Walt Klenz, managing director of Beringer Blass Wine Estates, will retire at the end of 2004 after 28 years with the company. The change comes as Beringer Blass, the global wine division of Australia-based Foster's Group, continues a major restructuring.
Klenz, 58, will be replaced by Jamie Odell, 45, who previously worked for Klenz as the COO of global trade. Prior to that, Odell was the company's managing director of trade for the Asia Pacific region.
"It's something that has been in the works for some time," Klenz said of his retirement. "I've been thinking about it for a couple of years. There's no great agenda. I just figured it was time."
Beringer Blass has faced hard times in the United States, with an oversupply of wine, a weak U.S. dollar hampering its exports, and increased competition from new global brands and extreme value brands such as Two-Buck Chuck.
"This has been a more challenging down cycle than we've seen," Klenz said. "It is tough in the market right now, but it seems to be leveling off. I think it has plateaued. I'm optimistic. I take a pretty long perspective."
As part of its organizational changes, Beringer Blass plans to cut costs over the next few years, including $15 million from its North American operations by fiscal year 2005, according to company reports.
There are no sales of wineries or brands planned, Klenz said. "We don't see any fundamental change in our portfolio," he said.
Beringer Blass spokeswoman Mora Cronin said that "non-strategic" vineyards in California and Australia will be sold, and the company is considering likely vineyard candidates now.
No layoffs are planned at Beringer Blass wineries, Cronin said, but the company will be consolidating its bottling facilities in California, which may lead to the reduction of as many as 22 jobs.
Beringer Blass, according to the company's report, will use the savings to add new brands -- including a sparkling white Zinfandel and other wines priced in the $8 to $12 range -- and refocus money and marketing on key brands such as Beringer, Wolf Blass, Chateau St. Jean and Meridian.
Beringer Blass' other wine brands in Australia and California include Etude, Greg Norman, Stags' Leap and Black Opal. The company owns wineries in Italy, including Castello di Gabbiano, and Matua Valley Wines in New Zealand.
Klenz's retirement is one of a number of recent upper-level management changes. In January, Jim Watkins departed as president of the Americas and his position was eliminated. In March, Trevor O'Hoy was named the new president and chief executive of Foster's.
Klenz joined Beringer in 1976 and, after working in numerous positions at the Napa Valley winery, was appointed president in 1990. In 1997, Klenz played a key role in taking Beringer public; he later helped negotiate the $1.5 billion purchase of the wine company by Foster's in August 2000. He then served as CEO and chairman of the U.S. wine division before being named managing director of the global wine operations.
Klenz was one of the last remaining members of the management team that brought Beringer to new prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, and his departure marks the end of an era.
After Jan. 1, 2005, Klenz will continue as an adviser to the company's board and management. He said, "I look to stay active in some way in the wine industry and in Beringer in some capacity."
Read recent news about Beringer Blass: