HOMBRE Exclusive: CEO Carlos Varela Guides 300 Year Old French Winemaker Barton & Guestier To Record U.S. Growth

09 Jan 2023 by Francisco Romeo in Advice, Celebrities, Cuisine, Event, Fame, Film, Films, General, Home, Money, Music, Pleasure, Power, Products, Profile

Barton & Guestier is the oldest winehouse of Bordeaux with three centuries of winemaking history and award-winning wines. Leading the growth for BGPL USA in the United States is Colombian born, French national Carlos Varela. Under his guidance the company continues to lead the way with new innovations destined to keep it profitable while expanding market share. We sat down with the vibrant Miami based executive to discuss the future of the company, and his advice on climbing the corporate ladder – from intern to CEO.

As importer and marketer of its parent companies and respected French wineries BGPL USA offers a comprehensive portfolio of French wines for the US market. Each winehouse strongly believes in the importance of sustaining and improving the earth for the present and future generations. 


Barton & Guestier is the oldest wine house in Bordeaux with 300 years of history. Distributed in over 130 countries, B&G was the first imported French wine brand in the US and was recommended by Thomas Jefferson himself.

Patriarche is a prestigious Burgundy wine house founded in 1780, and a sparkling wine (non-champagne) pioneer since the ’50s. Today, it’s a key player and leader globally, especially with the brand Veuve du Vernay, #1 French Sparkling in the US.

Listel is the emblematic French rose brand, and #1 selling rose in France. An incomparable brand with a century-old history, the vines grow in a unique environment surrounded by the sea and populated by exceptional biodiversity.

These historic French winehouses embody centuries of winemaking passion and a strong heritage, combining tradition and innovation. They represent the rich diversity that French wines can offer to please all palates, from the beginner to connoisseur.

Carlos Varela, CEO, BGPL USA

Varela was born in Colombia and grew up in Grenoble, the gateway of the Alpes, which did not predestine him to a career in the wine industry. He entered into the business of wine coincidentally as he was studying international business law and training in Shanghai during the summer of 2005. 

After completing his Master’s degree in a triple major (Business Law, English, and Spanish) in Scotland, he then decided to learn more about the wine business and wine culture in the region regarded by most as the wine capital of the world. While attending his master’s in Wine & Spirit Business Management in Bordeaux, Varela had the opportunity to meet the General Manager of Barton & Guestier, and one conversation led to another. He started as a trainee in the Marketing department of the oldest wine merchant in Bordeaux.

He worked his way up through the ranks to the position of Chief Executive Officer of BGPL USA, US importer and distributor for its parent company’s portfolio, namely Barton & Guestier, Patriarche and Listel wine houses.

HOMBRE: What is a typical day for you, is there such a thing?
Carlos Varela: I’m the father of three boys and that keeps me quite busy. I’m also the CEO of BGPL USA. BG stands for Barton & Guestier, P for Patriarche, and L for Listel, the three wineries we represent and the three parent companies which are part of the same group. We are their import subsidiary in the US. I manage a team of twenty people to run the subsidiary. We have the head office in North Miami, and sales teams spread across Florida, New Jersey, New York, New England, Boston, the midwest, and California as well. We have brokers in Texas and Oklahoma so that’s ten people in the sales office and ten people spread across the USA as part of the sales team organization. It’s a lot of calls in different time schedules, starting the day on the East Coast, finishing the day on the West Coast. I’m the CEO but also the head of Sales so I’m involved in the day to day sales operations of the business. 

H: Where do you spend most of your time?
CV: I spend most of my time in Miami but travel quite a bit. Pre Pandemic I would travel three weeks out of four on average, now it’s down to one week every two months. It accelerates towards the end of the year as that is our busiest time. Between September and December we will do close to 65-70 percent of our sales. That requires being in the markets in support of our sales team, customers, restaurants, retailers, you have to meet with them.

H: What makes a company last 300 years?
CV: It’s a very good question. The reasons that make the company successful in the first place is to retain the core spirit and the core values throughout its history. The founders Mr. Barton and Mr. Guestier were real innovators. Mr. Barton became one of the most successful merchants in Bordeaux and he teamed up with Mr. Guestier to expand the network of sales. Both families developed the business together but they didn’t stay only in Bordeaux. They extended it to other regions in France. Very fast they were making wine in the Loire Valley, Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, and in Provence. 
We presented these appellations and the diversity of French wines from early on in the history of the company and that has remained something unique about Barton & Guestier.

H: What makes the brand special?
CV: It’s a brand that helps consumers discover the greatness of French wines, of the different wine regions. Mr. Barton was the first to own his own vineyard to maintain the quality of its wine back in the early 18th century. This spirit of innovation, bringing innovation to our customers, and expanding into new regions, new offerings it’s something that has allowed the company to remain in business.
The company is older than America. We were selling wines here before 1776.

H: Which wines would you recommend to introduce someone to the brand?
CV: I would start in Bordeaux, not only because this is the origin of the company but also because Bordeaux right now is producing amazing wines at an amazing value. Wines that break with the preconceived ideas. People think Bordeaux are luxurious wines but there are everyday Bordeaux. We produce blends with a lot of character with great qualities, very easy to drink, very easy to like and I would start there.

Bordeaux blends which are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the reds, and for the whites, Sauvignon Blanc. These are wines that are very popular here and have great variety.

