So, I came home in 2008 and began classes for winemaking but was so eager to get working that I left and worked my first harvest in the spring of 2008 in New Zealand. Hands-on was the kind of learning that I did best with this endeavor. So I continued working two harvests per year, took winemaking classes between harvests, and started doing other things in the industry to fill in gaps in my education. I knew I wanted to own a winery. And I wanted it to be successful.
To learn about direct-to-consumer sales, I managed the tasting room at The Eyrie Vineyards. I also learned so much about winemaking in Oregon, the history of Oregon wine, and other ideological things about wine when I was there.
I worked harvest and in cellars for about nine different wineries, learning something different from each one. I sold barrels, covering the Pacific Northwest for a Bordeaux cooperage and learning a ton about how wood interacts with wine, élevage times, and varietal differences. I waited tables at fine dining restaurants and learned what motivated customers to select bottles, how to guide them, how to pair with their dinners, and other aspects of front-of-house beverage service. I ran a wine program at another restaurant–tasting, buying, selling, and training staff.
It was all really a very good education. I did every bit of it with the goal in mind of applying what I was learning to my own brand and business. I wrote a business plan and a 10-year projected budget for exactly the business I have today.
One night, when my first vintage was in barrel and I was working four jobs to pay for my second vintage, I was waiting tables and the diners saw my grapevine tattoo and asked me about it. Over the course of their dinner, I told them pretty much everything I just told you. By the end of their dinner, the gentleman put down his napkin, leaned back and said, “I’m going to back you!”
I was cautious at first about what he meant by that. I didn’t think he knew what it meant to back a winery. It is a very expensive thing to do. But I met with them later in the week and decided to present the “big version” of the business plan to them, with all of the bells and whistles. I figured if it scared them off , then they weren’t the right people. It didn’t scare them off, and they helped me to first grow my business (to 3,000 cases by my third year, and to about 6,000 cases presently).
Then in 2015 the gentleman said to me, “Well you grew the business, now let’s find a building!” When someone says something like that, you don’t ask questions–you hustle and go find a building. So we bought a warehouse (a former vitamin production facility) in the heart of wine country in July of 2015. By August of 2015, we had remodeled production space, had licensing, and [had] brought our first fruit into the building.