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Groupe Bollinger Investing Aggressively In The U.S. Market

October 24, 2022

France’s Groupe Bollinger has been raising its profile in the U.S. market over the past few years, leveraging increasing consumer enthusiasm for Champagne with its namesake bubbly while expanding its portfolio in key categories with acquisitions like Oregon’s Ponzi Vineyards and Sancerre’s Domaine Hubert Brochard. The Bollinger Champagne brand and Ponzi are each at around 30,000 cases in the U.S., and the Bollinger Champagne house has annual revenue of approximately €100 million ($98m), according to the CIVC. Partnered with New York-based importer Vintus, the group is aiming for continuing organic growth along with more potential acquisitions, says Jean-Baptiste Rivail, who serves as both CEO of Ponzi and executive vice president of Groupe Bollinger in the U.S. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller caught up with Rivail for an update.

SND: How are fine wine market conditions in the U.S. from your perspective as we head into the home stretch of the year?

Rivail: From our point of view, the fine wine market in the U.S. is in an interesting moment of both notable growth and reasonable fears. There is an undeniable demand for fine wine, fueled by the reopening of on-trade and post-Covid normalization of social life. The appetite for discovery, thirst for education and knowledge from consumers (younger or more mature alike) are, to me, constitutive of a healthy trend. They are great signals that this appeal for quality wine will not be short-lived: consumers are understanding the subtleties within the fine wine world and want to explore it.

On the other hand, there are some doubts fueled by current economic uncertainty and inflation. Domestic winemaking costs have been soaring, and we’ve already seen an impact on some price tags. One unknown is whether fine wine consumption will be used as a buffer to offset inflation, resulting in trade-down or less consumption. The euro-dollar exchange rate might also play in favor of imported brands.

SND: How has the Ponzi brand been faring since the acquisition, and what moves is Groupe Bollinger making to continue raising its profile?

Rivail: We’ve been working hard at simplifying and redefining our domestic portfolio, to put the emphasis on the quality of our Laurelwood district wines, most of them being estate grown. To amplify our message towards consumers and strengthen our brand, we recently unveiled a new portfolio identity. It celebrates a recentering to the higher end of the portfolio that both Luisa Ponzi, our second-generation winemaker, and myself see as being the soul of the winery.

We’re also fortunate to rely on Groupe Bollinger, which has been very supportive of our investments in vineyards—we’re at the verge of finalizing exciting land acquisitions in the Willamette Valley, which will help us secure quality fruit and estate farming for the long-term—as well as numerous investments in the cellars. Groupe Bollinger also insists on coming with significant investments to continue limiting our environmental footprint as well as continued innovation.

SND: Which wines in the Ponzi range are driving growth?

Rivail: Currently, it’s hard to keep up with demand for our Laurelwood Pinot Noir. Together with our Laurelwood Chardonnay, these two cuvées represent the heart of our offering, whilst Pinot Gris, which is increasingly hard to source, is diminishing in volume produced. Our portfolio is therefore now gravitating towards the $45 price-point, and we also see a very high trend for our Pinot Noir Reserve ($65), in particular in fine dining restaurants.

We’ll have more on Groupe Bollinger’s U.S. push in part two of this interview.

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