Importer of the Year
Vineyard Brands; Birmingham, Alabama
In a year that has exalted value wines, Vineyard Brands is ahead of the pack, with a global array of appealing wines under $20—among them La Vieille Ferme from France, many of the wines from Spain’s Marqués de Cáceres, Doña Paula from Argentina and Villa Maria from New Zealand. That’s impressive for a business that was built on, and maintains a portfolio of, some of the greatest French wines in the world, with high-end Burgundies, benchmark Rhônes and Alsace stars. Says president Jerry Neff, “It’s unusual to marry high-volume brands with high-quality estate wines and make a company work.” One key to Vineyard Brands’ success: It’s the only major employee-owned wine importer. Founder Robert Haas gradually handed it over to his staff through an innovative stock-allocation plan. “It’s a huge motivating factor for everyone,” Neff says.