When Gruppo Campari acquired control of the Société des Produits Marnier Lapostolle (SPML) last summer, the deal’s centerpiece was the world-renowned Grand Marnier liqueur brand. But the transaction also included Lapostolle, the company’s Chilean winery. Campari was open about its desire to sell off the winery and other assets to focus on Grand Marnier, but Lapostolle’s fate remained unclear for months. Finally, on Christmas Eve 2016, the announcement came that Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle had agreed to acquire Lapostolle, returning the winery to the family fold. The deal included the Lapostolle and Clos Apalta wines, imported by Terlato Wines, as well as Kappa Pisco. All are grouped under the Marnier Chile banner. Market Watch recently spoke with Charles de Bournet Marnier Lapostolle, Marnier Chile’s chief executive, about the opportunities ahead for the family’s newly reacquired business.
MW: How did your family’s repurchase of the Lapostolle winery come about?
Bournet: Very quickly after the deal was struck in July, Campari told us they would sell the winery. I talked to the team, talked to my parents, Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and Cyril de Bournet, and we all agreed that it was a good opportunity. My parents started the winery in 1994, and it’s really their baby. Some members of the team have been working here for 20 years. We didn’t want to let it go to someone else.
MW: How is your wine portfolio faring in the United States right now?
Bournet: We’ve been with Terlato in the United States for the past four years. Since then we’ve gradually increased our positioning at retail and focused more on the on-premise. Four or five years ago, our Casa Lapostolle range started at $8.99 a bottle. Now it’s at $12.99. The Cuvées, which were at $16 or $17, are now at $24.99. It was key for us to regain our premium positioning, even if it meant losing some volume. We want to be the premium leader in Chilean wine.
MW: How much of your business is concentrated in the U.S. market?
Bournet: The winery’s total production is around 200,000 nine-liter cases. We now deplete 55,000 to 60,000 cases in the United States annually, including Lapostolle and Clos Apalta. Four or five years ago, the U.S. market represented 60 percent of our business. Due to the change in positioning, it’s now at about 40 percent. Latin America, Asia Pacific and Europe/Middle East/Africa all take 20 percent each. So we’ve diversified our global profile while gaining a more premium position in the United States.
MW: Do you expect to release any new products in the near term?
Bournet: We’ve revamped all the packaging, and the new look is hitting the U.S. market at the start of this year. We’re also launching two new wines from Lapostolle, a rosé priced between $12.99 and $13.99 a 750-ml. bottle and a red blend priced at $15.99. On Clos Apalta—which is $135—we’re launching our second wine, Le Petit Clos, for $49.99. In spirits, we’ll grow the Kappa brand. Pisco brings far more depth to cocktails than vodka, but it’s not as challenging for consumers as gin.
MW: How do you view the future of Chilean wine?
Bournet: Chile has one of the world’s best price-to-quality ratios. Some very big wineries have taken the easy road of concentrating on the off-premise. We want to reduce our off-premise dependence and build in the on-premise. In the past five to 10 years, a number of new, quality-focused, boutique Chilean wineries have emerged. So the industry has woken up a bit, though it will be a long-term play. We also can’t depend too much on one grape. There’s a temptation to go full-on with Carménère as Argentina did with Malbec. That could be good in the short term, but not long-term. Chile can produce amazing Cabernet, Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Its strength lies in its variety of terroir. We think of it as France 2.0. There’s a lot of French influence, and as prices for French wines have risen, putting them beyond the means of some consumers, Chile offers very strong quality at more accessible prices.