by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
I think we are finally getting to the point where we are going to be opening our winery and tasting doors soon. We had our final building inspection on Thursday and more or less passed. A few loose ends but nothing that we shouldn’t be able to take care of in a few days.
Of course, the list of things that we need to address seems endless. Our facility is, to put it as graciously as possible, basic. Four walls, a ceiling, and a concrete floor. Our main furnishings are macro bins, a destemmer/crusher, and a wine tank. We do have some furniture and a trestle table which is going to be our tasting bar, but there is certainly going to be no mistaking us for a high-end Napa destination.
So we are going to need to sink or swim on the quality of our product and what I hope will be our customers’ perception, real enough, of our commitment to what we are doing.
But there is no question that as you try to push forward with what you really want to do, you are constantly fighting a myriad of distractions which must be dealt with whether you want to deal with them or not.
Our latest, and hopefully final, delay, was due to the fact that the pathway to our adjoining office mate did not meet ADA requirements. It had to be 4 feet wide, which it was. However, you are only allowed a 4 inch intrusion into that 4 foot wide path. Unfortunately, the Pacific Gas and Electric meter sticks out 7 inches, or 3 inches too much. So the pathway needed to be widened. That cost us a week. And so it goes.
We have not acquired a forklift yet, which requires that our wine be delivered by a truck with a liftgate. Only our warehouse doesn’t have a liftgate truck. So we need to find a transporter who has one. Not that big of a deal, but another few hours finding somebody, getting a quote, haggling over the price (to no avail), and making arrangements. So I think everything is on track for our wine to arrive on Wednesday, but if there’s a slip up then that will push our opening back some number of days more.
Every item is like that. Every item that you need turns into a mini project. The printer that you need to print out receipts doesn’t just magically appear. It needs to be selected, matched to the other equipment, priced, purchased, transported… You get the idea.
I purchased a number of items a while ago on the assumption (delusional) that we were about to open. I had been kicking myself for buying these things prematurely, but now I am glad that I did since it checked those items off of my list of things that need to be done now. I have $1000 glassware that’s been sitting around since January. It’s has been bugging the hell out of me for six months, but now all of a sudden seems like a gift from heaven.
I am certainly feeling like I wish I had the resources of a larger winery that could simply hire somebody who knew what they were doing when it comes to starting a tasting room. I’ve read what I can, but still feel like reading cannot substitute for experience. My partner actually started a tasting room once, but never really operated one, but that still puts him a leg up on me.
I am sure that we will learn by trial and error, which is not the best way, but that’s how it’s going to need to be. But there is no question that one could easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars getting a tasting room going. Having been to several in Napa Valley, I am sure the tab was in the millions. Of course, those tasting rooms are in a totally different league than us. They need to do numbers that we could only dream of just to survive.
At any rate, after all this time, at least we will get a thumbs up or thumbs down. I am certainly hopeful, although I have little doubt that it will be a rocky road, especially at first.
But I do believe that what we are doing represents the future, if there is one, for the small winery. Unless the small winery has already established national or regional distribution, it has very little hope of doing so going forward. Even if it should succeed, it will be the rare winery that can move enough product at sufficient prices to make a reasonable return. And even if they do, as time goes on, the environment is going to become more and more challenging as distributors become larger and larger, the smaller distributors either are bought out by the larger ones or fail, and the larger distributors become less and less interested in the small volumes that a small winery produces.
Of course, the volume of wine that can be sold through a tasting room means that a small winery must be truly small. But at least, on paper, the winery can keep a significant portion of the retail sales price of what a bottle of wine sells for. That cannot be said for a bottle of wine that sells through the national distribution system. So Direct To Consumer is really the way of the future, and probably the only way of the future, for the small winery.
At any rate, stay tuned.