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looking back, dominic rivard has to admit that starting

a business in Thailand within weeks of a military coup might not

have been the best idea. It took more than six months to find an
investor willing to take a risk on his proposal to build an exotic
fruit winery in Southeast Asia. And then, with the government’s
ministries in some confusion, it took twice as long as expected to

Tasting Success
register the company.
“Maybe it was stupid,” says Rivard,
but Thailand, with its abundant fruit
harvests to supply the winery and its
millions of tourists to buy the wines,
seemed an ideal location. Two years
later, Apsara Valley Wines, located 30 miles north of Bangkok, is
A cosmopolitan vintner distributing its first batch of pineapple, passion-fruit, mangosteen
gambles that Thai fruit wine and lychee wines to high-end restaurants and resorts in the area.
Rivard’s next goal: to bring these libations to the U.S. market.
will please U.S. palates. A 36-year-old Canadian who has served as head winemaker for
more than 10 producers in Canada and China, Rivard has spent
By Malika Zouhali-Worrall most of his life in the business. At age 17 he made his first batch of
Photography by Christopher Wise wine from dandelions and concord grapes in his backyard. Later he
took sommelier classes. After a brief stint working in a wine labo-
ratory, he launched his own business as an enological consultant,
advising companies on both sides of the Pacific.
In 2002 Rivard was offered a joint venture with a provincial
agriculture ministry in China, which gave him a minority stake in
the firm and second billing in the company, Tianjin Kernel Rivard
Wines. Two years later the business was struggling. Investment
in equipment had been heavy, but Rivard believed that essential

76  FSB  december 2008/january 2009

This spread, from left:
marketing efforts had been underfinanced. “We had a very good packaging that had been approved months ear- Dominic Rivard 
(wearing glasses) and
product,” says Arvin Tian, Rivard’s business partner at the time, lier. “It was very frustrating,” says Rivard. “A Germain Bergeron 
“but the company wasn’t managed well.” Rivard concurs. “By the North American mind-set would have gotten sample their Mythical
Garden wine, which
end I felt like a puppet,” he recalls. “I was nothing more than the mad and called in the lawyers, because there they make from 
white figurehead.” were contracts involved.” exotic fruits such as 
But Rivard had a family to support. So when the business Instead, he f lew to the importer’s head- mangosteen and 
passion fruit. Rivard
failed, he signed on as head winemaker at one of China’s largest quarters to renegotiate. It took nearly three bottles the wine 
wineries, Tonghua Grape Wine. After a couple of years he felt months of visits and dinners to get the deal in Thailand’s Pathum
Thani province.
restless again. A friend introduced him to Germain Bergeron, a back on track, but Rivard felt it was worth it:
fellow Canadian and serial entrepreneur who was based in Thai- “We built stronger relationships with the buyer and solidified
land. Bergeron, 40, needed a new venture, and Rivard wanted an future deals.”
ambitious partner. In 2006 Rivard moved to Bangkok to work In its first four months of sales, Apsara Valley has generated
with Bergeron, founding Hong Kong–based Oeno Wines, an more than $90,000 from its dry and dessert fruit wines. By next
importer and the parent of Apsara Valley. year, Rivard and Bergeron hope to top $500,000. That will partly
Rivard says he’s learned from his mistakes. This time, he and depend on their ability to tackle the U.S. market. They plan to
Bergeron own a controlling interest in the company. They’ve in- partner with Makiko Yamashita, a Sacramento entrepreneur who
vested less in production equipment and more in will sell the fruit wine under her own brand, Radee. But marketing
product packaging, a key component in Asia, a largely unknown beverage—and one that sounds unsophisticated
Cultur aes? where wine is often bought as a gift. Rivard to boot—at a premium price may not be easy. Sales of fruit wine
Differen has also grown used to the cultural nuances in the U.S. grew by less than 8% from 2002 to 2007, according to
ow n
To share your ing a of doing business in the region. the research firm Euromonitor International.
ce s grow
experien , please
al busine ss That knowledge proved useful in a re- “The market is tiny, and it’s hard to get money commen-
write to fsb m.
cent deal. A large South Korean importer surate with the work you put in,” says Bill Nelson, president hired Rivard and Bergeron to make a Mal- of WineAmerica, a trade group whose members include fruit
vasia grape wine in Italy. After they spent tens wineries. “Most companies aren’t able to sell fruit wine for more
of thousands of dollars on production and packag- than $10 a bottle.” Nonetheless, Apsara Valley’s owners continue
ing, and with a container loaded and ready to ship, the importer to feel bullish about the U.S. market. Says Rivard: “We just need
decided to cancel the order. The reason: a vague complaint about the wine-drinking world to open up.” *

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