Okay, enough already! We get it. Whoever’s running things at 9 West 57th Street in Manhattan obviously has no interest in running a winery. That’s where Sycamore Partners has its offices; they’re the private equity outfit that bought Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE) from Altria a year ago for $1.2 billion and has managed to confuse everyone ever since.
First, this guy is now out. David Dearie, the Australian wine exec brought in to manage the beast less than two years ago, finds himself kicked to the curb, unable to hang on against an onslaught of constantly changing mandates from Manhattan. Buy this, sell that, move this, leave that. Oregon? Hey, we like Oregon, right? There’s a big if motley company down there called A to Z Vineyards; we should buy them. Woodinville? Too many acres, too many wine barrels. Move the barrels back to eastern Washington where they belong, and sell the land around the Chateau for residential development. Selling the wine? Hey, that’s someone else’s job; Southern Wine & Spirits can do that, right?
Okay, now it’s time to blow it all up. Traditional management out; geographical management in.
California gets its own top guy, David Bowman, the CEO of Stag’s Leap. Oregon? Hey, Amy Prosenjak put the A to Z package together; she could run Oregon. And this guy Toby Whitmoyer, SMWE’s so-called Chief Growth Officer, let’s give him the reins for Washington. After all, he’s got plenty of experience pushing cases of Bacardi through the pipeline.
The closest any of these peeps has come to actual agriculture is probably Mike Lee, a consumer products guy bought in at the start of the year from Canada, where he was running numbers for a cannabis outfit. Let’s put him in charge of everything else, like finance and nitty-gritty supply chain stuff.
Four new presidents reporting directly to the “SMWE Board of Directors.” Two of the three directors, you guessed it, are partners at Sycamore; the third is Brian Vos, who spent two decades with The Wine Group (Franzia and other low-end brands). So here we have the nation’s third-biggest wine company, and not a single executive who’s ever made wine, or trained as an enologist, or even grown a grape. Does not look promising.