The Power List (Part One)

  • Monday 11 July 2005

Real power in today’s wine world is held in the hands of surprisingly few. So who are the forces shaping the type of wine in YOUR glass? We list the top 50 people influencing wine styles today.Contributors: Michael Aaron (Sherry-Lehmann); Piero Antinori; Hubert de Bouard de Laforest (Château Angelus); Jean-Marie Chadronnier (CVBG Dourthe-Kressman); Jon Fredrikson (Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates); Angelo Gaja; Jeffrey Grosset; Alun Griffiths MW (Berry Bros & Rudd); Aimé Guibert (Mas Daumas Gassac); Dan Jago and Michael Saunders (Bibendum); Hilary Lumsden (Mitchell Beazley); Mike Paul (Western Wines); Sebastian Payne MW (The Wine Society); Michel Rolland; Leslie Sbrocco; Charlie Trotter; Richard Baudains; Stephen Brook; Rosemary George MW; Howard G Goldberg; Andrew Jefford; Matthew Jukes; James Lawther MW; Giles MacDonogh; Ch’ng Poh Tiong; John Radford; Norm Roby; Anthony Rose; Hugo Rose MW; Steven Spurrier; John Stimpfig; Brian St-Pierre. additional research by Natasha Hughes.

parker

The key requisite for entry to The Power List was simple: each entrant must have, in 2005, a direct influence over the style of wines consumers are drinking today. This could be as a winemaker, writer, critic, retailer, marketeer, regulator or corporate director. Whichever discipline is involved, the crucial word is ‘direct’.

While the likes of Georg Riedel exert enormous influence on the way wine is presented to consumers, they have little direct control over wine styles. Dick Sands, who heads the list, has little direct involvement in the way wine is made. What he does have is a very clear view as to the type of wine most attractive to consumers today.

In addition, the US and UK markets remain the broadest, most important and potentially lucrative in the world. The 75% growth enjoyed by the two in the last three years would alone be enough to eclipse all but seven of the world’s top consuming countries.

Each entry had to be a) human and b) alive. The phylloxera aphid is in a position to decimate the Chilean wine industry, but there is no place for it here. Equally the legacy of Emile Peynaud, felt by every winemaker in France, serves only as context.

Contenders’ influence had to be current. George Bush’s stand on global warming may yet have disastrous implications for winemakers, but the climatic effect has yet to hit hard.

Some entries were nominated as figureheads, rather than as individuals. Hence Chief Justice William H Rehnquist and Jacques Chirac’s inclusion. While the direct influence Chirac has over the wine industry is negligible, there are numerous issues threatening the status of French wine over which his government must take a stand.

Equally, there is generally room for only one representative of an issue. The spread of micro-oxygenation as a winemaking method is wide, but its champion is Michel Rolland, rather than its pioneer, Patrick Ducournau. That said, certain entrants are present mainly on account of what they have already achieved, the premise being that the respect in which they are held today means they retain the potential to further shape winemaking styles.

You will notice, that there is, of course, one major oversight. The most important person in shaping the wine world today – the consumer. The reason being that it is hard to generalise about the make-up of wine lovers across the globe. Given the breadth of this cast list, long may that continue.

1. Richard Sands

CEO and chairman, Constellation Brands, US

Age 54

In the clash of cultures afflicting the wine world – New World vs Old World, conglomerate vs artisan – Constellation epitomises the power of the new, and the force of consolidation.

Far and away the world’s largest wine business, it sells over 75 million cases annually, and accounts for 17% of wine sales in the UK, 22% in the US, and 22% in Australia. Its global sales have risen over 50% in the last five years alone, reaching $4.47 billion last year. In short, it is the prime force dictating the tastes of the mass market.

Spearheading the company’s growth has been Dick Sands, a 25-year Constellation veteran, and CEO since 1993. (His brother Robert is COO.) Under Sands’ direction, the company has massively extended its portfolio of wineries. After snapping up BRL Hardy in 2003, Constellation swallowed up the entire Mondavi Corporation a year later. Today the company’s roster includes Nobilo, Banrock Station and Stowells of Chelsea. It recently outlined its interest in acquiring Allied Domecq’s vast portfolio of largely New World wines.

Although the group’s Cellar Door division offers such premium wines as Ravenswood, Simi, Veramonte, Houghton and Stonehaven, it is the fresh, easy-drinking, accessible style of wines which remains the staple diet of Constellation – and the consumer at large.

Mission statement: Constellation’s recipe for ‘success in the contemporary world of wine’ is ‘a broad portfolio of the highly popular New World wines from countries such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and Chile’. No sign of Bordeaux or Burgundy, then.

