On 12 May, the Board of Directors of Wines of Argentina voted to appoint Maximiliano Hernández Toso to the role of President of the institution until 2022.
Hailing from a family of winemakers, Maximiliano Hernández Toso is the co-founder of WHT Partners, an Argentine financial group that specializes in investments in the high end wine market and owns the wineries Riglos and Huarpe. Hernández Toso also has a degree in Industrial Engineering from the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, as well as an MBA in IDEA from the London Business School and a Master in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University, where he was a Fulbright scholar. He was professor and director of the Viticultural Administration Programme run by ADEN Business School and has worked as an independent consultant for entrepreneurs, investors and multilateral bodies.
A member of WofA since 2005, in 2007 he began his involvement with different working committees and in 2015 was appointed to the Board of Directors. In recent years, he performed the role of Treasurer. “That responsibility helped me to gain a better understanding of income flows and the promotional activities to which they are allocated. Even during this period of uncertainty, the experience tells me that our long term objectives are valid.”
Maximiliano Hernández Toso went on to say that he was excited to take on the challenges of the new role: “I studied Public Policy because I have always enjoyed making a contribution to society. WofA falls under that category and plays an important role in promoting Brand Argentina and as a guide for strategic exportation. I believe that it is very important to have the opportunity to make a contribution to the industry for which I work every day.”
The new president admits that the current unprecedented crisis demands immediate attention: “In the short term, the goal is to mitigate the risks of our promotional activities in the digital sphere and to be ready to resume our other work when the conditions allow.”
Since 1993, Wines of Argentina has implemented different promotional strategies and plans that vary according to the opportunities and needs of the viticulture industry. These range from participation in selected trade fairs and the organization of events across the world to tastings and seminars and Malbec World Day in all its different incarnations. Recently, the organization’s activities have focussed on hospitality and wine education, very effective strategies that the pandemic has forced be rescheduled or adapted.
“Argentina has managed to position itself with Malbec but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Today we are working to raise awareness of the country’s diversity, the different characteristics offered by each region and how they affect the range of varieties on offer. I’m absolutely convinced that education will be our main tool in achieving that.”
Regarding how international markets have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Maximiliano Hernández Toso believes that in 2020 targets will have to be adjusted and a conservative stance maintained but that doesn’t mean backpedalling with regard to what has been achieved thus far. “Maybe the current climate isn’t the best one in which to seek out new markets but we need to be ready to achieve that in 2021. Meanwhile, we must be energetic with our online activities and promote on every different platform and in every format available. That way, we’ll be able to continue our work promoting the virtues of our wines and support our distributors across the world.”
This is why in the short term the focus will be placed on key markets such as the USA where there is good business being done in mass market wines in the supermarkets and even more through online channels with retailers who have been operating in the medium for years. However, the trade segment, which is just as important, is facing far greater difficulties: “Let’s hope that with the onset of summer business in the northern hemisphere returns to some semblance of normality so that trade channels don’t suffer too much damage”, Maximiliano Hernández Toso explains.
The situation in Latin America, another key market for Argentine wines, is varied: “Brazil is a central market in which we were recovering share before the pandemic struck. Today the situation isn’t very clear but we shall continue working on different virtual activities with strategic partners in the market. Mexico is a development priority and our wines have begun to perform much better there recently. Peru is another market in which we have positioned ourselves very well but it’s undergoing a very difficult situation as gastronomy and tourism are two of the hardest hit segments and important markets for our wines. We’re still working on training and promotion to consolidate what we’ve achieved so far.”
Given the situation, 2020 isn’t a good year in which to find new markets, however a major milestone for Wines of Argentina will occur this November with the beginning of a programme in China at the CIE Fair and Prowein Shanghai. Although Maximiliano Hernández Toso is in no doubt that certain aspects of wine sales will change in the future, he’s convinced that China will continue to be a major focus for WofA once the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus are lifted: “In the last twenty years, the major change for the wine industry in terms of performance has been China. It shifted from never importing products to becoming a major importer. But Argentina has yet to make its mark. I am certain that we should continue to focus there.” The President even allows himself to be optimistic with regard to the Asian giant. “Reading export reports for wines from the first semester, our hit wasn’t as brutal as that for countries that depend on the Chinese market. From now on we need to change our status and increase our volume to more significant levels.”
Innovation and the New Normal
For the first day of the ‘New Normal’ regime, Maximiliano Hernández Toso predicts expert handling of digital promotion of Argentine wine, a channel where he says that WofA is strengthening its presence. “Online environments have their own codes that we must explore and decipher to implement a robust promotional strategy. Today our challenge is to share the process of regionalization and diversification that is taking place in Argentina. Malbec has been a major success story, but now we must convey a more complex and difficult message that requires the classification of ideas and that they be developed and executed at the right time in the right way.”
His plans involve the development of content for different audiences and segments: “The key is to generate effective content that will interest wine geeks but also to develop tools that engage beginners or people who know very little about Argentina. We need to innovate with accessible plans for consumers that can be executed using digital technologies.”
Exports and integration
“I hope that my contribution will help to bring new momentum to the export sector. That’s my primary motivation. Looking at the statistics for 2015-2019, our exports shrunk 2% a year compared to the sustained growth seen by actors in other segments. I’d like to implement an agenda focused on the fundamental mission of Wines of Argentina.”
He is certain of the importance of integrating new participants into the idea generation process. “I inherited a well-organized institution with the human capital required to take on innovative new promotional activities. We need to develop a management process in which the tools we were given generate excellent results, the kind we saw when wine education and hospitality activities allowed us to achieve innovative objectives such as Malbec World Day.”
But the growth of the institution is undoubtedly what the new President of WofA would like to be remembered for: “We need to expand. We need more wineries and actors in the sector to get involved with their ideas and enthusiasm just as we need our human capital to grow to bring the skills that will be required to meet the challenges of the future.”