Journey: Thoughts and Reflections along the path. 

Sheldon Haynie
 
February 25, 2013 | Sheldon Haynie

Gaining Scale and Perspective

Running a business is an education, the MBA courses don't really touch on how things happen, out in the "real world" or what passes for it in the wine industry. We've gone from managing our small estate of 0.25 acres planted in 2008 & 2010 to 22 acres in 6 additional vineyards in less than 3 yrs. To say this was unanticipated is a bit of an understatement.

And it all started with the neighbor's cows, who came to visit in the summer of 2010, leading us to their friends the Behlmer's who's vineyard is our Colombard source. Over the course of 2011 we managed their acre and our own, and towards the end of the year, picked up the Soli Deo Gloria (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah)  and Coop (unknown red and white)  vineyards. Early 2012 saw us adding Athena's vineyard for Cabernet Franc and more Merlot and the fall brought the Camparo Syrah acreage, adding up to ~15 acres.

Just a week ago, we shook hands to manage the Chirala Vineyard, a beautifully planted 7 acre plot of Rhone Varietals. This brings an additional 7 grapes to our sources, and looks to be a mutually beneficial arrangement that will add another label to the Santa Clara Valley AVA. To do this we are getting far beyond what Jane and I can handle on the weekends, and have started a payroll, and had our first interactions with labor contractors.

The 22 acres will be sufficient to supply us somewhere in the range of 75 tons of fruit, or about 3x what we crushed in 2012. Its not clear yet that we will grow fast enough to use all of that, of if we will divest some of the fruit in the next few years to augment cash flow.

This would be an interesting case study to throw to the professors back at WSBE, which has now evolved itself from the former Whittemore School to the Paul School.

Time Posted: Feb 25, 2013 at 10:23 AM
Sheldon Haynie
 
February 13, 2013 | Sheldon Haynie

Colombard at Google

We poured our wines tonight at GOOGLE's "Beta Cafe" courtesy of their wine maker series on the invitation of one of our wine club members. IT was fun, a lot of bright "young" people, compared to Jane and I. and our colleagues. It was fascinating to pour for them our Colombard, realizing the vines are older than most of  the people sipping, and that they represent a later wave, the 21st century software replacing late 20th silicon replacing the agriculture of the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

We made some connections, learned a bit about what we did and didn't do well, a late evening before dealing with the intrusions of life reducing the quality of our preparation. d

Time Posted: Feb 13, 2013 at 8:58 PM
Sheldon Haynie
 
February 11, 2013 | Sheldon Haynie

Regional enthusiasm

There's a decision to be made between working on your individual goals, or community ones. Games theory and skepticism will tell you that one personal optimum is to allow others to do the community work, and to free-ride on it. An alternate view is that to invest some portion of your time in community work, create value and gain respect is actually preferred, as the intangible values are not trivial, as long as you have enough resources to do your own work as well. Depending on the people you are working with, there may be more or less community spirit vs individual focus.

I've seen this in several organizations and the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley are not really different. Everyone wants the organization to succeed, preferably at minimum cost to themselves. This leads to some interesting discussions where you get positive feedback for your sacrifice, yet those giving the feedback are curiously not inspired to reciprocate.

And yet this week, perhaps we did better than that all to often result of just a few working hard to support the rest. Our Vineyard and Barrel tasting days were the result of a few people making efforts and sacrifices to put on good events. Both were very well attended, and generated enthusiasm in the membership, which has a value all its own, "political capital" is one descriptor.

We will see if this can be converted to real change, with increasing involvement and improvements as more people start to paddle together as the tide rises to mangle a few metaphors.

 

Time Posted: Feb 11, 2013 at 1:23 PM
Sheldon Haynie
 
February 1, 2013 | Sheldon Haynie

Unified and Inspired

The Unified Wine and Grape Symposium is an annual conference, trade show and pub crawl in central Sacramento. As one can imagine the wine industry does know how to throw a party, with myriad semi private events up and down the 'Kay in Sacramento. Add in sponsored regional tastings, and you have an opportunity to sip a variety of pretty good wines at no cost. Or at least you don't have to pay for them in cash, just wear and tear.

While the partying is a great time to network, and get a sense of the industry there are technical sessions as well, the mornings are general interest and the afternoons breakout into tracks for viticulture, winemaking, marketing and business. As Jane and I were attending, we had to make some choices in the afternoons, and she covered winemaking, while I did the Viticulture and stepped into some of the marketing as well, just as we do at Lightheart. We eschewed the opportunity to learn about international sourcing of grapes as we just don't see that we will be buying from Chile anytime soon, even if the big guys are doing it to reduce their costs.

International even "global" trends of lower costs of shipping, increased demands and the recognition that the US is the largest wine consuming nation, and that California is the largest portion of that supply at 3.5 Million tons, is a bit hard to grasp, when your production is a rounding error on the slide, 5 digits down. Hey were were 0.001% of that !

Its a bit daunting to realize that the largest winery in our area J. Lohr at 1.5 Million Cases is only 1/40 the size of Gallo. You look at our production plans and we are in a whole different business. Just as we like it. While we are not concerned about Foreigh Exchange rates and duty draw backs, we are concerned about making the best wines we can, supplying them to our customers in the Bay Area and eventually extending that as it makes sense.

We have the same farming and winemaking issues, getting good soil, vines and water, and keeping them pest free and productive. Just not likely to be mechanizing the vineyards anytime soon, as the threshold is about 300 contiguous acres and two $500k multi-tools per region. We will continue to be in a labor crunch, and try to strategically reduce our costs, by pre-pruning, or using low maintenance trellising. Our yields are increasing with our cultivation practices, from sub 1 ton towads 2-3/acre  in the past year. We can see that with additional health from continued pruning, and cover crop incorporation, they will reach the 4-6 ton range which they are entitled to in our climate. 

Our Winemaking scale is also vastly different, from wineries who have tanks the size of our swimming pool, to our modest 60 barrels, up from the 1 we started with in 2009. We are using better science, more attention to santitation and sensory evaluation, and our product is getting consistently better as we learn and apply the knowledge we gain.

While there are clear differences of scale, there's no difference of detail. We both serve a market that is increasingly sophisticated, less brand loyal and have many more choices. As one panelist in the consumer trends session remarked, "When you see insects coming onto the menu, you are out of recession and into recovery. What wine are you going to pair?"

 

Time Posted: Feb 1, 2013 at 8:15 AM