Most small wineries don’t start out by defining their purpose. Typically, you make some wine in a trash can in your garage, then pour it for your friends and they say “Hey, this is really good. You should open up a winery!” So away you go.
But making good wine, while necessary, is not sufficient reason to go commercial. Running a winery and selling wine is astonishingly complex and all-consuming. To survive and thrive, it is essential to boil down to a few memorable words what you are committed to.
From these few words flows everything you do from the grapes you plant to the styles you make to label designs to website design to marketing strategies.
Who are you making wine for? This is a personal choice. You may want to make dry reds to rival Bordeaux and impress the sommeliers of Manhattan. You may want to make sweet wines for the local tourists to enjoy at your music festivals. I have a client whose only market is ice fishermen, another whose passion is to make Rioja-style wines from wild blueberries, another who is committed to bringing back 19th Century heirloom varieties.
Unless you narrow your focus and clearly define your passion, you will be constantly torn in all directions. You need to be able to reply with clarity “That’s just not what we do.”
Let’s start with the one thing you vision must not be. Can you guess?
Your vision must not be to compete with national brands like Kendall-Jackson and Robert Mondavi. They will eat you alive. If you must make Chardonnay, make it differently than the standard.
In their classic book, Blue Ocean Strategy, Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne coined the terms ’red ocean’ and ‘blue ocean’ to describe the market universe. Your vision needs to be unique – something no one else is doing or would even want to do.
I make sulfite-free Cabernet Franc aged in 20-year-old French oak for six years and “Faux Chablis” from Napa Valley Chardonnay that ages 15 years before release! Nobody else wants to do that, thus I have cornered the market.
If you’re making 2,000 cases of wine, you need about 4,000 people who appreciate your vision – averaging six bottles per year each. It’s fine if everybody else laughs at you or even hates you – the louder the better.
When Toyota first introduced the Scion van – essentially a big shoe box on wheels, their billboard ads were brilliant. They simply showed the vehicle above the slogan “So wrong for so many.” That’s your slogan too.
At WineSmith, we will begin by coaching through this vital first step. Nothing else is possible until you concisely articulate your passion. Many wineries are far down the developmental process before they precisely invent their dreams. The result is wasted resources, arguments, and twisting in the wind.
You cannot even name your winery until you know what your intentions are. Is it a legacy for your family? Do you intend to sell it? If so, never name it after yourself or your family. Wine history abounds with examples of wine family’s who lost the rights to their name including the Franzias (Bronco Winery refers to “brothers and cousin” after the other three family’s sold the name to Coca Cola), Roberrt S. Taylor and of course, Charles Shaw (now Two Buck Chuck).
“You got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” – from Happy Talk in the musical South Pacific.
Once you have clarified your vision, it’s useful to lay down ground rules you want to commit yourselves to. These greatly empower your planning.
- Clean, safe, pleasant working environment
- Authenticity and Honesty in all our dealings
- Environmentally conscious practices
- Fostering growth and development for employees
- Employment for the disadvantaged
- Certified organic products
- Showcase for your region’s quality
- Carbon-neutrality in practices and packaging
- Eurocentric wine styles
- Sulfite-free wines
- Employee benefits (Health care, PTO, pregnancy leave, pensions, stock options)
- Fun, play and ease with freedom to make mistakes
Once your Vision clarifies where you want to go, your Mission statement defines what you need to do now to get there. An easy way to do this is to start by envisioning your winery ten years in the future.
The metrics you select depend on what is important to you. Typical metrics include established market niche and customer base, reputation, gross revenues, net profits and what your lives will look like. Write all this down along with any other considerations such as succession planning.
Now write down where you would need to be in five years in order to position yourself to achieve those aspirations. Then look at two years, then one year and finally what do you need to do in the next three months. Now you have a path forward.
Objectives break down your Mission into ongoing initiatives. Unlike Short Term Goals, Objectives are never achieved. They are directions, not destinations.
Examples of objectives include:
- Maintain integrity with creditors and suppliers
- Financial ease
- Redundancy in tasking through cross-training and tutorials
- Minimum employee turnover
- Know our customers
- $50K annual profit.
- Effective, stable sales capability
- Legal integrity
Short term goals are milestones meant to be achieved on a calendarized schedule in support of your Objectives.
To determine these, begin by imagining your dream come to fruition ten years hence. What do you want your life to look like? Are you a people person who enjoys spending weekends making personal contact with visitors to explain your vision and how each wine embodies it? How many cases will you sell, and for how much money? What percentage of your grapes are from your Estate? How many employees do you envision and what are their jobs?
Once you have your ten year goals in place, where would you need to be in five years? In two years? In one year?
Your one year goals should be articulated very specifically, and from them you can also answer what needs to be done in the next three months if they are to be achieved. These two lists should be revisited and modified on a weekly basis.
Examples of one-year goals might include:
- Collect contact information for 500 potential customers
- Launch a web page depicting your project
- Secure financing
- Complete plans for planting a vineyard
- Obtain building permits for winery construction
Corresponding three-month goals might include:
- Install CRM system, print business cards
- Create text articulating your vision and recruit a designer
- Begin creating a Five-Year Business Plan
- Compile a list of grape varieties suitable to your area and vision.
- Recruit a winery construction consultant and a local architect