2. Robert Parker

Wine critic and publisher, US

Age 57

Whether or not you share his taste for big, concentrated, fruit-driven wines with a hefty dose of oak, there’s no denying that Robert Parker has had – and continues to have – more influence on both US tastes and the way wine, notably Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, is made around the world than any other wine critic.

A former lawyer, Parker turned his passion for wine into a living when he borrowed $2,000 from his mother to publish his tasting notes in his newsletter The Wine Advocate in 1978. Despite spelling ‘Pomerol’ incorrectly in the first issue, he made his name when his advocacy of Bordeaux 1982s, which differed from the trade at large, was borne out over time. Today, the newsletter has 40,000 subscribers in 37 countries.

One reason for Parker’s huge success is his easy-to-follow (some say simplistic) 100-point scoring scale, which is immensely popular with US consumers. A score of 90 or above ensures a wine sell-out status, meaning many winemakers are accused of adapting their style to suit Parker’s palate. Quite how prevalent such practices are is a matter of conjecture, but there is no doubt there are many more wines being made in a bold, ripe style than ever before – notably in Bordeaux. That said, several merchants have voiced concerns about the extent of Parker’s influence (something Parker himself has expressed discomfort with), and are now distancing themselves from his verdicts.

Tying his colours to the mast: On Californian wines: ‘To try and compromise Mother Nature’s gift of power and richness for some notion of Euro-elegance seems dead wrong.’

3. Mel Dick

Senior vice-president, Southern Wine and Spirits of America, US

Age 69

The US wine market is the largest, in terms of sales, in the world. By 2008, it will also be the largest by volume. Its per capita consumption still lags way behind its European counterparts though, meaning it is the prime target for ambitious exporters. Imports into the US increased by 68% between 1999 and 2003, with a further growth of 54% expected by 2008. In terms of providing an overview of consumer tastes, the US is fast overtaking the UK as the most important – and all-encompassing – market in the world.

Since its foundation in 1968, Miami-based Southern has grown to be its dominant force, shipping more wine into the US than any of its competitors. Though the grip of wholesalers on the US market has been loosened by the Supreme Court ruling (see no 22), Southern still holds vast sway over the types of wine US consumers are drinking, and will be keen to move into states previously out of its reach. It operates in 12 states including Florida, California, Nevada and Illinois. In the last 18 months, it has expanded into New York and New Jersey, and is now represented in four of the five largest-selling US territories, from coast to coast, making further growth inevitable.

Senior vice-president Mel Dick has headed up the wine division (which sells to 130,000 retailers, restaurants, hotels and bars) since 1976. A former salesman for E&J Gallo, he is currently expanding the proportion of California wines in the group’s portfolio.

Stat-attack: Last year, Southern chalked up some $5.5 billion-worth of sales, 17% of the US’s total wine and spirits wholesales.

4. Michel Rolland

Consultant winemaker, Fr

Age 57

Demonised as a micro-oxygenation-mad, one-solution-fits-all winemaker in the film Mondovino, Michel Rolland – and his influence on winemaking around the world – is far more complex than many suggest. A highly influential consultant oenologist, Rolland made his reputation on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, where his taste for super-ripe, super-concentrated wines has had an immense influence on such properties as Angélus, Pavie, La Gaffelière and L’Evangile.

But it is the subsequent expansion of his sphere of influence that is shaping wine styles across the globe. From his base in Pomerol, Rolland has taken in the Left Bank (Léoville-Poyferré, Malescot-St-Exupéry) and the world at large (his client list features 103 wineries in 12 countries), from California (Simi, Harlan), Spain (Marqués de Cáceres) and Italy (Ornellaia) to South Africa (Rupert & Rothschild), Chile (Casa Lapostolle) and Argentina (Clos de los Siete).

Admirers believe Rolland has done much to improve the standards of winemaking across the world, notably in emerging regions of South America. Critics accuse him of standardising wine, diluting individuality and terroir and pandering to the palate of Robert Parker, a close friend.

Evidence of humility: ‘Maybe if I’d been born on the Left Bank, I’d have liked more tannic wines, with more acidity. I’ve been lucky, because everyone in the world is now looking for roundness, suppleness, generosity and opulence.’

5. Jacques Chirac

President of France

Age 72

The French wine industry – now only the second largest in the world, with 18.6% of global production, and under threat as the largest consumer, its 64 litres of (entirely French) wine per person, per year down by 50% over the last four decades – is under pressure as never before. And while many involved will be looking for internal reforms which will help producers market their wines more effectively overseas (see René Renou, no 16), it is the president of the republic who will decide how doggedly the country defends its title as the world’s wine superpower.

