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Fine wine is not big wine, says Mondavi

Published:  29 April, 2010

Major corporations are not capable of success in the fine wine market, according to Michael Mondavi.

Mondavi, a scion of the Californian wine dynasty who now runs Folio Wines, told the Fine Wine 2010 conference in Ribera del Duero that only independent or family businesses had the passion to succeed at this level.

"When big corporations enter, those brands lose their passion, those brands lose their style. The chief financial officer starts making winemaking decisions," he said.

"I had the partial luxury of running a publicly-owned company [Robert Mondavi] for 11 years. The ability to ask the question ´how do I make better wines - what´s the right thing to do?´ evaporates.

"You start talking to the chief financial officer and ask the question ´how do I improve earnings?´, not `how do I make better wines?´, `how do I improve the return on assets?´, not `how do I establish a better quality vineyard for 10 or 20 years from now?´.

"The questions that CEOs are forced to ask are quite different to the questions that independent proprietors take in running their own businesses.

"Wines in the consumer product arena are ideal for corporate ownership but when you move from that style of wine to fine wine it´s passion and dedication that´s needed."

Mondavi also criticised the role of retailers.

"One thing that frustrated me at Robert Mondavi was when I sold Woodbridge in 2004 we were selling in excess of 10 million cases a year," he said. "In calling on the customers in the 1970s we sold the wines by talking about the quality of the wine and delivering quality.

"When we were selling wine in the 2000s we would go to the buyer of the supermarket chain. They didn´t care about tasting the wine, they didn´t care about the style of the wine. They wanted to see if the packaging looked good, what was the deal."

Fine Wine 2010 is a summit of leading authorities from the wine world, taking place this week in Spain.