'Fiscal Cliff' Watered Down Booze Sales: Constellation CEO

The CEO behind such booze brands as Corona, Svedka and Manischewitz said Wednesday that a late-2012 slowdown was likely attributable to "fiscal cliff" blues.

"The growth rate slowed a bit in the fourth quarter ... probably due to fiscal cliff woes," said Rob Sands, chief of Constellation Brands, on the heels of an earnings report that beat Wall Street estimates.

The alcoholic beverage industry is famously insensitive to the vagaries of the larger economy, but, Sands said, "The fiscal cliff was more than the economy; it was a very specific set of circumstances at a specific point in time."

"Retail in general (suffered)," he told CNBC's "Closing Bell." "People were just not out and about as much."

Constellation is making big moves in the U.S. beer market by finishing acquiring Crown Imports, the company's joint venture with Grupo Modelo. The $1.85 billion deal, which Sands expects to complete in the first quarter, will get the company U.S. distribution of Corona, the best-selling imported beer.

Sands said sales grew 9 percent in the third quarter, helped by the acquisition of Mark West, which makes the top-selling pinot noir, he said.

Wine margins are up, he added, thanks to increased sales of premium products — a trend he expects to continue.

Investors may have been put off by the soft holiday sales, as Constellation shares closed down 0.7 percent for the day on Wednesday. They're up more than 80 percent from a year ago.

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