With smaller, provincial winemakers taking to the street to protest about perceived imbalances in favour of the larger corporations, Chirac’s government faces a host of issues. Among them are subsidies to growers who uproot underperforming vines, incentives for the distillation of excess wine (thought to reach up to 6-billion litres), health warnings on bottles, drink-drive enforcement, and advertising restrictions. How far will prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Chirac himself go in defence of France’s cultural emblem?

Home is where the heart is: Chirac was born in Corrèze, a dreamy, rustic area of the massif-central. His first ministerial post was as under-secretary for rural affairs, championing the interests of farmers.

6. Ernest Gallo

Chairman, E&J Gallo, US

Age 96

E&J Gallo has grown to become the world’s largest single wine producer with annual sales of $3 billion and a production of 60 million cases, 35% of the total US output.

It was Ernest Gallo’s marketing genius that put the company on the map, in recognising the importance of creating brands supported by marketing and sales initiatives. He pioneered clear-glass bottles, food-matching suggestions on the back labels, and in-store displays with colourful point-of-sale materials. Gallo’s powerful ad campaigns in the UK broke new ground in turning individual producers into high-profile brands.

Such initiatives may seem basic now, but Gallo remains the prime influence in shaping California – and New World – sales techniques. He also exerts huge influence over the Wine Institute of California, which dictates the state’s political direction and lobbying initiatives.

E&J Gallo’s coverage across price points, from prestige single-vineyard wines (MacMurray Ranch) to big brands (Sierra Valley, which recently overtook Jacob’s Creek as the UK’s number-two brand), lends it huge credibility. At a time when French wine sales are falling, Gallo’s Red Bicyclette brand – Merlots, Chardonnays and Syrahs from the Languedoc – is set to become the top-selling French wine in the US, charting a whole new path through friendly, emblematic marketing.

Gallo, reputedly worth $950m, has overseen the emergence of his late brother Julio’s granddaughter Gina Gallo, who is spearheading the premium Gallo of Sonoma range, signalling a focus on quality allied to quantity, a move being mirrored by the other giants of the New World.

Playing hardball: In 1989 Ernest won a court battle with his brother Joe who claimed he was denied a share in the family business. Joe was also barred from marketing a brand of cheese using the family name.

7. Patrick Ricard

Chairman & CEO, Pernod Ricard, FR Age 60

If one brand has epitomised the spread of easy-drinking, accessible, reliable New World wine, it is Jacob’s Creek. The friendly marketing, which gave many consumers their first appreciation of grape varieties and styles, saw three million cases a year fly off the shelves. At one stage, one in every five bottles of Australian wine exported bore the Jacob’s Creek label. Now parent company Pernod Ricard is looking to apply the formula across a host of brands via the acquisition of distribution giant Allied Domecq.

The £7.4 billion deal would add such names as Champagnes Mumm and Perrier Jouët, Riojas Campo Viejo and Ysios, California’s Clos du Bois and Wattle Creek, New Zealand’s Montana and Lindaur, Harveys Sherry and Cockburns Port to the likes of Australia’s Wyndham Estate and Pernod’s existing wineries in Argentina, South Africa and Spain.

Allied is on record as saying wine shouldn’t be about mystique, and has called for more entry-point, fruit-driven, approachable wines. Ricard agrees: ‘Consumers are happy to take the reassurance that a brand offers,’ he says. ‘It is much easier to create global brands based on New World fruit.’ Though Constellation is also bidding for Allied, Ricard is set to take on the US giant at its own game.

Marking his territory: ‘The European system prohibits the possibility of creating New World-style varietal brands. We can influence a change, but we need agreement, and not everyone in Europe agrees.’

8. Nancy Griese

Vice president, Foods & Sundries, Costco Wholesale Corporation, US Age 42

Griese oversees a department that accounts for the largest share of the US consumer sales. The wine revenue at the company’s 334 US stores – in addition to a further 110 or so worldwide – reached over $700 million in 2004. A drop in the ocean of its total income of $47.15 billion, it is, however, up 500% from seven years ago, when buying director David Andrew arrived from the UK to broaden Costco’s wine range, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Today, Griese is in overall charge of Costco’s offering. Andrew himself has not been replaced, meaning day-to-day responsibility lies in the hands of eight regional buyers, who each remain autonomous, with the power to micro-manage selections in line with local tastes.

