Pacific Highway Wines/ Photo Courtesy of Giesen Wines
Growing from Niche Imports to Scale, Pacific Highway Hasn’t Strayed from Its Lane.
Wine doesn’t sell itself. While most importers find success by working with as many big wineries as they can cram into their portfolio, or rigorously curating a small group of philosophically homogeneous winemakers they personally know, Pacific Highway Wines’ president Mark Giordano has helped spur the steady growth of his company’s business—and that of the wineries it represents—with a refreshingly novel tack.
“We create partnerships with wineries in different regions,” Giordano says. “We want to grow their businesses through our partnerships at national retail, hotel and restaurant chains. We do that by working with one winery per region. We want to be able to tick every box for our partners and offer representation from major wine-growing regions across the world, but we don’t want to ever have to choose our favorite child in a region. Our goal is to provide our on- and off-premise partners with great wineries and allow our winery partners to grow their national presence.”
This philosophy has taken more than a decade to shape, Giordano explains. When Pacific Highway was launched 17 years ago by the Oatley family, the intention was, to say the least, niche.
“We intended to import Robert Oatley wines from Australia alone,” he explains. “But we began to see that the relationships I’d built over many years in the industry enabled us to do much more.”
Giordano began his career in sales at Gallo, then worked with Kendall Jackson Wine Estates, and later as national sales director for Bonny Doon Vineyard, representing, he admits, “certainly a diverse array of businesses.”
That is, he argues, the point.
Pacific Highway Wines Team/ Photo Courtesy of Hechler Photographers
“The wine industry is based on relationships and partnerships,” he says. “We realized that we could bring in other wineries who shared Oatley’s core values and create something really interesting.”
Pacific Highway seeks relationships with family-owned wineries with legacy and succession plans in place; wineries with scalability so that on- and off-premise partners can offer wines across the country, and wineries that either have estate vineyards or long-term relationships with growers. The “sweet spot” size-wise for wineries in Pacific Highway’s portfolio is between 5,000 and 50,000 cases in annual production, with room to grow.
As part of the expansion beyond just importing Oatley Wines, Pacific Highway also broadened its services to provide sales and marketing. In 2016, Giesen joined as a 50% stakeholder, two years after the New Zealand winery signed on to be represented by Pacific Highway.
Giesen and Pacific Highway’s growth together represents the symbiosis the importer strives for.
“When they joined us, they were at around 30,000 cases, and now they’re selling about 170,000,” Giordano says. “A lot of that has to do with the introduction of their 0% alcohol wines. I did not anticipate the incredible success of that line, and I honestly think it’s just the beginning.”
Pacific Highway now sells around 550,000 cases, with 30 employees located across the country. Within five years, Pacific Highway hopes to grow the sales to 1 million.
“But the growth can’t be for growth’s sake,” Giordano says. “It has to be organic, and intentional.”