Q&A with the man who's buying the wine world (2023)

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Q&A with the man who's buying the wine world (12)

Richard Sands, 54, started working at Canandaigua Wine Co. (now known as Constellation Brands) in 1979, the same year he earned a doctorate in social psychology from University of North Carolina. At the time, the company -- founded as a bulk-wine seller in 1945 -- was best known for Wild Irish Rose.

In 1986, Sands was named president, two years after the company created Sun Country Coolers and one year before it bought Manischewitz.

In 1993, the same year the company bought the Paul Masson wine brand and Corona, St. Pauli Girl and Tsingtao beer brands, Sands was named CEO.

Sands was appointed chairman of the board in 1999, a crucial year for Canandaigua because it finally jumped into the upscale wine market. The Chronicle reported that "Canandaigua stunned the wine industry by spending almost $300 million in less than a month" by buying Simi Winery and Franciscan Estates.

The company changed its name to Constellation Brands in 2000 and has not slowed down. Sands says its goal is "to double the size of the company every five years," both through larger sales of the brands it owns and through future acquisitions.

In 2004, Constellation bought Robert Mondavi Winery for more than $1 billion, leading to more than 300 layoffs.

Last year, Constellation's bid for Vincor, Canada's largest wine company, was rejected, but Constellation still managed to buy the HRM Rex Goliath brand.

Sands spoke by phone from the company's offices in New York state about Constellation's acquisitions and its plans for the future. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Q: How is wine industry consolidation different now from the industry buying spree of the 1980s?

A: This round of consolidation -- we'll go back to about '98 and '99 -- has been much more about premium wines and about global wines. When you go back to the '80s and '90s, it was much more on the popular-priced wines and much more focused on domestic producers.

Q: Can a corporation like yours foster fine winemaking?

A: We have never imposed a corporate culture on companies we acquire. We find out what they do well and give them the resources to help them do it even better. There has never been a concern that our popular-priced wine culture would impose itself on the more fine-wine companies.

Q: Can you give me a specific example of how your size helped you make better wine?

A: Sure, we did a vineyard swap. Franciscan had a hidden asset -- its Alexander Valley vineyards, that they were using for their Estancia red wines. Because Estancia was primarily a Chardonnay brand and Monterey-based, it could not demand the price that Alexander Valley Cabernet could and should get. In the meantime, Simi did not have enough vineyard resources in the Alexander Valley. We provided the vineyards to plant red wine in Paso Robles. Those vineyards went into Estancia reds so that Simi's Cabernet program could take advantage of the Alexander Valley vineyards.

Q: Your true advantage in being so big is in your dominating position in dealing with distributors, correct?

A: Distributors have reached the point of over-consolidation. You see the emergence of new, smaller, boutique, high-level wine distributors to fill the gap. Our strong routes to market really don't in any way prevent smaller producers from selling their wines.

Q: In the past, corporations have gotten out of the wine business because it wasn't profitable enough. Is that still true?

A: Wine is a great category. More consumers are moving to wine. On a worldwide basis, wine is growing at 4 to 5 percent. The second thing that makes wine a great category is consumers are trading up. Wine is one of the few categories where there's no ceiling on price. People will pay whatever for better wine. Unlike other beverages, there are actual product differences. A $40 bottle of vodka is indistinguishable from a $12 bottle of vodka. They're clear liquids. The bottles are different. A $40 bottle of wine is very different from a $10 bottle of wine. With Opus One, we sell a very large amount of wine at more than $100 a bottle. No matter what the price point in wine, we focus on the consistent delivery of a product at a level that is what the consumer expects.

Q: What's the future of the Mondavi brand -- high-end wines, or as a supermarket brand?

A: They themselves struggled with exactly that issue -- do we want to sell more fine wines, or do we want to sell more Woodbridge and Private Selection? They tried to do both and ended up not doing as much of either as they could have. We are able to put Private Selection and Woodbridge wines in a marketing, sales and production group that understands mass-market wines. We believe that the Robert Mondavi Winery fine wine suffered the most in viticulture and marketing. It has a lot of inherent growth potential. We want to make sure that the wine is as fine as it can be.

Q: Why is it important to you to keep growing?