What Griese will need to decide is whether her prime concern is choice for consumers or corporate profits. Andrew was responsible for Costco’s surprisingly broad, high-end range. When he joined, the supermarket sold no classed growth Bordeaux. Today, it sells more than any other US retailer. It has up to 150 so-called ‘fine wines’ in each store, whereas its standard wines ($6–$12) number just 35. ‘If we were to buy everything centrally, we would have a uniform, rather dull selection,’ said Andrew. Griese says she will continue the policy.

Shape of things to come: Arch-rival Wal-Mart, the US’s biggest retailer, has set its sights on expanding its range and quality under Bob Paulinkski MW. Should Costco come under pressure and should the US Supreme Court allow cross-state distribution, economic realities could favour a streamlining of ranges, thus bringing the weight of mass market brands to test Andrew’s legacy.

9. Hugh Johnson

Wine writer and consultant, UK

Age 66

If you were starting off in the wine world, the chances are that your first port of call would be a book with Hugh Johnson’s name on the cover.

Johnson began his career as wine writer for The Sunday Times. His first book, Wine, was published in 1966. Then came The World Atlas of Wine (latterly co-written with Jancis Robinson MW) which has sold close to a million copies. Next was the The Pocket Wine Book (since translated into a dozen languages, now in its 28th annual edition, having sold over 7 million copies), then Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion and the magisterial The Story of Wine (which coincided with his TV series, Vintage: A History of Wine), all of which make Johnson the best-selling, most influential wine writer in the world.

Today his influence remains great, particularly in the Far East. For 15 years, Johnson was a consultant to Jardines Wines & Spirits in Hong Kong and Tokyo when the Moet Hennessy group was pioneering the region’s move into fine wine, which has continued at a pace since.

And in my spare time: Johnson is president of the Sunday Times Wine Club, a former director of Château Latour and consultant to British Airways, founder of The Royal Tokaji Wine Company, president of the Circle of Wine Writers, has his own range of glassware, and has owned wine shops in London and the Far East. Plus he’s a Decanter columnist. Oh, and in 2004, he was awarded the Ordre du Chevalier dans l’Ordre National du Mérite by the French government.

10. Travis Engen

CEO, Alcan, Can Age 59

Alcan, a Canadian packaging group, bought Pechiney, the owner of the Stelvin brand, in 2004. Its timing looks immaculate, as more and more producers turn to the screwcap closure.

In the late 1990s, Stelvin reached a tipping point. Not only had the UK supermarkets – Tesco in particular – decided that the level of cork taint in the wines they sold was unacceptable, a number of influential Australian and New Zealand producers had also reached the same conclusion. Other New World producers followed, and now even the ultra-conservative French are starting to use Stelvin. After some initial resistance, consumers fell into line, and what was once deemed a rather infra-dig closure is now seen by many as the most desirable way of sealing aromatic whites designed to be drunk young.

With the financial clout of Alcan now behind it,expect a real push on a product which many believe has been under-marketed until now. The jury is still out on the desirability of using Stelvin on ageworthy reds, but if Engen can prove and market its effectiveness in sealing fresh, young wines, we could find many more light wines, to be drunk young, on the shelves, as winemakers the world over relish the security of bottling wines knowing their character will be preserved.

From little acorns do big oaks grow: Stelvin was born just over 20 years ago when Pechiney invented a small, insignificant-looking metal screwcap specifically to seal wine bottles. The product was enthusiastically adopted by Swiss winemakers, whose light, delicate whites were blighted by cork taint. The rest of the world ignored the new screwcaps completely, only to change their minds 15 years later.

11. Piero Antinori

Director, Marchese Antinori, It

Age 66

Antinori is the reason Chianti no longer comes in a 1.5l flask, wrapped in straw. He transformed the quality of Italian wine, and remains the country’s figurehead and the greatest influence on its international success, notably in the US. Antinori was the first serious producer to move outside the traditional appellation constrictions and produce Supertuscan, IGT wines using grape varieties other than Sangiovese. He has since invested in winemaking ventures elsewhere in Italy, as well as further afield in Hungary, Washington State, Napa Valley and New Zealand.

12. Mark Murphy

Wine category director,

Tesco, UK

Age 40

UK supermarkets dominate the spend of the country’s casual wine drinkers. And Tesco, with £2billion profits and a 12.5% share of total retail spend, is at the top of the pecking order. Under Murphy, it has shaped the UK’s New World love affair, and legitimised screwcapped wines. Now he is overseeing a total review of its range, aimed at ‘simplifying’ the offer (as is Sainsbury’s). Rather than dumbing down, he claims the drive is to raise the profile of wines above £5, moving away from Australian Chardonnays towards Rieslings, Argentinian Malbecs and Italian IGTs.

