Expert Advice On How to Successfully Build a Wine Business

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ForceBrands Decanter: Opening Up the Conversation

ForceBrands is the consumer product industry’s leading recruiting and staffing firm. Each month, the company’s leading recruiters share insider advice and insights about the wine world.

Ryan Marcus is an Executive Recruiter at ForceBrands who sources great talent to add value and sustainable growth to companies across the wine, spirits, and beer industries. His passion for and expertise in the wine world makes him our go-to recruiter for this month’s topic: how to build a wine business through hiring strategic talent.

For some, starting a winery is a dream job – a labor of love. But it takes a lot more than just growing great grapes. Read on to learn more about how to successfully build a wine business from the ground up from a recruiter’s perspective.

ForceBrands: Every great business starts with people. How do you go about hiring not just a great winemaker, but the right one?
Ryan Marcus: A winemaker becomes the centerpiece of the brand. They’re highly skilled – they understand the whole production process from the vines all the way to the bottle. It’s important to remember that everything is interconnected in a winery so having a winemaker with a vast skill set is key. And as far as finding the right fit, you have to consider the values of the organization. If you don’t have set values, it’s going to be difficult to find someone who will be the right fit for the role.

FB: Aside from a great winemaker, what are some of the most fundamental keys to success that cannot be overlooked when starting a winery from the ground up?
RM: Some success factors include great bottle design, a strong consumer following, brand loyalty, and an established commercially savvy sales and marketing professional. They have the ability and level of sophistication required to sell at the national level. Precise vineyard management is another key to success, as well as having a well-run tasting room. And finally, a winery’s ability to price the bottle correctly based on what consumers are paying for is key.

FB: Mind providing some examples of wineries that have benefited from these factors you just mentioned?
RM: Sure. Opus One is a great example of a winery with precise vineyard management. They’re so scientific about how they make the wine and they’ve gotten recognized for it – they’re known for their craftsmanship. As far as pricing the wine correctly, Hanzell is a winery in Sonoma that makes great Chardonnay and Pinor Noir. They recently released “Sebella,” a wine that’s 30-40 percent lower in price than their Chardonnay. It’s a great way to sample wines at a price an average consumer can afford.

FB: You mentioned tasting rooms are an important factor for growing a successful business. Mind elaborating and offering an example on this?
RM: Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, N.Y., is a great example. They have a well-run tasting room with a highly educated staff. It’s a huge value add because it’s less about marketing spend today and more about experience – experience is definitely on trend these days.

FB: Millennials are certainly an experience-driven generation. And they’re big wine drinkers, too. According to new research from the industry nonprofit Wine Market Council, Millennials drank 42 percent of all wine in the U.S. in 2015. How are they shaping the wine world?
RM: Millennials are all about enjoying experiences and they are willing to pay a premium for that. When you open up a bottle of wine, that’s an experience in itself. We’re more connected today and curious about exploring different cultures, and wine is a great medium to do so. There’s also an obsession with food and luxury among Millennials. People are entering at the premium end of the price spectrum and then moving up the luxury ladder. Lastly, Millennials care about what they’re putting in their bodies. Most people are more educated today about what goes into the products they consume.

FB: Let’s chat failure. Why do some great wine brands fail? What are some notable things they’re doing wrong?
RM: Wineries fail because they fail to get the right people on their team at the right time. If you don’t have the right personnel then it’s going to be challenging. I’m a fan of wineries that have a few key leaders. Having strategic senior leadership in place who directly support the personnel on the ground floor – who are aligned on the values of the organization, what kind of wine they want to make and how they want it to be consumed in the marketplace – is a winning formula. Of the things you can control, I think people are the most important.

FB: Sounds like having a great team is paramount to growing a successful winery.
RM: It is. And you really have to enjoy it if you want to start a winery. Getting that grape to the bottle is a long, arduous process. You have to be dedicated. It takes a lot of grit and it’s really challenging.

FB: We have to ask; do you have a favorite wine?
RM: My favorite wine doesn’t necessarily exist separate from an experience that is tied to it. I don’t care about labels and all of that. I care about what experience you’re trying to derive from the wine you are drinking.

FB: What wine would you bring on an autumn afternoon picnic?
RM: Fall hits and for some reason I love drinking wine from Sonoma. It has some of the most diverse terroir of any wine growing region in the world. You never know what you’re going to get. I like the surprise that comes from there and I’m really impressed with a lot of wines coming out of Sonoma right now. I would bring a bottle of Pinot Noir from the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA to a fall picnic.

FB: And lastly, are there any winemakers you admire?
RM: Absolutely. Fred Scherrer, who is the driving force behind Scherrer Winery in California, has been making wine since he was a teenager. He’s built his own wine-making equipment and makes wine of the highest quality and care.

Published on September 7, 2017


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