These are two wines in our portfolio, the Bordeaux Red and the Bordeaux White that are experiencing great success here. They’re easy, they’re approachable, even if someone doesn’t know wines they will be surprised at how easy to enjoy they are.

H: What would you recommend from the Loire Valley? I’m a fan of that region.
CV: Our best selling wine in the US is from the Loire Valley, it’s a Vouvray. It’s not dry, slightly sweet and also the best selling Vouvray in the country. It’s 100 percent chenin blanc as well, it pairs perfectly with poultry, with good goat cheese, with summer salads. And of course the appellation everyone is after right now is Sancerre. We’ve been running out of it in the States.

H: What is the secret to make a great wine?
CV: It’s many components. The terroir in France has the three elements. The soil and the climate is what nature gives you and the third element is the  human element which is the team that will make the wine and take care of the vineyards all year round. When these three elements are in sync you have success.

H: What is the brand doing with regards to sustainability?
CV: The chateau in France is located in a natural reserve. From the day we settled there we understood that we have to take good care of the field and be very careful on the way we impact our environment. We’ve been sensitive to that and in the last ten years we’ve engaged in getting an HEV certification, which stands for High Environmental Value. This is a certification you get when you don’t use pesticides, and you have minimum impact in the environment, there regulations to the water waste, also to the carbon footprint in the way we work the bottling. This certification has crowned all the efforts of Barton & Guestier.
Apart from that we extended this certification to other wines outside the chateau in Bordeaux and outside the region.
We’ve also been working to move to a lighter glass bottle which has a lesser impact on the environment. 

H: How do you go from trainee to CEO?
CV: I joined the company in 2007. I was born in Colombia, very far from any wine region and moved to France when I was 3 years old. I grew up in France and was introduced to wines and French gastronomy.
I was studying law and traveled to China and by chance I started to work for a wine importer and became interested. I was looking for an internship in business law and found one in selling wines.
I finished my Masters in International Business Law and said I want to know more about wines. So I went to Bordeaux and attended another Master Degree in Wine and Spirits Business Management. One of the founders of that degree was the GM of Barton & Guestier and we started to talk. I joined as an intern and started to work with my current boss Mr. Philippe Marion, he was head of sales at the time.
We continued to work together and he kept sending me to different countries. After being an intern I was Brand Ambassador for the Irish market based in Dublin for two years, then he recruited me back as manager for Ireland, the UK and part of Asia.
Then I stayed seven years in Asia to grow the market there. And then I met my wife, had two kids and wanted a new change, a new challenge. There was the opportunity to join the team here in the US. The head of the US was going to retire, I joined the team as COO in charge of Sales and Marketing, and then I rolled into his role of CEO, that was three years ago.

H: To what do you attribute your success?
CV: It’s about hard work, and being passionate for what you do. Everybody at Barton & Guestier really shares the same values, sharing that passion for not only the wine, but the ‘arte de vivre.’ That appreciation of fine wine and fine food and also the love to share it.
That is very important and something I’ve been an ambassador to in different countries around the world and something that is very well received. Any culture is very appreciative of that. And also everyone wants to learn. Education has been a big part of the values of B&G and what I try to do for B&G in different parts around the world.
My values align with Barton & Guestier since day one so I’ve been passionate to work with this company and they seem to be happy.

H: What’s the most challenging part of your business?
CV: From a business point of view the cost of doing business is rising and sometimes at a higher rate. The hardest thing right now is to try to get over this inflationary pressure while growing our business and continuing to invest to promote our brands.

H: What is the best part?
CV: The best part is to have the opportunity to travel around the US as I’ve done around the world in the past and share that passion for French wines and French gastronomy. And to have the opportunity to meet people from different parts and different backgrounds.

H: What advice can you offer for someone to climb the corporate ladder?
CV: I would say you have to be humble. In work you don’t always start by doing what you want to do but you have to be passionate and you have to take what you’ve been given in terms of opportunities. That’s something that helped me to be successful.
To try to not be in a hurry, to be humble and learn as much as possible.
I’ve been passionate and every two years I’ve been given a further step and the opportunity to do different things. I didn’t know that this job would lead me back to the US but I remember when I finished my internship I wanted to go to the US. It was the number one market for the company, the number one market for wines in the world, so I wanted to go to the US. But it wasn’t the time.
I was given the opportunity to work in different markets and I didn’t know that would lead me back to the US where I wanted to be.

H: How do you see the company evolving?
CV: We want to increase our footprint in the US, we have our main brand the Veuve de Vernay– which is a sparkling brand made in Burgundy. The consumer here would say it’s champagne. That’s our most successful brand and is growing double digits for the last five years, and we are putting more resources behind, investing more, trying to get more visibility from consumers.
The sparkling category has driven sales for the company, sparkling wine is not only about celebrating but it’s a moment to relax. This is very important for the future of the company. I hope we are going to increase our share of the sparkling wine category in the US.

In the development of new products we just launched an Organic Sparkling made with organically grown grapes. That’s something interesting for the future because consumers are paying more attention when it comes to wine and choosing organic products and choosing to pay more for that.
We also launched a Non-Alcoholic product. There’s a higher share of the population that is not drinking or drinking less and choosing low or non-alcoholic products and in the future I think it’ll become more and more important.
We are paying attention because we have to have something for everyone.

H: Do you ever miss a career in law?
CV: Not really, no. (laughs) 


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