Banker specializes in serving wineries in California’s wine country

August 22, 2023
Alison Martin in front of a series of wine barrels
Alison Martin has been helping wineries achieve their financial goals for nearly 20 years.

Understanding the wine industry and her clients’ unique needs helps Alison Martin build deep client relationships

Alison Martin has never worked at a winery, but she knows what it takes for one to prosper.

“I feel strongly that I have a good understanding of the important parts of running a winery,” Martin said. “I can identify the strengths of a business and what will make it successful.”

Understanding the wine business is crucial for Martin, who is based in California’s winery-rich Napa Valley and manages the majority of the wine industry portfolio within the Wealth, Corporate, Commercial and Institutional Banking group at U.S. Bank.

“We don’t share client names, but we work with some of the top, most well-known producers that you see in the grocery store and are cult favorites,” she said. “When we work with wineries that are doing well, we can provide them more flexible terms than our competitors, and that’s why many of the strongest wineries out there like working with us.”

A big challenge wineries can face is weather, as rainfall – too much or too little – can have a major impact on grape crops.

“We were happy it rained early in the season this year because that can cause earlier harvests and higher yields,” Martin said. “But now we need warmer weather, and the rain and cool weather we got in June was not ideal.”

Wineries are very capital-intensive businesses that have unique needs, Martin said.

“If they plant a new vineyard, it can take five years to produce quality fruit and then three or four years to make really good wine,” she said. “As their banker, we understand the working capital cycle for wineries and know that if there’s a fire or other event that wipes out a year’s harvest, the winery won’t see the effect on their revenue for a couple of years.”

While the bank has a large focus on full-service wineries that farm, produce and sell their wines, it also serves some wine importers from around the world as well as some wine industry suppliers, including cork providers, she said.

A Bay Area native

Martin’s ties to California’s wine country run deep, she said.

“I’m a Bay Area girl. I grew up here, went to Santa Clara University and live in Marin County,” Martin said.

When wildfires damaged the area in 2017, she reached out to clients and offered them a place to stay if they needed it. She also began volunteering with Providence Home and Community Care, which provides hospice and other care for people in Napa Valley, and now serves on the board of Providence’s Community Health Foundation of Napa Valley.

“It’s a great organization that touches a lot of the people who live here,” Martin said.

She joined U.S. Bank in 2014 and already had 10 years of banking experience that included time calling on wineries in the area.

“My father was a business owner and he helped guide me into banking,” she said. “I love working with companies and have been doing that my entire career.”

Martin and most of her clients are based in Northern California, but she has visited clients in Italy and Portugal, and visited other wine regions in Europe and Africa.

While Martin initially worked with companies in other industries in addition to wine when she joined U.S. Bank, she saw an opportunity for the bank to grow its winery portfolio and, over time, that became her full-time focus.

It’s a business she’s happy to focus on.

“The wine industry is about hospitality and relationships, and I love that,” she said. “I really enjoy the relationships we’ve built with our clients and the time we spend together.”

Martin said she especially likes working with entrepreneurs who have been running their business for upwards of 50 years.

“They can often see where the industry is heading four years before everyone else, and I love being brought into the fold,” she said. “Working with these visionaries and being a strategic partner is what I love the most.”

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