A: We are the leader in wine in the world, and we have a 4.5 percent share. The BRL Hardy and Mondavi acquisitions moved our share from 3 percent to 4.5 percent. Prior to those acquisitions, Gallo was the worldwide leader. Being bigger than Gallo in volume sales doesn't matter at all. Those two acquisitions made us the U.S. dollar leader, ahead of Gallo, which is important. Your routes to market, the distributors, don't work on gallons, they work in dollars. Being No. 1 in dollars gives you a lot more power with distributors.

Q: How does industry consolidation affect consumers?

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A: The average consumer will be totally unaware of consolidation. Consolidation means that wine quality moves forward. We have resources that the people we acquire don't have. Wine is an extremely capital-intense business.

Q: What do you drink at home?

A: I love our Opus, and I can afford it.

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Who is the person knowledgeable about wine? ›

A sommelier (/ˈsɒməljeɪ/ or /sʌməlˈjeɪ/ or /sɒˈmɛlijeɪ/; French pronunciation: ​[sɔməlje]), or wine steward, is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, normally working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food pairing.

What is a master wine taster called? ›

In short, a sommelier (or somm as they're often called) is a highly knowledgeable wine professional who is an expert in every aspect of wine service and food and wine pairing. Today, the responsibilities of a sommelier are as varied as they are demanding.

Who is the wine guy on Bon Appetit? ›

Sommelier André Mack is your expert guide through the beguiling world of wine.

Can people tell the difference between wine? ›

Some blinded trials among wine consumers have indicated that people can find nothing in a wine's aroma or taste to distinguish between ordinary and pricey brands. Academic research on blinded wine tastings have also cast doubt on the ability of professional tasters to judge wines consistently.

Who are the biggest wine drinkers? ›

The most enthusiastic wine drinkers are traditional wine-producing countries. France and Italy are high up on the list of drinking the most wine per person. But the number one spot, drinking most wine per person, is taken by Portugal, with 52 litres of wine per person and year.

What does drinking wine say about your personality? ›

A survey of 2,000 American adults who drink wine regularly looked at the personality differences based on respondents' favorite style of wine and found that those who enjoy red wine said they're introverts (48%), while respondents who enjoy sparkling wine, are the most likely to be outgoing, identifying as extroverts ( ...

How do you judge the taste of wine? ›

There are 4 simple aspects of a wine to consider when deciding if the wine is of good quality:
  1. #1: Smell. The first is the smell. ...
  2. #2: Balance. When a wine is in balance, none of the components of acidity, tannin, alcohol, or fruit stand out as the main event. ...
  3. #3: Depth. ...
  4. #4: Finish.
Aug 28, 2013

How do you judge wine appearance? ›

Judging appearance

In addition to the color, there are various levels of intensity to gauge. White wines gain color as they age, ranging from lemon and gold to dark caramel. By contrast, reds lose color and intensity with age, as they progress from purple to ruby to deep tawny.

What is a female sommelier called? ›

The French word for female sommelier is sommelière (soh/me/lyair). In English, we don't use the feminine word form, and both men and women are refered to as sommeliers.

What is a wine lover called? ›

oenophile • \EE-nuh-fyle\ • noun. : a lover or connoisseur of wine.

What is the nickname for a wine expert? ›

A sommelier is the name for a wine expert. That is how the word has been historically used. More often than not, though, the word sommelier is used to describe those certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers and some other wine educational organizations.

What's another name for wine connoisseur? ›

a person who enjoys wines, usually as a connoisseur.

What is the difference between a wine connoisseur and a sommelier? ›

Wine Connoisseur VS Sommelier

A wine connoisseur knows a great deal about wine and can often identify different types of wines by taste and smell. On the other hand, a sommelier is a trained professional who works in the hospitality industry and is responsible for selecting, ordering, and serving wine.

How do you tell if a wine is good by the label? ›

7 things to read on your wine label
  1. Country and region. Most wine labels will showcase the produce's country of origin, either at the top or the bottom of the label. ...
  2. Name and/or producer. ...
  3. Variety of grape. ...
  4. Vintage or non-vintage. ...
  5. Alcohol level. ...
  6. Sulfites. ...
  7. Sweetness.
Mar 25, 2019

Does wine drunk feel different than alcohol drunk? ›

The faster alcohol gets into your bloodstream, the drunker you'll feel. People tend to sip wine, which may explain why being wine drunk is described as feeling more relaxed and chill than say, beer drunk, which often involves chugging, or tequila drunk, which involves the quick pounding back of potent shots.

