The Most Powerful People in Wine

Last month’s (I think — I’m way behind on my reading)
Decanter magazine had an interesting feature on the “most powerful people in the wine world” and the list they put together is worth sharing and commenting on (I encourage you to take a look at the issue as they have profiles of most of the people on their list).

So what does power mean? To Decanter, powerful means having a direct influence on the style of wine being drunk around the world today. Each of their selections (50 in total) were chosen for the level and reach of that impact.

Additionally each of these individuals was evaluated on their reach (how global their influence was), their role as a pioneer, their financial clout, their connection with “wines great and good,” or their hands-on involvement in winemaking.

  1. Richard Sands, CEO and Chairman, Constellation Brands, US
  2. Robert Parker, Critic, US
  3. Mel Dick, SVP Southern Wine and Spirits, US
  4. Michel Rolland, Consultant Winemaker, France
  5. Jacques Chirac, President of France
  6. Ernest Gallo, Chairman E&J Gallo, US
  7. Patrick Ricard, Chairman & CEO Pernod Ricard, France
  8. Nancy Griese, VP Foods & Sundries, Costco, US
  9. Hugh Johnson, Writer and Consultant, UK
  10. Travis Engen, CEO, Alcan, Canada
  11. Piero Antinori, Director Marchese Antinori, Italy
  12. Mark Murphy, Wine Category Director, Tesco, UK
  13. Jancis Robinson, Critic, Wine Writer, UK
  14. Trevor O’Hoy, CEO, Foster’s, Australia
  15. Marvin Shanken, Publisher, US
  16. Rene Renou, President INAO (Institut National des Apellations d’Origine), France
  17. Steven Spurrier, Writer and Consultant, UK
  18. Nobutada Saji, CEO, Suntory, Japan
  19. Miguel Torres, President, Torres, Spain
  20. Jean-Marie Chadronnier, President and CEO, CVBG Dourthe Kressmeann, France

So. First of all, I hate lists like this. They’re reductive, simple, and trite, and don’t acknowledge the complexity of the world we live in at all. Having said that, however, they always make for good discussion, or at least some musings, regardless of whether you agree with the rankings, or the concept of creating such lists at all (I don’t).

What’s interesting about this list? Well, worth noting is that 40% of the people in the top 20, including the number one on the list are part of huge corporate entities — either retailers, distributors, or wine & spirits conglomerates. Whether or not some people refuse to admit it, and regardless of the passion involved, wine is a business for nearly everyone involved. It’s hard to reconcile that reality sometimes with the poetry of the process and the magic of the results, but like it or not, it’s true.

It was interesting to me to see the CEO of Alcan (manufacturer of the Stelvin screwcap wine closure) so high on the list. This seems more like a predictive nomination than a rating of current power.

No surprise to see Parker at number two on the list, but I wonder why he’s not number one? Constellation is the largest wine company in the world, accounting for 22% of the sales of wine in the US and 17% in the UK, but I wonder if despite their size they really have the ability to make a market like Parker seems to be able to.

Having Jacques Chirac on the list is like having Arnold Schwarzenegger on the list because he happens (for the moment) to be the governor of the state that Napa happens to be in. It’s silly.

I only recently learned that Costco was the largest retailer of wine in the US. What I didn’t know is that their wine sales have increased by 500% in the last seven years.

It was interesting to see the CEO of Suntory on the list, but they apparently import about 4 billion dollars worth of wine each year to Japan, from 13 different countries.

Finally there was one person/company in the top 20 that I had never heard of. CVBG Dourthe Kressmeann is apparently “one of Bordeaux’s most influential – and dynamic – negociants, exporting more wines by value than any other firm.” The President, Chadronnier, is also the head of VinExpo.

What do you think?