An American wine banker in Europe

Adam Beak
Posted by Adam Beak
Agribusiness Banking

I recently spent a week in France and Europe with colleagues from our parent company BNP Paribas (BNPP) meeting with some of their wine clients and sharing perspectives about the U.S. market. My trip began in Paris and took me to Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Florence to see several legendary wine businesses – including Chateau Petrus, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour, and Antinori.

Vineyard in burgundy with castle-like building in the background.One key takeaway from my time with these European wine clients is that the deep expertise our Beverage Group offers is not only transferable internationally, but sought-after and valued as well. Once these clients saw that our knowledge of the wine business was both solid and more specialized than they were used to, the conversations quickly became constructive, productive, and very positive.

Interest in U.S. market

Part of their engagement was due to their desire to better understand the U.S. wine market. Most of the European wine clients I spoke with are looking for greater access to the U.S. market. In spite of the reduction in value of the Euro vs. the U.S. dollar, they remain very focused on gaining access through increased sales or investment banking activity. I spent a good amount of time addressing questions about selling to the U.S. market, importer issues, the complexities of navigating the U.S.’s three-tiered distribution system, and the challenge of getting retailers on board.

Beyond our conversations about the U.S. market, we also spent a good deal of time discussing sales and marketing. Typically when I meet with wine companies, they want to tell me about their vineyards, winemaking techniques and wine quality … and BNPP’s wine clients were no exception. But while those elements are important, making a good wine – no matter where you are in the world – is just the starting point. The tricky part of the equation is understanding how wine gets from your location into somebody’s glass at a margin – and that means focusing on sales and marketing, as well as creating and maintaining a strong brand that can grow.

The importance of business savvy

In a conversation with a BNPP client in Bordeaux, I responded to a description of their various vineyards by asking how they get their product into customers’ hands profitably and how they develop sales deals. Some people in the room seemed taken aback by my question, but the CFO and COO recognized immediately that these are critical considerations for their business. As recently as four years ago, this particular BNPP client – a legendary wine producer in the region – didn’t even have a marketing department. From a sales/marketing perspective, most U.S. wine companies are light-years ahead of those in Europe.

Overall, the trip strengthened my belief that Bank of the West’s Beverage team offers a platform and foundation that’s hard to compete with. It proved that taking a deep dive and understanding a space is translatable across borders and is important to client relationships, making our contributions more valuable to them. The transferability of our expertise – combined with the knowledge from BNPP’s international platform – creates a really positive asset for the Bank.

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  • Anonymous says:

    It is good to learn that BOTW ‘s capabilities are finding a home within BNPP’s international markets. My French father-in-law, who is a wine aficionado, explained to me that many French wineries have strong word-of-mouth reputations, so customers reach out proactively to buy cases of upcoming vintages well in advance of bottling. The well-known regions also carry their fair share of the marketing load. Just imagine what embracing the more modern marketing principles used in the U.S. would do for their businesses!

    Reply | 2 years ago

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