Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Do Your New Year’s Resolutions Include Starting a Winery?

With the new year comes New Year’s resolutions – a chance to change what you didn’t like about the past year, and to focus on new personal growth, a new job, or new, exciting plans for the future.

Maybe this will be the year you get to travel; to move into the type of home you’ve always wanted, have the chance to start a family, begin a new career, or become your own boss. I was thinking of resolutions and new starts when I stumbled upon several websites encouraging people to start their own wineries with phrases like “Romantic endeavor”, “Exciting business”, “Become a wine expert”, “Rewarding lifestyle”.

Now, don’t get me wrong – being a winery owner can be romantic, exciting, and rewarding, as these sites suggests; but it can also be time-consuming, full of mountains of paperwork and forms, (TTB, state, and county tax paperwork that needs filed every month, every quarter, and every year.) And, if you’re thinking this is a way to make quick, easy money, keep in mind the old adage; “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?  Start with a large one.” 

While I love dealing with the customers, teaching those new to wine the basics of tasting, and helping them find what they like; owning a winery is not all a chilled glass of well-oaked Chardonnay.  You’ll be investing your time, your money, and your life in this endeavor - for years.

If you want to own a winery so that you can drink all of the ‘free’ wine you want, (Yes, I’ve actually heard this!)  – This is sooo not the industry for you.  You, as a winery owner, should be setting an example by not drinking too much.  And there is no such thing as free wine – it all must be accounted for to the TTB, and other agencies; even the wine that you loose, dump, or pour out.

If you don’t like writing and doing paperwork, don’t consider owning a winery. Besides the above-mentioned alcohol agencies and their various tax forms, you’ll be filling for licenses for the federal, state, and possibly county or city/township level.  You’ll also have the USDA Census of Agriculture to complete, plus various state agriculture and wine surveys to fill out.  You’ll need to keep up-to-date tasting notes for your bar. Then there’s the marketing aspect of writing press releases on awards won, and how your wines and winery are faring in the wine industry, in general.  There’s also newsletters/wine club letters to write, social media to keep current, and your winery's wine blog that keeps in touch with your customers, and potential customers.

Please remember, this in NOT the business to get into to meet (fill in the blank)…. cool dudes, hot chicks, the rich and famous…  Believe it or not, this is a service business, just like a restaurant or a package delivery service. If you’re not here because you have a passion for wine and want to share it – Keep looking, there’s something else out there for you.

If you just love the ‘atmosphere’ of a winery – make sure you really understand what that atmosphere entails by volunteering at other wineries.  Yes - volunteering.  Find out if you really do love the real life-style.  Offer to learn everything you can, and remember, no job is too menial for you to do if you’re serious about owning a winery.  Learn how to clean tanks, help on the bottling line, sweep the floors, crush grapes, order for the tasting room, work the bar, organize winery events, and yes, scrub the bathrooms.  Those are all jobs you can, and usually do, end up doing when it’s yours.

Now for the basic questions –
*  What types of wine do you want to craft?
* Do you know who your competition will be?
* What kind of winery do you want?  A winery with a vineyard - A retail winery - A winery with a restaurant?
* Will you be the winemaker, or do you have someone in mind? Do you know anything about making wine?  If not…
* Do you know how much it costs to hire a good winemaker?
* Will you do your own marketing?  Do you understand the necessity of marketing this business?
* Are you going to lease or buy the equipment?
* Will you hire employees, or contract labor, as needed?
* Do you plan to have your wines distributed to wine shops, grocery stores, and liquor marts for retail sales there? Do you know how to go about this?

There are hundreds more questions to consider, but you get the idea – this isn’t a business where you say, “I can do that, it sounds like fun,” without A LOT of serious thought.

And remember, when owning a winery – location is everything!  You need traffic to sell that wine – foot traffic, drive-by traffic, local traffic, tourist traffic, holiday traffic. Feet in the door equal money in the till.

If you’re serious, owning a winery can be one of the most interesting and exciting jobs in the world.  But start by learning the ropes.  Then find out who’s who in the industry at large, in your state, even in your city.  Join your state’s wine association and attend their meetings and annual conference.  Look for the national wine conferences also, like the Eastern Winery Exposition, and the Midwest Grape & Wine Conference,  You’ll attend some great lectures, get a chance to ask questions, visit with exhibitors, and meet others who share your interest in wine, who can offer advice and suggestions.

And, these are just a few things to think about; we haven’t even touched on owning a vineyard (or getting your wines into distribution!)

Do your research.  Read up on the industry, and base your decisions on actual wine business statistics, advice from those in the industry, and in the end, your gut. YOU know if this is the right business for you.

Robert Mondavi said it best in his autobiography, Harvests of Joy:
Wine to me is passion.  It's family and friends.  It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.  Wine is art.  It's culture.  It's the essence of civilization and the art of living.”

May you have a Happy New Year, and attain your dreams in 2013!!

~ Joy