If someone had told me 30 years ago I would be in the wine business, I would have had the classic headwhip and puzzled response, "are you talking to me?"
Although growing up on the outskirts of wine country in Novato, California (we like to call it the "gateway" to the wine country), my Mom and Dad were tee totaling Baptists, who came to California from Missouri after WWII. Not exactly the movie version of a big Italian family under a veranda celebrating life....think Godfather II.
I certainly wasn't exposed to wine in that environment!
I wish I had a great story about how I fell in love with wine and had to get into the business. Unfortunately that would be about as true as me coming from a big Mediterranean family. I come from the quintessential post WWII suburban nuclear family of Dad, Mom, me and my brother (although I always thought he should only count as the .7 to make us the perfect statistic).
I am a product of suburban California in the 60's and 70's, which meant beer (Michelob on a special night) and mixed drinks. The only wine I had heard about was Boone’s Farm Apple Wine. I was well on my to becoming a sommelier.
I was also a product of blue collar parents, who of course wanted me to become a white collar professional. So, I went to college and became a CPA. So far, you couldn't have written a better plan to prepare for a career in the wine business.
As most things in life (marriage, kids, jobs, home purchases), you think you are in control......but at the end of the day, life happens and people adjust.
I was a CPA (I guess I still am, which is a horrifying thought for my current CPA) for a number of years and a "financial/operations" guy at several retailers in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, I was one of the founding members of BevMo!, which lead many people to think I knew something about wine...wrong! I knew a lot about retail and retail operations. I still didn't know much about wine. However, I did learn how to spell Gewürztraminer, which impressed my friends.
After 20 years of financial jobs I was burned out on corporate America and working my way up the organization chart. So I did what any 42-year-old with a wife and three teenaged boys would do.....I quit my job and started a financial consulting company. It never occurred to me that this is how I would get into the wine business!
One of my first clients was Blackstone Winery. At the time, Blackstone was the big dog in value priced merlot. This was pre-Sideways and the rant about how horrible merlot was. I still don’t know why that guy got so pissed off about merlot. I think he should have been more concerned about stealing money from his elderly mother but
I was engaged to help sell Blackstone and run the operations during the transition. I am still not sure how I talked my way into that gig, but it was my introduction into the wine industry and I was hooked. Of course it didn't hurt that the brand sold for a reported $144 million. That's not a bad way to get introduced to anything!
I decided at that point I liked the wine industry. Looking back, I knew so little about the business it is mind blowing that I actually thought I was entitled to an opinion. Sometimes you’re better off looking at the forest and ignoring the details. If I had looked hard and over analyzed, I probably would have been a financial guy after Blackstone and never been associated with some really cool people and had experiences around the country and different parts of the world that guys from Novato rarely have.
I have spent the last 15 years learning the wine business and by default, even something about wine. Although, if you meet me somewhere, please don’t test my wine knowledge. I will be a submissive dog and roll over on my back to your superior knowledge. I am sure you can tell me more about first growth Bordeaux than I ever care to learn.
I was a founding member and President of Purple and Sonoma Wine Companies and built category leading brands and business units, participated on boards of spirit companies, built multi location production facilities and then at the age of 54 decided to start my own company...Wine Hooligans.
Those three teenage boys that I mentioned above are now in their late 20's and finished with college, and two of them are recently married. My wife and I probably should be traveling, waiting for grandchildren and contemplating downsizing. Instead, I wanted to take my experiences over the past 35 years in business and most recently the wine industry and see if I could bring a different approach to building brands and bringing them to market. Time will tell if that was the dumbest thing I have ever done, or I get on the cover of AARP as the poster boy for geriatric start ups.
I have been building Wine Hooligans now for over two years, and although I have been involved with several start ups including BevMo!, nothing could have prepared or tested me for starting Wine Hooligans. In the immortal words of Jim Mora, former NFL coach, to a group of reporters after a tough loss…..”you think you know, but you don’t know, and you never will.”
My marketing team at Charles Communications Associates find my stories about my experiences in the wine and business world entertaining, so they thought it would be interesting for me to share them in a “Blog” (sounds really weird that I am writing a “Blog”. Most people consider me a “get off my lawn” guy). To that end, I am going to call my Blog….Hooligan Rants.
So I am going to write about the wine world, start up hell and my observations about being a small business guy in general.. As Jim Mora said, you think you know…….
I expect about three people to be interested in what I have to say, but to anyone who decides to read it, please don’t hold me accountable for grammar, sentence structure or the occasional foul word. It’s all part of the rant. If you’re offended, for Pete’s sake stop reading! I am not looking for intellectual debate, or to change the world. These are simply my observations of the world that I hope you find interesting and funny. I am sure my wife will agree with about 20% of what I write.
I will guarantee you this; if you read me, you will have a completely different context for my favorite statement…….. “You’re in the wine business, that must be sooooooo much fun”…hah! If you only knew.