addition to the portfolio in the above-$18 segment.

SND: What’s your take on overall wine market conditions at the moment?

Giordano: The wine industry as a whole, from a retail perspective, is down close to 10%, but we’re still ahead of where we were in 2019. From an on-premise perspective we’re up dramatically. But if we compare to 2019, we’re probably somewhere in the range of 80% back in the on-premise, depending on the brand. We’re clearly seeing price increases across the board. With gas between $5 and $6 a gallon and inflation running high we need to be cognizant not to price ourselves out of the category. We are not forgetting that $10 to $12 retail camp, which I think a lot of people have walked away from.

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