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Editor's Letter


The Story Behind the Top 20 Lenders

September 2012
by Jim Gordon
What is more vital to the wine industry economy than finance? Access to capital softens the unique financial tremors that come seasonally, annually and even generationally in the business of growing grapes and making wine. Moreover, capital makes growth possible, and most of our industry today is focused on growth.

For this annual Winery & Vineyard Economics Issue, Wines & Vines uncovered which financial institutions in the West Coast’s wine regions are the most important to winemakers and growers. We identified the top 20 lenders with a special focus on wine production and present them to you in our cover story, which begins on page 24.

The goal was to serve our readers by narrowing the extremely wide field of potential financial partners down to the cream of the crop and supply details about the services these institutions provide.

Our top 20 includes six categories of lenders based on size and specialties to help readers quickly narrow their searches. The 20 institutions are not ranked from one to 20 but organized by categories, with the assurance that all 20 of these companies bring extensive experience, services and focus to wine producers.

We hope you use the top 20 and the other content in our 22-page special report about finance to make the seemingly complex matter of choosing a lender more straightforward. Since the annual Wine Industry Financial Symposium convenes Sept. 24 and 25 in Napa, Calif., the timing couldn’t be better.

Research and peer review
The work started with an examination of the 140 financial companies in the Wines & Vines’ Directory/Buyer’s Guide, where we collect the best data available anywhere about businesses serving the wine industry as well as the most accurate North American winery listings.

Then our reporting team went to work. Freelance journalist Ben Narasin authored the cover story, based on research he conducted with staff writer Andrew Adams. Narasin is no newcomer to business finance; he’s president of the venture capital arm of TriplePoint Capital, a serial entrepreneur and a writer.

Narasin and Adams first dug into published information about each of the lenders, noting their overall size and reach, size of their wine team, locations in wine regions, products and services tailored for wine/grape clients and more. They narrowed the candidates to the 40 most involved in our industry and then went deeper into the qualifications of each.

Face-to-face and phone interviews with the leaders of the wine team at each company provided the next level of information, then a peer-review process determined the final top 20 lenders. Narasin and Adams first questioned each banker about why his or her company should be in the report and then challenged them to identify which of their competitors deserved to be there, too.

David Freed helped referee the process, using his great background and contacts as founder of the Wine Industry Financial Symposium and chairman of the large vineyard operation The Silverado Group. We thank him for the guidance.

What we learned
Our team learned that size matters when choosing a lender, but not in the way you might think. Big national banks including Wells Fargo and Bank of America earned spots on the top 20, but so did smaller and regional institutions. Narasin concluded that finding right sizing was the key. A small-scale vintner might get lost at a big bank, but a big winery might not find enough lifting power with a specialty bank.

“You must understand who you are dealing with,” writes Narasin. “Who is making the decisions that affect your loan, and what expertise do they have in your area of need? You are entitled to ask, and the burden to do so rests with you.”

Conversely, your bank, ag credit company, insurance firm or second-lien lender also needs to know you. Narasin concludes that wine industry knowledge and experience are the paramount requirements to look for in a finance company—especially for smaller wineries and vineyard owners.

To that end, the top 20 report will definitely get you started in the right direction, because our team has already done half the homework for you. We hope that you find the top 20 and accompanying articles helpful in your business. We hope you will have faith in the top 20 lenders. Most of all we hope you finish the harvest season and the year with a bright financial picture.

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