Burrowing Owl, Quails' Gate launch a wine agency of their own
Photos: Jim Williams and the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
This is the move that the wine industry has been anticipating: Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and Quails’ Gate Estate Winery have launched their own marketing agency, Appellation Wine Marketing Ltd. of Vancouver
The agency is being run independently by Jim Williams, a sales executive with 15 years of solid experience with both Vincor International and Mark Anthony Brands.
He spent the 18 months to June 1 away from the wine industry, managing the western Canadian division for Johnson & Johnson, the health care products company. Now, Jim is back to build a boutique wine agency, representing not just the two Okanagan wineries but eventually a portfolio of premium import wines as well.
There is a lot of corporate history behind this development.
In 1996, an investment by CedarCreek Estate Winery launched another boutique Vancouver agency, Medallion Wine Marketing Inc. Subsequently, Quails’ Gate and Hardys Wines of Australia also became partners in Medallion.
Hardys was taken over in 2003 by Constellation Brands, the New York-based giant wine company that acquired Vincor in 2006.
Two years later Constellation decided to streamline its Canadian wine marketing business by buying Medallion and folding it into the Vincor Canada sales organization. That is how Vincor in April 2008 became the agency for CedarCreek and Quails’ Gate.
Industry peers knew it was only a matter of time before those two wineries extracted themselves from an awkward situation where their biggest competitor, Vincor, was also selling their wines.
In March this year, CedarCreek named Free House Wines + Spirits Ltd. of Vancouver as its new agency.
Quails’ Gate, meanwhile, went back to the original strategy of investing in a new agency, teaming up with Burrowing Owl to create Appellation.
Burrowing Owl has also moved itself from the shadow of a major competitor. Ever since the winery was launched in 1997, Burrowing Owl’s agency has been Grady Wine Marketing. That representation stayed in place after Grady was acquired by Calona Wines, and then after Calona was acquired in 2005 by Andrew Peller Ltd.
Peller is the largest Canadian-owned wine producer, the third largest vineyard owner in the Okanagan and an emerging competitor in the premium wine market to Burrowing Owl. For example, there is a long range plan to build a winery next door to Burrowing Owl for Peller’s top premium brand, Sandhill Wines.
Burrowing Owl decided to move to Appellation as part of a strategy to keep its profile high in an increasingly competitive market.
In a news release, Quails’ Gate president Tony Stewart was diplomatically frank about the logic behind the move. “With Appellation Wine Marketing, we hope to enhance our customer relationships by providing excellence in service and communications that is best achieved with a smaller ‘boutique-style’ agency that intimately knows our wines.”
In Jim Williams, Burrowing Owl and Quails’ Gate have found a marketer with extensive big winery experience. He started his career with Vincor just as that company was inaugurating its Jackson-Triggs brand. He helped launch one of the most successful of Canadian wine brands.
When Vincor bought the Sumac Ridge and Hawthorne Mountain wineries in 2000, Jim became the national marketer of those brands in close collaboration with Sumac Ridge founder Harry McWatters.
“It gave me that exposure to a family business,” he recalls.
When those brands were moved over to Vincor’s growing sales team, Jim joined Mark Anthony Brands as national wine director. This gave him experience in dealing with import wineries.
Jim also spent three years as Mark Anthony’s sales director in Western Canada, looking after a vast portfolio of brands that included Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Corona beer from Mexico. When Corona dropped Mark Anthony in 2007, Jim downsized the sales team – including himself.
He says that his stint with Johnson and Johnson gave him insights into that company’s successful methods of developing its staff. Some of those methods, he says, will be useful in recruiting and training his team at Appellation.