Wealthy Wine Families Ban Together in U.S. Importer Venture

Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni, Australia’s Oatley family, whose late patriarch founded Rosemount wines, and the clan that owns New Zealand’s Giesen Wines have combined their U.S. importing and marketing companies.

Bulgheroni’s Blends has merged with the Oatley-Giesen’s U.S. importer and marketer North Carolina-based Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits. Terms of the deal, announced earlier this month, were not disclosed.

Pacific Highway President Mark Giordano told Wine Enthusiast that no jobs were lost and “we basically took everybody along who was” at Blends. The combination brings the employee count to 23. Giordano, who said the Greensboro-based company had been growing at a fast clip, was in the process of hiring “another person on the finance side and a senior team leader with a sales function out West.”

The addition of Bulgheroni’s brands–Bodega Garzón from Uruguay, Vistalba, Tomero and Argento from Argentina, Château Suau from Bordeaux, and Renwood and The Cleaver from Amador County, California–brings the annual total cases Pacific Highway sells to between 330,000 and 340,000. That is up from 250,000 to 260,000, Giordano estimated.

Filling Opportunity Gaps

The antipodes got to know each other while Oatley was importing the Argento brand to Australia. They looked at their companies and found “a lot of synergies. Where we had opportunity gaps, which is where they (Bulgheroni) reside, so we did not have any South American brands and our Californian brand was Foppiano out of the Russian River,” Giordano said.

“Here are two companies effectively competing with one another but with very complementary portfolios,” he said. The combined portfolios have 22 brands that are now represented in all the major markets.

Giordano, who is dependent on local distributors to get the bottles to on- and off-site premises, does not run promotions, per se. Instead, he believes that his wines find room on the trucks because his company is focused on service and building relationships with distributors and customers such as restaurant chains and retailers.

“Gone are the days of expecting distributors to do the work entirely,” he said.

Pacific Highway does not offer incentives, but the company does “quite a bit of educational trips to all parts of the globe,” Giordano said. “But it’s not based on incentives as much as it is on deepening relations between the wineries and the customers or the distributors.”

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