Don’t tell David Biggar that personal relationships in business are meaningless, as a former boss of his once did. His philosophy at Vintage Point is just the opposite: “Create a company where relationships mean everything.”
The 53-year-old industry veteran prefers to work with small, family-run wineries at his national sales company so that he can get to know them and their concerns. He’d rather meet clients over a pool table and a bottle of wine than in some boardroom.
“To me, he’s like an old friend I admire. We speak the same language,” says Michael Moone, chairman of Luna Vineyards and co-founder/partner of Moone-Tsai Wines, both of which are in Sonoma-based Vintage Point’s 19-brand portfolio.
When Mark Albrecht was looking for a sales rep for Educated Guess, a brand under his Roots Run Deep Winery, “Everyone I talked to about David spoke so positively,” he says. “It was on a personal level. People liked to be around him.”
Not everybody can successfully transition from a senior position at a big company to a small startup. But Biggar did it in 2006, when he abruptly quit Foster’s Group Ltd., parent company to Beringer Vineyards, after 20 years in sales and marketing.
“The culture of Beringer was rapidly changing,” Biggar says, “and a lot of good people were leaving. I felt there was a void for these smaller wineries for a sales agency that employed a lot of talent.”
One of those “good people” was Tom Peterson, now Biggar’s partner. Peterson had been making wine in California since the late ’70s, including 18 years with Beringer. Together, Peterson and Biggar started a company, “that would offer all the services of a big sales and marketing company to new and emerging brands.”
“If you’re going to start up something against big obstacles, you want David on your side,” Peterson says. Peterson cites Biggar’s actions upon learning that a Spanish producer had just left its previous sales company.
“David called them that very day,” Peterson says. He followed up with e-mails in Spanish, resorting to Google Translate. So persistent was Biggar that Lo Nuevo eventually signed with Vintage Point.
It was a classic example of what Moone calls “David’s entrepreneurial spirit and fight.” It also illustrates what Jayson Woodbridge, winemaker-owner of Hundred Acre, Cherry Pie and Layer Cake, calls Biggar’s “concierge ability: He gets the job done in a friendly, nonconfrontational way.”
Vintage Point’s success can objectively be measured by its numbers. In 2006, the company shipped 48,606 cases; this year, Vintage Point estimates to surpass 600,000 cases in sales, amazing considering that the company formed just as the global economic crisis kicked into gear.
The relatively small size of Vintage Point’s portfolio, with many of its wineries having only one or two offerings, makes it even easier for the sales force to give each client TLC.
For Vintage Point’s success story and for Biggar’s “relationships-are-back” optimism, Wine Enthusiast names David Biggar our Innovator of the Year.