13. Jancis Robinson OBE, MW Wine writer, UK

Age 55

The first non-trade person to qualify as an MW, Robinson has devoted her professional life to communicating about wine. She’s fronted TV series, written an entire library of books (notably The Oxford Companion to Wine, aka The Bible), and has scooped a mantelpiece full of awards. Widely seen as the UK’s most respected wine writer, she carries immense gravitas in a country which leads the world in wine criticism. Robinson also writes a weekly column for the Financial Times, giving her access to some of the most well-heeled, wine-literate consumers in the UK.

14. Trevor O’Hoy

CEO, Foster’s, Aus

Age 50

If, as expected, Foster’s takes over Southcorp, it will become the world’s second biggest wine company after Constellation. It already owns Beringer Blass, which, as well as Beringer and Wolf Blass, comprises such brands as Stags’ Leap Winery and Chateau St Jean. Now it is close to adding the cult status of Southcorp in Oz. O’Hoy, who recommended and oversaw the acquisition of Beringer, will ponder preserving Southcorp’s premier status, or move to a more commercial style. His decision will have massive implications for New World wine styles.

15. Marvin Shanken

Publisher, US

Age 61

As publisher (and owner) of Wine Spectator, Shanken has a formidable influence on US palates. The magazine dominates the US wine press, with 300,000 readers, and, like Parker’s, its ratings can make a winemaker’s career. Shanken’s closeness to the wine world is not limited to the Spectator, though – he publishes both Impact and Marketwatch for the drinks trade. His Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation has given $1 million+ in grants to students seeking careers in food and wine, while the Wine Experience weekends are a source of education to the masses.

16. René Renou

President, INAO, Fr

Age 53

For several years, French producers have been haemorrhaging sales to well-marketed New World wines. As president of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine), Renou is trying to push through legislation to make AC regulations more flexible, allow grape varieties to be displayed on the label, and also create a more rigorously controlled tier of wines, in an effort to compete against the New World. If he does so, it will be revolutionary, but his proposed reforms are meeting with a high degree of resistance from French producers.

17. Steven Spurrier

Wine writer and consultant, UK

Age 63

Arguably the world’s greatest taster, Spurrier holds immense, global authority in a field full of opinions. When he speaks, fellow critics listen, as evidenced in his role as chairman of Decanter’s World Wine Awards. He made his name via the 1976 Paris tasting, when the top California Cabernets outshone the best Bordeaux in the first event of its kind. Typical of his unbiased stance, it gave the New World the clout to take on the Old. A highly respected consultant, notably in the Far East, Spurrier set up Paris’ L’Académie du Vin, tutoring Michel Bettane, Charles Shaw and Shinya Tasaki.

18. Nobutada Saji

CEO, Suntory, Jp

Age 59

In recent years, the Japanese have developed quite a taste for wine. The company driving this growth is drinks giant Suntory, which is both Japan’s largest wine producer and its largest wine importer. It imports 1,500 brands from 13 countries, ranging from Franzia’s Two-Buck Chuck to Romanée-Conti, through Fetzer, Duboeuf and Lindemans. The company also owns Bordeaux’s Château Lagrange and Weingut Robrt Weil in Rheingau, and has an interest in Château Beychevelle. Its annual turnover is in the region of ¥1,400 billion (£7 billion).

19. Miguel Torres

President, Torres, Sp Age 63

In single-handedly establishing the reputation of Penedès, Torres developed some of Spain’s most recognisable (Viña Sol and Sangre de Toro) and most prestigious (Grans Muralles) brands. His recognition of the importance of brands – ‘they guarantee quality to consumers in a way appellations never can’ – may yet be his legacy. Torres’ reputation as a pioneer, however, lies in his passion for traditional Catalan grapes and modern production methods, leading many of Spain’s producers to create fresh, fruit-driven wines rather than the oaky monsters of old.

20. Jean-Marie Chadronnier

President and CEO, CVBG Dourthe-Kressmann, Fr

Age 59

Chadronnier is one of Bordeaux’s most influential – and dynamic – négociants, exporting more wines by value than any other firm. But his influence resides not only in the company’s roster of own-property wines, top-selling brands or the exclusive domaines it brokers. Chadronnier is also known for his articulate advocacy of brand Bordeaux. As chairman of trade show Vinexpo and former board member of trade bodies the CIVB and the Union des Maisons de Bordeaux, he is championing quality over quantity, arguing for the uprooting of under-performing vineyards.

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