What are two things that the color of wine can tell you? ›

The color of wine indicates age, grape variety, density of flavor, acidity and more. By comparing the different colors found in various red wines you can learn to identify a wine just by looking at it.

How do you tell if a wine is sweet or bitter? ›

The wine's sugar content is ultimately the best way to determine its sweetness level—and the sweetest wines can have over 200 grams of residual sugar per liter. "These can be almost sticky and syrupy on the palate, and are also much lower in alcohol, generally below 8 or 9 percent ABV," says Grewal.

Are wine drinkers happier? ›

Wine will make you happy

Chemically speaking, alcohol stimulates the release of several neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, and opioid peptides. These natural brain chemicals will produce pleasurable feelings like euphoria, reward, and well-being.

What wine hits the most? ›

Red wine can get you drunk faster than white if you're drinking red wine with a higher ABV than its white counterpart. Generally, sparkling wines and Champagne have a lower ABV than both white wines and red wines. Can you get drunk on a bottle of wine? A bottle of wine will get the average person drunk.

Who drinks more wine male or female? ›

Men use wine as a “show off factor. They often like to brag about it. “ Regarding which sex purchases and pays more for wine, this study supports current statistics showing that women consume more wine, selecting it over other alcoholic beverages more than men, by at least 10%.

What does wine do to you emotionally? ›

While mainly red wines can have positive effects on our emotions, it can also have negative effects, particularly when consumed in excess. Alcohol is a depressant, and consuming too much wine can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

What is the mental effect of drinking wine? ›

Alcohol affects the part of your brain that controls inhibition, so you may feel relaxed, less anxious, and more confident after a drink. But these effects quickly wear off. The chemical changes in your brain can soon lead to more negative feelings, such as anger, depression or anxiety, regardless of your mood.

Why wine is attractive? ›

Studies confirm that as you relax with a glass of wine, your facial muscles loosen, your pupils dilate, and your face flushes ever-so-cutely – all evolutionarily desirable traits to potential mates.

What are the 5 S's of wine tasting? ›

By using the 5 S's (see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor), you'll be able to get the most out of any glass of wine, especially Prairie Berry Winery wine.

What are the 4 things of wine tasting? ›

To evaluate a wine thoroughly experts have evolved a tasting ritual that examines four basic elements: appearance, bouquet, taste and aftertaste. Appearance. Clarity and color provide the first clues to a wine. T he best way to judge its appearance is by ti pping the glass against a well-lighted white tablecloth.

What not to say at a wine tasting? ›

Do say: “I can see it's a vibrant purple, this must be a young red”. Don't say: “Look at the legs! This must be a great wine”. This is one of the most crucial parts of wine tasting, because the aromas, perceived only through the nose, are a vital part of our appreciation of a wine.

What is the first taste of wine called? ›

Attack: This is the first sensation we perceive when tasting a wine. Balance: This is the result of sweet, acidic, savory and bitter flavors complementing each other in a wine. With whites, it involves body (sensation of lushness on the palate), acidity and sweetness (sugar and/or alcohol).

What is proper wine etiquette? ›

Always pour from the guest's right side. Finish each pour with a twisting motion and wipe the lip of the bottle to avoid dripping. Place the bottle to the right of the host with the label facing outwards and ask permission to remove the cork from the table.

How do you describe good wine qualities? ›

There are four fundamental traits that comprise a good wine. They are Acidity, Tannin, Alcohol and Sweetness. For a wine to be considered “good,” each of these traits must be in proper proportion to each another. This is because each of these four fundamental traits play a vital role in how the wine tastes.

What is a sommelier salary? ›

If you're a level 1 sommelier, you'll make a salary of around $40–50k. If you're a Certified Sommelier, or a level 2 sommelier, you'll make a salary of around $60–70k. An Advanced Sommelier, or level 3 sommelier, will pull in a salary of about $70–80k.

What is the top salary for a sommelier? ›

Sommeliers earn between $34,000 and $164,000 annually.

What is a wine waiter called? ›

A sommelier is a wine waiter or steward; a trained and knowledgeable professional providing the service of wines, usually in a restaurant setting.

