Accolade Wines is owned by private equity group CHAMP

Accolade Wines is owned by private equity group CHAMP

In 2011, Tim Matz took on the job as the MD of Accolade Wines' North American division. Since then, the company has bought a clutch of wine brands - many of which are now part of Matz's purview - and has lost its chief executive. Late last month, just-drinks' deputy editor, James Wilmore, sat down with Matz at ProWein to talk through the challenges the company faces, the US wine market and the positive aspects of working for a private equity group.

Tim Matz is a fan of statistics. “A third of Americans do not drink any alcohol,” he tells me. “Another third has an affinity towards beers and spirits. And the third that drinks wine; a third of them drink 90% of it. So, 10% of the US population drinks 90% of the wine.” 

Familiar figures, perhaps, to industry folk, but it sounds like the kind of thing often rolled out in a job interview. And the last of those for Matz was for his current job as MD of Accolade Wines' North American unit. Matz took on the role in September 2011 and initially was the only employee in the division. But he was not left on his own too long. Last June, the company snapped up the Geyser Peak, Atlas Peak and XYZin brands in the US – instantly giving Matz 85 colleagues. 

As coffee arrives for the two of us, Matz, 53, appears an affable, relaxed figure, yet eager to step up to the challenge he faces. He is acutely aware that the company's private equity owners CHAMP are on a deadline. “We're on a time horizon that is relatively quick – call it three to five years. Which is very different if you're working for a private owner who wanted to leave the business for his grandchildren. They (private equity) have a different vision – their objective is not to be around (forever) – their objective is to grow a company, get value out of it, and move it to somebody else at some point.”

He adds: “They're two years into a five-year journey, that's the way to look at it.”

Tim Matz - Accolade Wines MD for North America

Matz says he was asked to “figure out” a strategy for North America. “I put this strategy together and told them (CHAMP) that the quickest way to create a business in North America would be to have a national distribution platform and a national brand footprint, then Geyser Peak became available.” Matz is postive about the brand's prospects. “We have grand hopes and plans for it to be a big brand globally, we've already had some great success at the show (ProWein) this week,” he says. 

This positivity from Accolade's Indianapolis-born US man extends to the country's wine market as a whole. Matz, who was president of Foley Family Wines from 2008 to 2010, describes the market as “extremely healthy”.

“Even through the global financial crisis, the wine industry continued to grow in per-capita consumption and volume,” he adds. “But, what really got hurt in the financial crisis was high-end wines and that was because they're distributed in high-end restaurants and business dried up for them. But, now that's all coming back too for premium wines.” 

Matz, predictably, does not wholeheartedly buy into the concept of “premiumisation”, at least in the US wine market. Has there been a shift in this direction? “I'm not sure there is,” he says. “Over the last couple of years, there's been a huge shift to value wines. I think that the consumer is slower to trade up than in the mid-2000s, whereas now people see wine as good value at US$10 to $12 price points  - you don't have to spend $25 on a good bottle of wine.” 

However, when pushed, the Accolade man acknowledges that there are challenges. One, notably, is the the struggle for many “value” Australian wine brands in the US. Why is this? “There's a number of reasons – Yellow Tail kind of took over, and now has 50% market share in the Australian category,” he says. “Secondly, Australia targeted becoming - and became - the great value wine in America. But now, to be honest, you can get great quality and great value wine from any region in the world.” 

Part two of this interview, where Matz discusses light wines, binge-drinking and Accolade's hunt for a new CEO, can be found here.