Tuesday, October 26

Who’s Anthony von Mandl?: Meet the billionaire who made a fortune with genre-defying alcoholic drinks

Once penniless, von Mandl’s Mike’s Hard Lemonade and White Claw Hard Seltzer beverages have added to his fortune

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When Anthony von Mandl bought his first winery in 1981, there were only 45 wineries in Canada. Today there are more than 700 and, according to the Wine Growers of Canada, it’s a $9-billion industry, with von Mandl credited as a factor behind both the growth and the elevation of Canada’s wine reputation. Von Mandl also claims to have started in the alcohol business “penniless” and today, thanks to his lucrative creation of both Mike’s Hard Lemonade and White Claw Hard Seltzer, is a multi-billionaire.


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According to the 2021 Forbes list of global billionaires, von Mandl has, as of early October, a net worth of US$7.1 billion (down from US$8.7 billion in April of this year). “I had a passion for wine, food, and adventure,” he told an audience at the Idea City conference in 2003. “And I had a dream.”

Considering his wealth and the popular products he’s developed, von Mandl is not a well-known figure in Canada. “I’m a private person,” he told his audience in 2003. “This is not a story I tell.” A spokesperson for his private, Vancouver-based company, Mark Anthony Group Inc., said its founder and CEO “does not conduct business-related media interviews.”

According to a bio on the Mark Anthony Group website, von Mandl was born in Vancouver to European parents. The family returned to Europe when he was nine years old, but von Mandl eventually came back to Canada and graduated from the University of British Columbia with an economics degree. Then 22 years old and “penniless,” von Mandl was unimpressed with the few, mediocre import wines available in BC in the early 1970s.


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Anthony von Mandl checks grape vines at his Mission Hill Winery in 1999.
Anthony von Mandl checks grape vines at his Mission Hill Winery in 1999. Photo by Jeff Vinnick/National Post files

So he apprenticed in the wine trade in Europe before attempting to become the Canadian importer for various international wineries. “Of course, no one in the industry would give a 22-year-old kid the rights to their wines,” he recalled.

His only clients were vintners “who didn’t know where Canada was or didn’t care,” and he worked out of an office in Vancouver next to a Greyhound bus station. Despite some initial success selling white wines to Canadian airlines, von Mandl got burned in Los Angeles — where he’d set up a shabby warehouse — when he delivered 80 cases of wine (using his station wagon) to a store in receivership. “I’d been had,” he recalled. “I was absolutely naïve.”

In 1981, von Mandl fulfilled his ambition of owning a winery, purchasing with partners an estate on Mission Hill in BC’s Okanagan Valley, which he viewed as “a Napa Valley with a 90-mile lake running through it.”


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“My friends thought I was crazy,” he recalled. “My competitors thought I was absolutely mad.”

Surveying his new purchase, von Mandl found it full of dirt and fruit flies. “I barely slept that night, wondering if I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.”

Anthony von Mandl at the Mission Hill Winery in 2002.
Anthony von Mandl at the Mission Hill Winery in 2002. Photo by Brian Sprout/Postmedia News files

He proceeded to add a 12-storey bell tower, blasted underground cellars out of volcanic rock, added hundreds of acres to his holdings, and greatly improved the wine. In 1994, Mission Hill Family Estate’s 1992 Grand Reserve Chardonnay won best chardonnay at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.

“That, in a big way, put the Canadian wine industry on the map,” said Dan Paszkowski, president and CEO of the Wine Growers of Canada, in an interview. “We were a very young industry at the time, and that… provided a halo effect not just for the Okanagan, but the entire Canadian wine industry… He’s showing that we can produce some of the best wines in the world, not just ice wine.”


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Mission Hill has since won international awards for best Pinot Noir in 2013 and best Canadian red in 2017, and has been voted one of the top 50 vineyards in the world.

“There are literally hundreds of thousands of different wine brands around the world. So to be in the same stratosphere as some of the best recognized estate wineries in the world in such a short period of time is really difficult to do. And he’s managed to do it,” Paszkowski added. “The investments that he’s made, the innovative techniques, and the risks that he’s taken have paid off.”

The investments that he’s made, the innovative techniques, and the risks that he’s taken have paid off

Dan Paszkowski, president and CEO, Wine Growers of Canada

Von Mandl has used the more profitable — though less cultivated — aspects of his liquor business to help fund his wine ambitions. “It’s a really tough industry,” he said. “To make a small fortune in the wine business, you have to start with a large one. I certainly didn’t have that option.”


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In 1986, he launched Corona beer in Canada. Ten years later, he created Mike’s Hard Lemonade, a beer alternative that he later said was the source of fist-fights at liquor stores in Ontario when supply dwindled. He took Mike’s Hard Lemonade to the US in 1999, and in 2015, Labatt Breweries bought the Canadian rights to the popular drink (and a few other Mark Anthony Group brands) in a US$350-million deal.

Cartons of White Claw at a store in New York City.
Cartons of White Claw at a store in New York City. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images files

More recently, he delivered another beer alternative hit: White Claw Hard Seltzer, which in the US in 2019, according to Bloomberg, outsold every craft beer and even huge brands such as Budweiser for stretches at a time.

The company has at times struggled to keep White Claw in stock. “Everything I created was an example of having to invent something new or at least put a twist on something existing,” von Mandl noted in 2003. As Bloomberg put it: “Von Mandl has since made a fortune creating genre-defying alcoholic beverages.”


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White Claw and its competitors have turned the so-called ready-to-drink category into a significant market, worth US$2 billion in 2019, up from just US$3 million in 2015, according to Euromonitor.

Von Mandl has in recent years purchased new wineries (he now owns five in Canada, according to Forbes), and is investing in a facility in Arizona to boost production of White Claw and other ready-to-drink products.

Back in 2003, von Mandl said he sometimes rises before dawn, leaves his house at Mission Hill, just below the winery, and starts walking. “I walk up Mission Hill and I go through the entry arch, and I walk through the piazza, and I climb the stairs of the bell tower,” he said. “And I wait for the sunrise. And I reflect on what I’ve achieved over the years, and where I’ve been and where we’re going and what lies in the future.”

Financial Post



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