Darden School Conference Uncorks the Wine Business

31 January 2012

The wine business is a tough business, but it’s one about which Andrew Mansinne is passionate.

“It’s a meritocracy,” says Mansinne, the president of Baltimore-based Aveniu Brands, a fine wine and spirits importer owned by Spain’s Codorniu Group. “If you do something right, the consumer will respond right away.”

Mansinne, whose love for wine came from his Italian grandparents, was the keynote speaker at the Food and Beverage Conference held at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business on Friday, 27 January. The conference, sponsored by Darden’s Wine and Cuisine Club, explored emerging trends in the wine, beer, spirits and food industries.

The audience heard about the tangled, complicated and romantic world of selling wine from Mansinne and other experts, which included the startling admission that box wine is no longer taken in jest. “There’s good box wine, and it’s easy to carry,” says Mansinne. “We make things too hard … we’re one of the few industries where you need a tool to open the product.”

In the wine industry, entrepreneurship is the key, says Mansinne. “A Chardonnay grape is a Chardonnay grape. You have to be innovative in how you build your brand and manage your business.”

Unlike blue jeans or cars, “I can’t think of another consumer-oriented business that’s sold on a generic level,” Mansinne says. “You go to a restaurant and you ask what the house white is or what the house red is.”

The trick is to make your brand stand out. “Everybody struggles for shelf space,’’ he says. “We use technology as an innovator,” using the newest apps to train sales staff. Sales people make their presentations with iPads to better tailor their pitch to each customer.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” he says. “You have to be unique. … You have to differentiate. That’s the constant battle in this business,” which faces a three-tiered system in the United States: national agent/importer, state distributor and retailer.

Though the industry is a tough one, wine is becoming a part of everyday life in America, says Mansinne. “There’s opportunity to bring more consumers into the fold,” he says.
Lee Susen, marketing director for Ernest & Julio Gallo Winery, echoed many of Mansinne’s thoughts in a panel discussion on careers held after his talk. “If you can market this, you can market anything,’’ says Susen.

He noted that inexpensive wine isn’t about the wine at all. For wines under $10 a bottle, it’s all about the eye appeal of the label. “It’s highly emotional.”
David King, the owner of King Family Vineyards in Crozet, a small community 15 miles west of Charlottesville, told students that a career in the wine industry is an arduous one. “The ag (agriculture) risk is high. Alcohol in Virginia is highly regulated. It’s 100% dominated by big businesses and everybody in the room is an expert. You have to capture customers one person at a time.”

King told aspiring student winemakers that “you’ll never get rich, but, in the worst case, you’ll have a wine cellar that won’t quit.”

The conference also included talks by beer distributors, such as Scott Heinz, chief operating officer of Virginia Eagle Distributing in Verona, Charlottesville and Winchester; beer makers such as Hayes Humphreys, chief operating officer of Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Nelson County; and Richard Averitt, co-founder of Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar in Charlottesville.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia