A Conversation With Julia Hodge M.B.A. ’10

Julia Hodge M.B.A. ’10 is co-founder and chief marketing officer of IVDC Wines, a wine import company based in Playa del Rey, California, that focuses on wines from Italy. Hodge earned her master’s degree from the LMU College of Business Administration and wrote her thesis on international wine distribution in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. We interviewed her about Italian wines and the U.S. market. She was interviewed by Editor Joseph Wakelee-Lynch. 

Is California wine consumption on the rise, and are millennials taking to wine?

I believe the wine industry overall grew about 5 percent last year. During the past year or so, everybody in the wine industry noticed that trends they were expecting regarding millennials — that millennials would turn into big wine consumers — were disappointing. Turns out that millennials are way more interested in beer and spirits than wine, partly because they don’t have the disposable income to afford good wines. When they do buy wines, it’s usually on the cheaper end. People don’t generally start getting into wine until they’re in their 30s.

How would you describe California wine consumers? 

They’re usually people with disposable income, from ages 35-54, approximately, and they like to travel or are adventurous. They’re usually very social. Word of mouth is important in the wine industry especially in that demographic. That’s why Los Angeles is a great market for wine, because there’s so much word of mouth. Everyone wants the next big thing, and people take so much pride in being able to recommend something to somebody.

How do you exploit word of mouth?

Social media is important and something we try to capitalize on. It’s difficult for us because we’re an importer. Therefore, our company’s brand isn’t as important as the labels we carry. It’s not so much about advertising our company but advertising on behalf of our wine producers. Promoting a company becomes complicated in the importing world.

Is California the leading U.S. state in wine production and in sales?

Yes. Eighty-six percent of wine that is produced in America is produced in California. Washington and Oregon, next, are on the rise, and New York, especially in the Finger Lakes region, also is a producer. That part of New York has an interesting microclimate. Virginia is fifth.

Do Italian exporters see the California market as highly desirable market compared to the rest of the United States?

Yes, definitely. Los Angeles is the 7th largest market for wine in the world, and bigger than San Francisco, which many people consider a popular wine consumption area. The U.S. is the No. 1 importer of Italian wines. One of every five bottles of wines produced in Italy goes to the United States. 

Do California wineries consider Italian wines a major competitor or do they mainly compete with other California producers for market share?

I would say California wineries are competing with one another. The Italian wine market here is a different market. People who drink Italian wines tend to be a little bit more into gastronomy. In Italy, wines are considered a food, not as alcohol. Wines produced in Italy are made while thinking about the local foods that would go with the wine. That isn’t so much the case here, because there isn’t as much of a sense of regional foods.

What would you say is the latest wine trend?

Rosé, definitely. The trend started about five years ago, but it’s still huge and doesn’t seem to be going away. People also are leaning more toward sauvignon blanc as compared to chardonnay. Sauvignon blanc pairs better with some food, and people are realizing it’s a reliable, year-round grape.

Italian names — Gallo, Sebastiani — are on some of the most famous California wines. What is Italy’s role in California’s wine history?

Robert Mondavi brought worldwide recognition to the Napa Valley in 1966 when his winery released its first cabernet. But it was Sonoma that Italians settled in, before Napa. When Italians came over, they brought their wines. There’s been an Italian tradition in California wine-making ever since. They’ve been making wine in Italy for centuries, and they brought not just their wine but their practices.