What does Hodophile mean? ›

Smart Wizards - Word of the day: Hodophile (Ho-do-phile) Hodophile (adj.) Origin: Greek. Definition: “Lover of roads”, or better “love of travel.” # smartwizards #newwordseveryday #smartwizardsvocabulary #Hodophile #lovetravel #travellinglove #loveoftravel #loveoftraveling #loveofroads #roadlove #roadlovers | Facebook.

What is the slang word for wine? ›

A few wine slang terms to name wine are vino, glogg, and, for fans of the show Community, no-no juice.

What is a wine snob called? ›

Oenophiles are also known as wine aficionados or connoisseurs. They are people who appreciate or collect wine, particularly grape wines from certain regions, varietal types, or methods of manufacture.

What is a career in wine called? ›

Vineyard worker

Some of their duties include pruning the vines, harvesting grapes, fertilizing the field and tilling the soil. They may also help with grape sorting, wine production and wine packaging. Finally, vineyard workers may train new employees to care for the vineyard. Wine job sector: Production.

What is the necklace that a sommelier wears? ›

They usually wear it around their neck. Dear Fermin, That's called a "tastevin" (which is French for "taste wine"). This shallow silver metal cup is faceted and convex so that when you're in a candle-lit cellar, you can judge the color and clarity of a wine more easily than by holding up a glass.

Do you tip a wine sommelier? ›

It's rare for a sommelier to be tipped separately, but if a sommelier was particularly helpful, there are ways to thank them, including tipping them—in private—by handing them a personal tip, on top of the standard tip.

What's higher than a sommelier? ›

For the ambitious few with their sights set on the highest level of education in the industry, there are two paramount credentials often equated as the MDs and PhDs of the Wine Industry: Master Sommelier and Master of Wine.

What does a black label mean on wine? ›

BLACK: has a considerable suggestive and sexual meaning, it expresses luxury and exclusivity. If opaque it may transmit anxiety while shiny it portrays distinction and elegance.

Does wine expire? ›

How Long Does Wine Typically Last? When stored properly and kept unopened, white wines can often outlive their recommended drinking window by 1-2 years, red wines by 2-3 years, and cooking wines by 3-5 years. Fine wine — as you may have guessed — can typically be consumed for decades.

What does SC mean in wine? ›

(oc) original carton. (owc) original wooden case. (sc) Sotheby's Wine/Sotheby's carton.

What is a wine scientist called? ›

An enologist is someone who is responsible for everything having to do with the science (chemistry and biology) of the wine. Their responsibilities vary a lot from winery to winery depending on the winery size, wines produced, and needs of the winery.

What is a wine educator called? ›

Certified Specialist of Spirits. Certified Specialist of Wine. Certified Wine Educator. Hospitality/Beverage Specialist. Certificado de Especialista en Bebidas.

What is the study of wine called? ›

Viticulture is the study of grape cultivation, while enology is the study of wine and winemaking.

What do you call a person who deals with wine? ›

plural sommeliers ˌsə-məl-ˈyā(z) Synonyms of sommelier. : a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service : a wine steward.

Why does wine turn to vinegar? ›

Any wine can turn to vinegar if oxygen gets inside the bottle and reacts with the alcohol. This happens when a cork is defective, of poor quality, or when wine is stored upright instead of on its side. The storage position is crucial because to keep out oxygen, a cork must remain wet.

Where does red wine get its Colour from? ›

The colour of your wine comes from the skin of the grape, but the juice itself is actually colourless. If you want to see for yourself, try squeezing or peeling a black grape and take a look at the juice inside.

What does MW mean in wine? ›

The Heights of Wine Education: Master of Wine (MW) vs. Master Sommelier (MS) Wine education is pursued for a multitude of reasons, ranging from personal enjoyment to career advancement.

What is the highest wine qualification? ›

The Master Sommelier exam is a title requiring maniacal dedication, and by many accounts, it is the most difficult exam in the world. On the other hand, the process of reaching the Master of Wine designation is considered the most grueling, and its corresponding certification the highest wine achievement in the world.

What is wine psychology? ›

Wine is a complex, culture-laden, multisensory stimulus, and our perception/experience of its properties is influenced by everything from the packaging in which it is presented through the glassware in which it is served and evaluated.

Is wine an art or a science? ›

Whether winemaking is more of an art or science can be—and continues to be—widely debated and largely dependent upon the individual winemaker, the winery and brand, and other extenuating circumstances. One thing that is rarely contested, however, is that winemaking is art.


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