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A New Day For WSWA

Posted by on in June 2018 Editions
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The Need For Evolution And A Commitment To ‘Stand Out’ Highlight The Annual Wine & Spirits Wholesaler Convention

By Kristen Bieler

This year was the 75th anniversary of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America convention. Held in Las Vegas from April 30th through May 3rd, the convention also marks the last year of WSWA President and CEO Craig Wolf’s leadership after 18 years with the organization. Among his parting words of advice: “A unified membership has been the key to our success.”

General session attendees heard from former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Sidney Frank Innovation Award Winner Rob Sands (CEO Constellation Brands) and Lifetime Leadership Award winner Robert Harmelin (EVP, Allied Beverage Group), among others.

The relentless pace of change in the industry was a theme echoed in many speeches. “I think everyone knows that the great brands of today are entirely different than the great brands of yesterday,” said Sands, stressing how critical it is to understand what consumers want.

Yet the most dynamic call to action came from incoming WSWA president Barkley Stuart, EVP and Director of Government Affairs, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, who declared the focus of his year at the helm will be diversity. The recruitment and advancement of women and minorities is long overdue in the wine and spirits industry, and it’s hurting business, he explained: “If we do not ensure that diverse ideas get heard, then we are not doing our jobs as leaders. It’s the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.” (See our interview with Stuart). 

As an important first step in this direction, Major Brands CEO Sue McCollum has joined the WSWA Board as the first female officer. McCollum was also awarded the WSWA Women’s Leadership Council’s first-ever Icon Award.

Six new products were selected to compete in the first-ever “Brand Battle,” pitching their brands before a team of judges including Charlie Merinoff, Co-Chairman of Breakthru Beverage Group. A California-based small-batch gin brand, Gray Whale, took home the trophy. “Brand Battle is essential for new suppliers to learn what’s important as they’re looking for their niche in the marketplace,” said Wolf.


1. Constellation Brands CEO Rob Sands, recipient of the Sidney Frank Innovation Award 2. Sue McCollum, Chairman & CEO, Missouri’s Major Brands and recipient of Women Leadership Council’s Icon Award 3. 2018 Brand Battle winner, Marsh Mokhtari, Co-Founder & Master Distiller of Gray Whale Gin (center, with trophy), poses with judges Charlie Merinoff, Meredith May, Bill Rancic, Tobin Ellis, Syd Ross, Marc Sachs and Steve Slater

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