How Much Do Wineries Really Make?

Our most popular post from last year is brought current with the 2012 financial information. The question at hand is: "How much do wineries really make?
The answer of course is ......(drum roll please ....) Not enough. Finding the facts is almost as hard as chasing unicorns in this business because the wine business is private. Its a family owned industry with even the largest; Gallo a family owned company. But its really quite amazing from the perspective of what is shared between neighbors in the wine business. There isn't the sense that your neighbor is a rival or competitor. Its more of a club feel in many ways. If you need something, its quite normal to check in with your neighbor. Need a tractor because yours went kerput? No problemo. Need a little welding and custom fabrication on a pump? I'll be right over with a welding rig.
There is a competitive side that abounds in the business too of course. When it comes to sharing financial information and customer lists, good luck! Ask a winemaker neighbor how its going financially, and you'll get a mixture of liars dice, false bravado, partial truths and ..... well ..... the following video is the best explanation of how that game is played.......

It's no wonder our winery and vineyard clients at Silicon Valley Bank are drawn to our Benchmarking Database. Its not a guess or inflated bravado. The data in the set are composed of  thousands of reviewed and audited financial statements and they go back to 1990. We can group peers by region, varietals produced, business model and many other factors. You might be able to fool your neighbor on your cost of goods sold per case, or make a little white lie on your growth rate last year but as a banker, we get the real information so we are a little harder to fool. Our clients get free access to the averages and information produced, so they benefit by sharing. That kind of data doesn't exist anywhere else.

So back to the title question: How much do wineries really make? 6.9% pretax at the 2012 year end. That's a lot less than dreamy consumers imagine.

This chart is one that I present each year in the State of the Industry Report and use in most of my speeches. (You can see a larger view with by clicking on it.) Its a summation of the financial performance of the wine business since the 2004 calendar year. The tan-ish bars represent gross margin (sales minus the cost of sales), and the darker line is pretax profit. The lighter line is industry sales growth. You can back into total operating expenses as an expense if you are interested, by adding pretax profit and gross margin, and subtracting the sum from 100%.

What you notice from the chart is gross margin is far from consistent. Even if grape sales were constant, trade discounts and pricing opportunity will vary year to year changing the gross margin. But the reality is purchased grapes run through cycles and estate wineries have higher and lower costs of goods based on farming costs and yield. As you can see though, gross margin and then profit do move in waves.

What's happening right now? We are seeing producers starting into an era in which their gross margins are and will be squeezed. You can see the impact of price discounts from 2007 to 2009 where we found bottom out of the recession. Then in 2010 and 2011 we saw improved conditions as grape costs fell off their pre-crash levels and . Today we are experiencing the higher costs of light yields in 2010 and 2011 which in 2012 were offset by reigning in promotions and discounts.

In 2013, we will start to see the higher grape costs from 2012 entering the income statements. Those costs aren't fully passed on to the consumer which means those pre-tax profit margins you see are likely to fall a bit in the next several years, at least on average.

There will always be some neighbors who do better than others. I'll bet our imaginary neighbor didn't know what was happening with the industry benchmarks .... or did he?

This is the appropriate time to add .... the preceding "film" contains statements and opinions which are fictional in nature. Any similarities to real people or wineries are purely coincidental and unintentional. And besides, no winery owner I know would be caught dead in that red sweatsuit looking like they were wearing a diaper. I've never met anyone like that.

Anyway - those are the facts on winery profitability and the bottom line. Wineries are being squeezed and in our opinion are likely to see more of that in the near term being unable to pass pricing increases to consumers. Economically, we may start to see improvement in the back half of 2013 and that may help somewhat.

Those are our thoughts. Feel free to weigh-in and offer your thoughts and comments below.