The real North Pole is in Napa Valley
Yeah, the holidays. The wonderful time of the year when we force ourselves to have conversations with family and artificially act like we care. Other than hearing the occasional entertaining tale about a cousin sleeping with his secretary, most stories are a dud.
But, thank God we have booze to get through it!
Alcohol aficionados like to point out the celebratory mood of many as being the reason for a pop in consumption as we close out the year; and that may very well be. But one thing is for certain: Regardless of the reasons, people love to drink during the holidays, and wine seems to be the beverage of choice.
For example, in the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, wine sales increased by 67 percent. But for wines priced between $15 and $20, wine sales more than doubled. And, for the fine quality bottles priced greater than $20, sales nearly tripled.
In other words, not only did consumers purchase more wine, but they go for the fancy stuff.
All of these good times equates to big bucks for the wine industry—some $8 billion in revenue of good times. No wonder the likes of Starbucks, Amazon and Facebook Gifts are now getting into the space.
Investors looking to take part in the profits, rather than contribute to them, are seeking ideas. Here are a few notable names to consider for your wine portfolio.
First up is Constellation Brands. Sure, the name doesn't exactly spew wine, but Constellation is home to some of Napa's more popular labels: Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Blackstone, Estancia, and Ravenswood — and it happens to be the world's leading wine producer.
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Shareholders of Constellation have been celebrating in earnest this year as STZ is up an eye-popping 100 percent year-to-date. And, with the company reporting earnings on Monday, it's safe to assume forward guidance is going to be very optimistic particularly because over the next five years the company is expected to increase earnings by 25 percent—per year!
One would have to assume with the annual increase in wine sales and extreme healthy margins of 50 percent, Constellation's best days are ahead of it.
On Constellation's heels, however, is Brown-Forman, which reported blockbuster earnings before the bell today. The company had a 7 percent year-to-date increase in underlying net sales, while maintaining its full-year growth outlook. And despite selling Fetzer Vineyards in 2011, the home of Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort remains a huge wine producer, showcasing notable wine brand Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards.
Sonoma-Cutrer saw its underlying net sales grow in the mid-single digits as the wine continued to enjoy strong brand loyalty and pricing power as the No. 1 selling super-premium chardonnay.
Brown-Forman is expecting significantly higher demand for its wine brand in 2014. So much demand that the company increased capital expenditures of $39 million in 2011 to $95 million in fiscal 2013 to help complete its capacity expansion of Sonoma-Cutrer.
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Realizing its main brand, Jack Daniels whiskey, continues to be a hot seller in North America, the company is clearly anticipating rapid growth in other key brands, such as Sonoma-Cutrer, in emerging markets. Wine is considered to be in hyper-growth mode at Brown-Forman.
A smaller player in the wine space is Diageo, which offers wines from Sterling Vineyards and Beaulieu Vineyard. The company's exposure is minimal compared to Constellation and Brown-Forman. Diageo's wine brands only represent 4 percent of net sales, however, the bulk of these sales are occurring in emerging markets.
And it's because of this exposure to underdeveloped regions that makes Diageo somewhat recession-proof. The company's 38 percent profit margin is healthy and continues to expand. Add in the solid 3-percent dividend, and wine lovers may be pleased with this growth story.
So, there you have it folks. The holidays are great for many, but even better for wine lovers. And, as Santa likes to say: "Pour more wine and drink your beer, Christmas comes but once a year."
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— By Todd M. Schoenberger
Disclosure: The author does not own any positions in the stocks mentioned in the article, but will most likely partake in the consumption statistics.
Todd M. Schoenberger is the founder and managing partner of LandColt Capital LP, and serves as Portfolio Manager of the LandColt Onshore and Offshore Funds. Follow him on Twitter @TMSchoenberger.