Trialto Wine Group

Wine Lovers Making International Connections for the Canadian Market
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Forrest Lancaster

In 1997, Rick Toller purchased a troubled wine marketing and sales business with the goal of turning it around and selling it. “I was already an avid consumer,” he recalls. “But I’ve fallen in love with this company and I’m not going to sell it.”

Under Toller’s leadership, British Columbia-based Trialto Wine Group (Trialto) has grown from five employees into a national presence on the Canadian beverage scene. Now with a group of 60 devoted and knowledgeable staff members around the country, Trialto represents more than 250 wineries from across the globe.

The company represents producers from all of the major wine producing regions. “We have California, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa,” Toller lists. “We are big in Italian and French wine; we have a little German and a lot of Spanish. We also represent two domestic wineries in British Columbia and two in Ontario. Canadian wine makes up less than two percent of our overall business. By and large, we are importers, though we do have a few important domestic producers among our relationships.”

A Fine Selection

Trialto markets higher-end wine products generally retailing at $20 or more. Producers approach the company for representation. “We receive unsolicited requests at least five times a week, turning 99.5 percent away,” Toller elaborates. “We have a big book right now and we have good geographic representation. We have a solid group established and if we take on somebody new, we must be a cultural fit with the winery. Second, they should have a significant current business, which means we do not take on brand new startups. If a winery is starting from scratch, we can do it, but it is not our main focus. Third, we have to make sure a new partner does not compete with existing partners.”

The business also works with distributors. In British Columbia and Alberta, the Trialto team organizes the purchasing and logistics, as well as arranges shipping and transportation. When goods land, they end up in a bonded warehouse, where Trialto is responsible for inventory. In eastern Canada, such as the Quebec and Ontario markets, the liquor board takes care of all distribution logistics and Trialto serves as a marketing agency in the middle. To bridge the geographic gap, Trialto has physical locations in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, London and Quebec City, as well as a joint venture in Halifax to cover the Maritimes.

All in Good Taste

Toller has tasted wines from around the world, and Trialto currently represents hundreds of options for distinguished palates. With so much to choose from, it is no surprise he has a difficult time choosing a favorite. Of course, choosing a favorite wine has never been of importance. Rather, Toller holds the experiences Trialto allows him in higher regard than any other benefit of the business.

“It is truly great to be able to develop relationships around the world,” Toller explains. “This is a great lifestyle business and when I visit winery partners, I feel that I am treated like family. Of course, grapes grow in good climates, so the travel is always nice.”

The business employs a simple philosophy that meshes well with the industry: Trialto represents Wines of People, Place and Time. According to Toller, he gauges the team’s success by the company’s ability to help partners grow and to share his passion with consumers all over the country. As with any other business, profitability is important. Toller and his team keep close watch over individual markets. Still, the ability to develop a business as rewarding at Trialto has been the greatest payoff.

In the coming years, Toller and his team will continue to travel all over the world to explore new flavors and producers. The team has an expanding footprint in its national markets, helping new and familiar liquor boards, retailers and restaurateurs source, sell and market these wines. Relationships play a key role in the company’s success and Toller prioritizes building and maintaining those relationships inside and outside of the company.

Trialto is small and independent, a factor that allows the team to provide superior service and knowledge to clients. Toller has no major plans for growth and is looking ahead to organic expansion in the coming years. The business is just large enough to perform efficiently in its current market share, which is Toller’s goal. With small size and big passion, Trialto Wine Group has built a strong presence in the wine business, building strong relationships and partnerships across the world.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Cambridge Mercantile