Experts Offer Sage Advice For The New Year

Despite challenges created by various obstacles during the past two years, people are still going to wake up and decide they’re going to go into business for themselves.

However, during the last two years, even experienced leaders are learning there were things to discover.

As 2022 brings with it more new wine business owners on a quest to produce their own unique vintages and others who are looking to tweak their approach, our expert panel offered words of wisdom and shared lessons they’ve learned since opening up shop.

Keep building your culture

There’s something to be said for being adaptable. Whether you’re a fledgling company or well established, being open to new ideas can help you work through unexpected challenges, said Andrew Sides, co-founder of Lost Draw Cellars.

Sides said his company culture had been built over the past five years and was prepared to withstand the twists and turns brought by 2020.

“New opportunities and challenges have come our way for more than what we faced last year. We are never comfortable with the status quo, even in times of great success,” Sides said. “We thrive at opportunities to excel in new ways and have always instilled those values in our team and even our customer base.  

“The wildness of 2020 was no different, we rallied together, huddled up together, and knew that we all had each other’s back and I think our team really grew stronger together knowing that we all had to rely on each person to push through the tough times.”

Staff development is critical

Chris Brundrett, a co-founder of William Chris Vineyards, said being agile planners but remaining focused on their values have been keys to their success.

Prioritizing staff development has helped them get there, he said, as has having employees pursue Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certification.

“Thoughtful growth furthers our journey of growing the good life,” Brundrett said. “Specifically, mindfulness training for our leadership training this year has been great. We’re rolling out a company-wide program in 2022. 

“Personal and professional development days have been rolled out in 2021 to build our team strength. Our entire company is WSET certified, which has really helped our team gain confidence and empowered them to be wine education-focused rather than someone who just pours wine.”

Embrace change

Jan Palaggi, owner and co-CEO of Palaia Winery & Meadery, has a matter-of-fact stance on change: If you can’t adapt, you won’t do well. 

“We adapted in 2020 and had a pretty good year during the summer,” Palaggi said. “Shutting down for two winters was hard on us, but we opened as soon as we could.  

“The hardest thing about 2020 was the lack of notification on the “rules” — I learned one rule on Facebook…and not from the SLA for goodness’ sake. But now that we are settling in and restrictions have lifted, we are staying with the “to go” tastings that we set up so people would not hang out at the bar. Small glass tasting in a basket with a list of what you are tasting in order. They take it away and do their own tasting at their own pace and people seem to like this.

“My advice to new wineries is to never stop changing your winery. Add new things, take things away and bring them back … just embrace change.” 

Stay True To Your Identity

While you should embrace change, it’s important to avoid chasing rainbows at the total expense of what you’ve traditionally done well.

It’s a lesson Brundrett learned this year.

“We forecasted another boom year in online sales (in 2021),” Brundrett said. “While they have been strong, we miscalculated the need to retool early. (It’s important) to focus on what we do well rather than chase other opportunities or rely on them being part of your story long term.”

To a degree, success is in the eye of the beholder, he added. It varies from winery to winery and requires critical thinking.

“Work on what success looks like,” he explained. “Dig to discover your ‘why.’ I see way too many companies that do not have this going in and struggle to find success. 

To be successful, having a ‘why’ other than making money is important.

“This business isn’t easy and I think a lot of people view it as a way to make a quick buck,” Sides said. “What generally happens to those wineries is that without a true purpose and intention for the product they are producing, they will never have a true connection to the consumer.”

It’s supposed to be fun

Nini Edwards, manager of Harkness Edwards Vineyards, said it’s important to remember to enjoy what you’re doing.

Individuality is something customers will embrace, she added.

“Get creative. Have fun,” she said. “Create your unique identity. Know who you are going into this business. Your individuality will separate you from the crowd. This will gain a following. Do not try to keep up with the rest and do what others are doing. 

“This is a crowded space, but nobody else can replicate your individuality that transpires through your brand.”

Palaggi seconded the notion about having fun.

“For God’s sake, do not be a stuffy winery,” she said. “The people buying wine are young and for the most part want an ‘experience,’ but do not like to be intimidated by stuffy rules about wine.

“Be flexible, be fun, and have fun, or why are you doing it?”

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