GLOBAL CEO OF PASQUA WINERY
Riccardo Pasqua is global ceo of Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine, also known as Pasqua Winery, based in Verona, Italy. A third generation member of the Pasqua family, Riccardo joined the winery in 2007, serving in various sales, marketing and product development roles before becoming global ceo in 2016. Under his direction, Pasqua Wnery is modernizing its image and the reputation of Italian wines globally, emphasizing new wine brands like Pasqua Passimento, and burnishing the Pasqua legacy as a pioneer in world-class Amarone and other luxury vintages. Pasqua wines are available in 60 countries worldwide.
I was “born” into the wine business. My family founded Pasqua Winery in 1925, but it wasn’t until 2007 that I joined the company after a working for over a decade in finance. The dynamic of a family business and choosing to be a part of it, is difficult. Do you forge your own path, or embrace a family legacy? I’ve found a balance of the two, as I’ve been able to bring new thinking and innovation to Pasqua’s winemaking business, globally.
From a consumer point of view, we’re seeing Millennials’ increased interest in red blends. Our answer to that was Pasqua Passimento Rosso, a red blend made using the ancient appassimento winemaking technique, that is our fastest-growing wine brand. We introduced it in 2014 and we’ll sell nearly 2 million bottles this year, and it’s in large part to this new generation of wine drinkers. Prosecco, of course, continues to be white hot. My tip for wine lovers who want to be ahead of the curve: the wines of the Lugana region will be the next in-demand wines.
Wine in Italy can be a very regional business, but the most forward-thinking Italian wineries are building their brands globally and showing that’s there’s more to Italian wines than Pinot Grigio or Barolo. That’s a big challenge: once the average wine consumer finds a wine they like, they stick with it. It’s habit forming, and they end up missing out on so many other great wine choices. So we have to educate and entice on a very grassroots level.
The challenges of the wine business are somewhat evergreen: importing and exporting logistics and costs, the differences in each country, and in the US – each state’s – liquor laws, agricultural and weather conditions affecting a harvest, finding a great winemaker to run that part of the business. Few businesses involve understanding nature, production and packaging, finance and law quite the way the wine business does.
I assumed the role of global ceo in February 2016, nine years after joining Pasqua. With the support of other family members, I have been building the long-term vision for the company. A big part of that vision is the Pasqua Passimento brand, which now offers three wines. Innovation in the wine business is slower than other industries, but I can legitimately say the Passimento wines are innovative because of the winemaking technique used, for a wine at its price point (under US $20). The appassimento technique involves drying the grapes for weeks, in wood crates, before vinification. It’s a time, labor and cost intensive process that produces a truly unique wine, and that’s a big reason consumers have connected to it.
Another innovation has been establishing our US subsidiary (Pasqua USA LLC) – taking full control and ‘ownership’ of our distributor relationships: very few Italian wineries have had the courage to establish this type of presence in the US and skip the Importer Tier. Barriers are very high, the market is the most competitive in the world, but is also the most meritocratic – this move has been a game changer for our company and our family and a great example for the Italian wine industry.
Pasqua is launching a new, luxury wine label this fall called “Mai Dire Mai,” which in Italian means “never say never.” We’re very excited about this as it has the potential to elevate the entire Pasqua brand. Our business is two-fold: we produce wines and we also import them to the US. We are growing our US importing portfolio now, and promoting our first non-Pasqua wine brand, called “Cà Maiol,” a Lugana-based winery that is producing some truly outstanding, distinct, high quality wines. It represents another opportunity to show the US the depth of Italian wine offerings.
Italian wines have a huge opportunity in China, and Pasqua is growing strategically in that market. Today Italy lags other countries in regard to their China exports. Italy exports just US $80M to China versus the US (at US $1.5B) and Germany (at US $1B). The idea of “Made in Italy” could not be hotter right now in China, but the country needs to start generating growth not only from exports but also by reforming the internal market and creating a Chinese middle/upper class that is eager to spend money on things like premium wines. We expected continued success in China, and our plan there is to replicate the US model by having a direct presence in the market – to shorten the gap to the consumer.
At this stage in our US growth and in any of our strongest international markets, we focus on finding the best distributor partners who share our passion for Italian wines and retailer and consumer education. We don’t just promote Pasqua or other wines, we promote the legacy of Italian winemaking and consider ourselves cultural ambassadors, to a large degree.
Recently, it was restructuring the ownership of what had been a privately held, family owned business. Pasqua had been evenly divided amongst the family’s second generation members and in 2002, the business was starting to plateau. I joined Pasqua in 2007, and candidly the business was flat. It’s been a long, steady process to focus the business, develop new wines and build a new culture but we’re succeeding, and in dozens of markets around the world! In February 2016 we finalized a change in ownership, with my father, Umberto, and me assuming majority ownership of the winery. I took the role of global ceo at the same time. We’ve definitely seen major improvements: from 2014 through 2015, Pasqua’s sales rose 20% and our per case wine price has also increased significantly. This year, 2016, is also looking strong and we estimate 20% yet growth again, driven by growth in North America, Asia, the UK and Scandivania. As for the recent Brexit news, we’ll see how that impacts our UK business.
My advice to anyone who has to rethink a successful, multi-million-dollar family business, is to evaluate the business separately from the familial relationships. It’s extremely difficult when the dynamics of family love and loyalty come into play, but we did it successfully at Pasqua, and without damaging valuable family relationships
If we’re talking about the end consumer for our premium wines, which we define being in the $15-20 range, we want them to love the wine, feel they got more than their money’s worth, and share the brand and wine with other wine lovers.
I try never to micro-manage anyone. I put a great deal of trust into my team and expect them to deliver. I expect great results, but also the occasional mistake, and I find not over-managing people makes them more accountable for their errors as well as their achievements. I also like to have fun with our team members around the world. We run a group chat on Whatsapp with key managers around the world and it brings us closer together because of real-time shared information.
Because I run a family-owned business, I want to give family-based advice. When you’re in a situation where you’ll inevitably be working with or for the family, take time beforehand to find yourself. You’ll need as much outsider perspective as possible once you enter the family business, so it’s critical to gain work and life experience outside of the context of family, before you work with family. You’ll end up making a more meaningful contribution to the business that way.