The just-drinks interview - Tim Matz, MD of Accolade Wines North America - Part II

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Last week we ran the first part of just-drinks' exclusive interview with the MD of Accolade Wines' North American division, Tim Matz. In this second and final part, Matz discusses innovation, healthy wines and the pros and cons of working for a private equity firm.


Mention the word 'innovation' to some in the wine industry, and you'll see them wince. Matz, however, perks up when I say it, flagging the term as a potential opportunity. In the past year, the US has seen a number of low-calorie 'light' wines hit the market. Beam has extended its Skinny Girl range in this area, Treasury Wine Estates launched its Skinny Vine range earlier this year, while Accolade has its own Light Grape range.  "We actually believe there is a segment that could evolve there," says Matz.  "But, I'm not claiming it's going to be a huge segment."

Is it fair to say that women wanting to treat themselves with a glass of wine might not necessarily be factoring in how healthy the drink is at the same time? "I don't know if it's about dieting," says Matz. "It's about people wanting to have a drink containing not quite as much alcohol, but still wanting to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine. They feel like they might want two or three, instead of just one.

"I'm sure people were sitting here having the same conversation in the 1970s about light beer in the US," he adds. "I'm sure a lot of people said there's no way you're ever going to get a man to drink a light beer. Well, today the two top-selling beers in the US are both light beers – Coors Light and Bud Light."

On other innovation potential, Matz says there are opportunities aplenty. "We could be a little more risk-taking in thinking about the different ways to serve," he explains. "Look how beer has gone with aluminium cans and bottles and PET bottles." But, he admits: "PET wine bottles have not really worked in the US." 

Again, Matz must be conscious that time is of the essence when you're working for a group owned by private equity. He must also be acutely aware of the the pitfalls personally. Eyebrows were raised last November when Accolade announced it had parted company with its CEO Troy Christensen, on the same day as it made the announcement. Officially, the company said it was by "mutual agreement". Four months down the line, though, there is still no news of a replacement. Has Matz heard anything about a new boss?

"All I know is that it's in process and that they have some potential candiates."

We'll leave that one there. 

So, what's the best thing about working for a private equity group? "They really value your opinion and input and then, if they buy into your strategy, they let you run with it," he says. "Their mentality is one of decentralisation and they let you get on with business and creating value. Private equity people are not necessarily experts in the companies they invest in, so they do rely on key management to provide that expertise." 

And the worst aspect? "Because they are not necessarily well-versed in the industry, there is some education process involved, particularly for wine," says Matz. "It's a very complex industry – you depend on weather, soil, location and then you don't reap the benefit of that for three more years."

Of course, after all that, a wine producer may still struggle to sell its wares. "I would like to say we all need it (wine)," says Matz, "but many consumers think they don't. We are just trying to convince people they'd have a happier life if they drank it, on a regular basis." 

As our time draws to a close, I'm keen to know how Matz sees his own future shaping up. "I like to think I'd be successful with Accolade Wines and - wherever it ends up - that I'd go with it."

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