Interview with Tim Wallace, Sonoma State Wine Business Institute Executive in Residence and former President of Benziger Family Winery:
How did you get your start in the wine industry?
I married into the industry, when I married Patsy Benziger of Benziger Winery. After we had gotten married, we came out to Sonoma County in the summer in between my two years in Harvard Business School. I worked with her father for nine weeks and I guess he liked what he was because he ended up making me a partner. Some people get lucky like me, and some people have to actually work for it.
What is the purpose and/or goal of SSU’s new Wine Spectator Learning Center we’re touring on Thursday?
It is unique in this country in that we live in the crossroads of students, teachers, trade and consumer in our industry. Given that (the center) is at a university, it’s a neutral space for all stakeholders in the industry to gather together with the notion of improving the industry. I like to think of it as a center of gravity for the American wine industry.
What is one new development you’re noticing in the wine industry?
I think we are seeing for the first time in 20 years the flattening of an uninterrupted growth period. We’re expecting in 2018 that the market will be flat for the first time in two decades. I think it will start to separate the winners and losers, because if the pie isn’t getting any bigger you’ll end up having to steal from someone else’s portion.
If a business or industry is flattening like you mentioned, what are some recommendations you have for businesses to combat this?
I like to use an acronym called “M.A.D.” = Meaningful, Authentic and Distinctive. At the core level of any brand, you have to have some authenticity with your users. Especially with wine, high growth brands in wine are commodity based. The nuance and distinction of a compelling buy, the authentic DNA whether it’s the way you’re making the wine, or the flavor profile – it’s got to live up to the expectation. It’s got to resonate at the core as a brand – why do you want this brand? It’s got to be the real deal version of that.
What is one best general business practice you’ve learned working in the wine industry?
Working back from the shelf. The orientation of our business is how it’s going to perform on the shelf. We might like this wine in-house, but we don’t know how it’s going to perform – we have to work it back from the shelf.
Bio: Tim Wallace
Tim is currently founder of a small business advisory practice in Sonoma, California. He has an extensive wine industry, senior executive track record in both corporate and family owned and operated settings - from start-up through sale of several brands with revenue up to $135M. Businesses were sold for a reported $200 million.
As President and Owner of Benziger Family Winery from 1993-2015, he led the team of seven family owners and seventy-five full-time employees through all phases of business operations; established the winery as a leader in sustainability practices; including finalizing the sale of the business to The Wine Group in 2015.
As President and Owner of Sonoma Mountain Estate Brewery from 1995-1999, Tim conceived and led this unique family owned estate brewery from start-up through sale.
As Director of Marketing and Owner of Glen Ellen Winery from 1988-1993, he established and led the marketing organization for this family owned and operated winery, which became the seventh largest winery in the U.S. and fourth largest exporter of California wine. He was part of the ownership team that sold the business to Heublein, now The Wine Group. Glen Ellen is credited with establishing the “fighting varietal” segment of the U.S. wine industry and was the largest producer of Chardonnay and top five producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc at the time of sale in 1993.
He is currently Executive-in-Residence/Adjunct Professor at Sonoma State University Graduate School of Business and Economics. Tim has actively served on the Boards of; The California Wine Institute; the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, The Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, the Sonoma Valley Film Society and the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau. Tim has an MBA from Harvard University, Master in Business Administration and a BA from Brown University.
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