Trading Place: gaining global distribution through Bordeaux
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Some of the world’s most famous wineries are abandoning their own sales networks for one worldwide distributor – La Place de Bordeaux. As Roger Morris reports, for those who can get in, it’s a win-win situation.
In February 2004, David Pearson has just been promoted to CEO of Opus One, moving across Highway 29 in Napa Valley from his previous position as vice president and general manager of the Robert Mondavi Company. It was an exciting time for Pearson, but a turbulent one for RMC, which founded Opus One in 1978 with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, but now was undergoing an internal revolt by its board of directors. The month before, the board had ousted Michael Mondavi as CEO and was now openly looking for a buyer. A few months later, RMC, including its shared ownership of Opus One, was sold to Constellation Brands.
It was also a time of change at Opus, then in its 25th vintages – good changes, but ones involving some difficult tasks. One of his first duties as CEO, Pearson remembers, was to write individual letters to about 60 importers and distributors who sold the icon wine around the world to tell them – essentially – that they had been fired.
Opus One was taking the unusual step of deciding to sell its wine internationally through La Place de Bordeaux, a network of 400 or so négociants whose centuries- old job has been to buy wines produced by the châteaux along the Left and Right Banks of the Gironde and to make sure the wine was sold and distributed in every nook and cranny of the globe where people drank fine wines.
“The owners had looked at this option a couple of times before,” Pearson says, “and they made the decision to do it shortly before I joined.” In the years since, Opus One’s sales outside the US have increased from 16% to 52%, a tribute to La Place’s global reach. Its selling price has also risen to reach parity with the top Bordeaux properties.