Traveling on Business

by Global Directions Inc., Aug 1, 1995 | Destinations: Vietnam / Ho Chi Minh City

John Schwartz's job is to sell wine for Wente Bros., the oldest family-owned winery in California. If you can call it a job. Great wine, good food and travels to exotic lands sound more like a vacation to me.

John is vice-president of international operations for Wente Bros., located in Livermore, just east of San Francisco. Between college and a master's degree in economics at Berkeley (University of California), John lived in Southern France, learning about the French wine industry and practicing his French. After Berkeley, John moved to Japan, where he became fluent in Japanese. Along the way, he also picked up German.

In the past ten years, John has turned Wente Bros. into a leading exporter of California wines, selling almost half of their production in ninety-two countries. To kick-off wines in a new market, Wente Bros. does an American Food & Wine Festival showcasing California food (Wente Bros. Executive Chef Kimball Jones jets in for these affairs), wine and culture and lots of American flags. John believes that these festivals play an important role in the initial success of the Wente Bros. brand in international markets. The festivals position wine as part of the California culture, and help establish important relationships with the leading hotels and restaurants. John threw a festival in Hanoi in June 1994, which included wine seminars, superb California cuisine, a pool-side BBQ, unlimited amounts of wine (you guessed it: Wente Bros.) complete with an American Jazz band. Reports from all counts - unqualified success! I am now angling for an invitation to his next festival in Shanghai.

Wente started working on Vietnam early. By the time the embargo was lifted in 1994, John had already test-marketed Wente Bros. wines in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Haiphong for twelve months, and negotiated and signed a distribution agreement with the leading local beverage distributor. The day after the embargo was lifted, 2,500 cases of Wente Bros. wines set sail for Vietnam. At last count, Wente Bros. has sold 8,000 cases in Vietnam in 1994 - nine times more than John's forecast. All this confirms our own informal market observations - we have been seeing Wente Bros. wines everywhere we go in Vietnam. So now we can leave home without it and be sure we can still enjoy California wines when in Vietnam.