Sharing the Bernardus Throne
As Bernardus Winery continues to flourish in lush Carmel Valley, Ben Pon has been preparing for the winery’s future. Robert van der Wallen, founder of Brand Loyalty, has recently taken 50 percent interest in the vineyards that Ben Pon built in the valley. He has also taken the remaining 50 percent interest of the winery, which goes under the name Baylaurel Corporation.
“For me it was one of the conditions that Ben continues to lead the business and that I gradually get a sense of this business,“ says Van der Wallen. Ben (short for Bernardus) Pon, now 80 years old, is descendant of the eponymous car family, and remains closely involved as co-owner of Bernardus wines.
Many people on the Monterey Peninsula know Pon as a former race car driver turned wine enthusiast. In the Netherlands, he’s known as a former race car driver and importer of Porsche cars. Bernardus Winery was born more than a quarter of a century ago, on the advice of his American dentist, who invested in wine himself.
Since then, the winery has grown into a company that supports 20 employees and a production of 50,000 cases of wine each year, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. Baylaurel Corporation produces its often-exclusive wines especially for the US and exports one fifth of the wines to the Netherlands. Pon met Van der Wallen via Hemingway Corporate Finance in Amsterdam. Since he has no succession in his own family, Pon had been searching for a suitable candidate who could continue his life's work.
"It's a kind of baby to me. I have built it from scratch in 26 years,” says Pon, who spends about four to five months a year on the vineyard and is still closely involved in production and sales. "I'm glad I found this partner now."
Since the sale of Brand Loyalty at the end of 2013, Van der Wallen has bcome a more active investor, through his own investment company, Opportunity Partners. He is also involved in the investment firm, Parcom. He considers his participation in the wine business as a long-term value.
"Ben bought a future with this transaction, I bought the history."
Van der Wallen wants to grow slowly in the trade of wine producer. With his own knowledge and experience in marketing and data analysis, the entrepreneur also thinks he can further develop and expand the Bernardus brand. "But do not expect revolutionary things. There will be an evolution," he says. A (not-so) secret dream of Vander Wallen is to develop another Hubertus wine to Bernardus, referring to his official first name. "That would be nice." Across the pond, Bernardus has developed a new 18-hole golf course in the Netherlands. The namesake course includes a hotel, swimming pool, tennis court, and restaurant named Noble Kitchen. Together, Pon and Van Der Wallen are giving Bernardus the royal treatment.