Alan Kropf: Describe Riedel in three words.
Maximilian Riedel: The wine glass company.
How has being based in Austria influenced Riedel’s vision over the years?
The vision over the years has not really been influenced by the Austrian culture, but we are lucky to be in a neighborhood where we are still able to find glassmakers.
What does the term glassmaker mean to you and how did you develop yourself into becoming a glassmaker?
The term glassmaker means to me, a job. There is no school to train hand glassmakers and there is no romance about the job. There is no Hollywood that supports the idea like they have nowadays with the wine world, and so much wine is being consumed on film, but hardly any glass factories are being shown. The fact that so many glassmakers or glass companies around the world are going out of business just shows that, yes there are strong brands that are trying to survive, like Riedel, but one of the reasons is, is that there’s just not enough interest from young people to become a glassmaker. For me, a glassmaker is an artisan. Especially when you talk about handmade glasses, in every glass you will find the breath of a glassmaker, which makes the piece unique – especially with our decanters. Generally speaking, nowadays the glassmaker is more of an engineer and a technician because, I would say, ninety-nine percent of glasses that are being sold worldwide are made on a machine.
You joined the company at the age of twenty. What were you doing in the years leading up to that and was that always the plan for you?
I grew up in a very traditional family business. We were in business since 1766; I’m the 11th generation, and I was brought up as the next generation. So for me, it was always clear that one day I was going to support my father in developing and distributing the product, and I grew up with the hopes to fall into this position. In my school career I was going to boarding school; I was going to school in Europe mainly. I was going to management school and business school in Austria, because we have a small country, but we have lots of influences – especially in the hotel trade. You will find around the world a lot of GM’s coming from Austria just because the basic school knowledge in Austria is very educational. I traveled the world as a student. I was lucky to have parents that opened my eyes and always allowed me to travel around the world, to travel with them and get experience by learning and doing.
Before you took over Riedel U.S. operations, what were you doing with the company?
I was working mainly at the ad office in Austria. I was in charge of finance. I was in charge of development. I was representing the company as a sales representative. I was living in France for three years. I moved for the company to Paris where I researched and developed, and helped our local distributor build the brand and increase sales.
When you took over the U.S. operations what was your vision and your goals for the U.S. side of the business?
Typical of my father, he threw me into the cold water. So for me of course, running an operation at the age of twenty, which was back then, already a decent size, was something new. The original plan for me was to actually go to Asia, but for Asian mentality, at the age of twenty I was too young. And in America that’s one of the reasons why I love this country so much, is because you always have opportunities and no one asks you about your age. So I arrived on December 8, 2000, and I took over a small office on Long Island, which over the last couple of years I developed into the most important export market for Riedel.
Talk about running such a prominent company at such a young age, and talk about some of the opportunities and challenges that come with that.
The opportunities are of course, that you can very soon express yourself, and again, learn by doing. I had a little bit of a background; I have of course grown up in this kind of business. But to have the final word on decisions was something new for me. And of course there is always a little bit of luck in life, I was meeting the right people at the right time. The previous management that we had was completely replaced by myself. Soon I realized, three years into the venture, that the location in Long Island was not appropriate. I moved the company to New Jersey. We are now located in Edison, New Jersey, which was a big advantage to us in regards to import and distribution. Since I’ve been in charge we’ve more than quadrupled our sales. Riedel has been a brand in the United States for over thirty years. We have had an office here for over twenty-five years, but it was only in the last ten years that the brand truly started to grow and bloom. I was just here at the right time because Riedel is the wine glass company, we are surfing the success of the wine wave. More and more people are drinking wine and enjoying wine. If you talk to our partners in the bridal registry area, if it is the media or if it is the retail outlets, then Riedel is the number one brand now. Which means clearly there is the second generation of wine drinker in American for whom Riedel is brand and a must-have.
How has living in the United States changed your approach to glassware design?
I have to say that I have become really active in regards to design since I have lived in America, because I would say my very first strike success-wise was the development of Riedel O, and I would not have if I hadn’t lived back then in Hoboken in a small apartment and lived the everyday life of a New Yorker, where we don’t have much time to decant the wines, have the wines breathe or even store the wines. Everything is casual and relaxed, and I would say this was for me the key inspiration for O. At the same time it is the culinary world in New York; we have so many bars and restaurants. And meeting the right people at the right time – being influenced by them this is how I developed Riedel O. In regards to the design of my decanter; if you look at my decanters, if it is my very first design, the Connector, or my latest designs, the Swan decanter or the Face to Face decanter, or even the entire first collection that I brought to the market, which is an award winning design, I’m influenced by nature and by traveling around the world. I get inspired by objects that I see and by nature and when I travel. Then I bring it to paper and I develop it. I’m inspired mainly here in America, because this is where I spend most of my time.
How does the average U.S. wine drinker differ from the average Euro wine drinker?
Very educated. If you talk to the average wine drinker in the United States you can rest assure that people know the difference between cabernet and pinot noir, or chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. The American wine consumer is not only price savvy, but they read the right publications. They know about aging of wine. They know about decanting of wines, storage of wines, investing in wine cellars. Wine auctions are more successful in American than anywhere else in the world, which just proves that people have an eye for wine and a true pallet for the best wines made in the world.