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Spotlight: Ray Chadwick, of Wilson Daniels


Wilson Daniels arguably has the greatest winery portfolio in America. The St. Helena-based sales and marketing company’s wineries are too numerous to list (here’s the link), but includes a little Burgundy producer you may have heard of: the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

Ray Chadwick joined Wilson Daniels in 2010 as president and ceo, after having been CEO of drinks giant Diageo, where he grew that company’s portfolio considerably, including acquiring Rosenblum Cellars. In 2008, Wine Enthusiast awarded him our Man of the Year Wine Star Award.

SH: You came out of retirement to head Wilson Daniels. Why?

RC: When Diageo downsized, in 2009, for me, it was retirement. But Wilson Daniels is a great company. France is at its core, and I love France.

What do you do as president and ceo?

Sales, marketing and finance all report to me. And I’m involved in the day to day business, traveling the country, meeting with distributors, going to trade fairs, seeing our people.

How has the Recession impacted Wilson Daniel’s sales?

It affected much of our business. Sales of high-priced wines did slow down, particularly in restaurants. We moved funds into short-term tactical activities, like coupons and other ways to move the product. There were notable exceptions, though, like D.R.C. and Leflaive. But business has improved every year since 2009. In the not so high price points, the leading indicator is restaurants, and there, it’s getting better and better.

How does a brand get into the Wilson Daniels portfolio?

Well, we do get a lot of interest from people. I’ve said “no” to a number of people where we just didn’t think it was the right fit. The wines have to be of superb quality, share a longterm vision with us, and the economics have to work out. We typically work on a margin basis. And it also depends on who shares the marketing expense. If we market the wines, we need a higher margin. In the end, I make the decision, with my management team.

How do you market?

We have our own sales force around the country, and P.R. and marketing teams here that develop plans with the wineries for special events, winemaker tours, exceptional events like D.R.C. tastings.

Does the introduction of the Drew Barrymore Pinot Grigio indicate you’re now interested in celebrity wines?

It is our first celebrity wine, but we didn’t approach it as that. Drew has an interest in wine, she found a high-quality producer she’s interested in working with, and she’s available to go out and promote it. But we don’t have a goal of trying to introduce celebrity wines. This opportunity presented itself, and it made sense.

Last year, Wilson Daniels introduced a line of inexpensive wines. Why the low price, and why now?

As an importer, we’re comfortable representing brands at different price points. There’s a good strong market for the $10-$18 price range, like Kendall-Jackson, Coppola, Sterling Vintner’s Collection, Rod Strong, J. Lohr. So Wilson Daniels represents great value at that price point.

On the Wilson Daniels website, you have many reviews from such magazines as Wine Enthusiast. Is the role of critics in marketing wines as powerful as it has been?

I think critics have been and continue to be very important for consumers who like to rely on that. At the same time, as American wine consumers become more comfortable in their own skin, they’re learning to trust their own judgment.

What is your view of the importance of social media in marketing wine?

From where I sit, social media is an important way of marketing a brand today. We’re looking at ways to enhance our social media skills across the portfolio.

How do you decide which critics to send samples to?

That’s beyond my purview. It wouldn’t come across my desk.

  1. raley roger says:

    Why domestic wineries continue to get the short end of the stick with Wilson Daniels: Chadwick says, “France is at its core. I love France.”

    Check and Mate. That pretty much says it all.

  2. I wish he had stayed retired. I cringed when I heard the new CEO of WD was from Diageo as they truly do not understand fine wine sales and do the worst job of all the major importers in getting their wines placed in the right accounts (which has always been WD’s greatest strength). Now WD is under the thumb of a bean counter who is concerned about margins and marketing percentages and not the quality of the portfolio itself. Goodbye Salon, hello Drew Barrymore! Pretty much says it all.

  3. Drew Phone Home Drew Phone Home… Now: Bring Drew Wine Home !!!!

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