Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pouring out sound advice for new proprietors

This could have worked as simply a podcast, but with no confidence yet that readers will take the time to click the link, it made more sense to type out Rob Deford’s answer to the advice he’d give anyone going into the wine biz.

“A lot of people come in and talk to me before they start a winery,” the owner of Boordy Vineyards said a few days ago, “but I can see when they come through the door that they already have their mind made up and very little I say is going to change anything. I mean on the wine side, I would say, don’t do anything unless you’ve got the perfect site, and the vineyards come first. And then after that, I would say tread lightly in your community.”

Asked what he meant by that, Deford said: “Well, wineries are on that leading edge of agriculture going direct to consumers, and as such we represent the new ag, the so-called value-added ag where you are taking a product, a raw material and converting it on your farm and then selling it direct. And that’s a buzz word, value-added agriculture. It’s a known term in the federal government, there are actually grants directed toward that and so forth. But also on the community level it represents both a sort of local hero quality but also possibly a huge nuisance factor as you start to hold weddings and helicopter rides and, you know, loud concerts where there’s a half-hour traffic jam on your little country road. People being to look at wineries differently; in fact, I was really surprised on one of my trips to California to hear that in Napa Valley you can’t hold an event without a permit.

“I thought, woah, we take it for granted here that seven days a week that, if I want to, I can hold an event here. I don’t have to ask permission from anybody. I suddenly thought, if you get enough of us together and the guy down the road figures out that with a couple of well-placed ads he can have 2,000 people on his farm, and he thinks that’s just the greatest thing in the world, then the neighbors are going to go bonkers. So treading lightly means that remember you are part of the community and can be a huge contributor to the community. But from the very conception of your business plan, when you enter that first bureaucratic office and want to announce your intentions to the zoning people or the building code people or the community association, tread lightly and be very sensitive to the concerns of the community. Because that’s where I see most of the pain occurring is when someone hasn’t fully done their homework and understands human nature well enough that you often aren’t God’s gift to the neighborhood the way you might think you are but you really are viewed as perhaps a threat.

"And so there are many, many positive things to tell, and that’s the story we have to emphasize and the story we have to live out is the positive side. Land preservation . . . sustainable agriculture. Local food. Good wine. Family-style responsible entertainment. There are many, many good stories to tell and we have to make sure to define ourselves in a positive light going forward. That would be my little bit.”

Boordy's Deford 'bullish' on new competitors

Rob Deford calls them the old school, the wineries that were among the first sprouting up in Maryland. Talking a few days ago by phone, he recalled the seven of them that served as pioneers as the 1970s moved into the ’80s. That's about the time the Deford family bought Boordy, Maryland's first commercial winery when it was established in 1945. One by one he ticked off their name and their ultimate fate. Most went out of business. Only two remain: his
Boordy Vineyards and Linganore Winecellers/Berrywine Plantations.

That story seemed particularly poignant amid today’s rapid growth in the state, which is only the matter of some paperwork away from its 34th winery. Deford, both articulate and introspective, barely needed to hear the beginning of the question regarding his feelings about this spurt before the answer just spilled out of him.

“I love it, I think it’s great,” he said. “I’m completely bullish on it, and have befriended a number of the new wineries already and what I really want tare good competitors. It’s been lonely out there for a long time. A few of us, you know, met in the same little group for 15 years and got to know way too much about each other. It just isn’t healthy. Not that it wasn’t a good group, but there’s just only so far you can go.”

It was in the mid to late 1980s that the next wave swept over the Maryland landscape, a group that included wineries called
Basignani, Elk Run, Fiore, Loew and Woodhall. Deford noted their talent and commitment, but in some ways even this group fought to do anything more than tread water.

“That group, we were all kind of condemned to be in a room together for another 15 years scratching our heads on how we could grow our industry,” he said, “and things were pretty bad for a long time. We were all groping around trying to sort out how to grow grapes the best and there was no research money, there was no state marketing money. Virginia was dancing circles around us, and then finally the tables started to turn, and I think it was aided by an improving economy. I think regional foods and wines started to gain a real cachet in the marketplace, and we were starting to really get our act together, the core group that I mentioned to you, and we started to get some positive word out about the wine industry and the wines were getting better and people inevitably started to get attracted to this industry.”

Deford was president of the winery association when it hired Kevin Atticks, who’s still the executive director of the Maryland Wine Association. “He’s a wonderful guy, top drawer,” Deford said. “When we did that I’ve never felt prouder of an accomplishment in my life because he has been fantastic to work with and the updraft created by having a really tight association. A very telling moment occurred in 2006 when we had to fight for our lives over the distribution thing, and Virginia, who we always looked at as the perfect state, had their heads handed to them because they couldn’t coordinate. And Maryland won and so that was quite a realization that maybe we’ve come of age a little bit.

“Virginia lost in a smoke-filled back committee room, they lost the right to self distribute, while we were able to keep ours out in the light of day and it grew and prospered and the bill actually passed and the wholesalers lost, which was the first time they had ever lost. So that was a real turning point and that got us ironically a lot of publicity. We’ve had literally a flood of wineries coming in. I think we’ll have over 40 pretty soon. It’s real exciting and some of them are turning out to be real wonderful operations, great people to deal with. Smart. Their investment is in the right place. And what doesn’t surprise me but does surprise a lot of people is that with this . . . much more crowded neighborhood during this period of rapid, rapid growth of number of wineries, we continue to prosper like never before, and it just proves the old point that clusters are good for everybody, the business cluster is good for everybody.”

Va. wine sales growth busted out by month

Posted figures the other day that showed the amount of Virginia wines sold by distributor and sold at the winery through the first five months of 2008. Here's the rest of the story, so to speak, some numbers from the five previous years that give those '08 numbers some additional context. No numbers were available in 2008 for Total Virginia Wine Sold and Total Wines Sold in Virginia. Our thanks to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office.

Year ---------Va. Wine/---Va. Wine/-Total Va. --- Total Wines
--------------- Distributor-Wineries --Wines Sold--Sold

Jan. 2003-----7,097---------4,381--------12,621-------482,300
Jan. 2004-----8,569---------4,520--------14,285-------491,003
Jan. 2005-----6,341---------5,331---------12,727-------487,765
Jan. 2006-----5,215---------6,934---------12,289------538,596
Jan. 2007-----8,870---------6,280---------15,582------591,582
Jan. 2008-----9,437---------6,156---------n/a----------n/a

Feb. 2003-----7,650--------4,234---------13,097-------505,623
Feb. 2004-----8,859--------7,128---------17,204-------553,727
Feb. 2005-----9,002--------7,148---------17,302-------572,350
Feb. 2006-----8,289--------7,892---------16,313-------553,043
Feb. 2007-----9,086--------6,263---------15,898-------605,756
Feb. 2008-----9,332--------9,782---------n/a-----------n/a

March 2003---7,471--------6,522---------15,235--------514,724
March 2004---9,445--------7,759---------18,474--------591,841
March 2005---11,018-------8,288---------20,629-------635,491
March 2006---11,257------11,153---------22,533-------678,175
March 2007---11,771------ 9,293----------21,790-------684,200
March 2008---11,100------10,161---------n/a-----------n/a

April 2003----10,879------10,305---------22,520--------581,310
April 2004----10,316------12,799---------24,573---------598,717
April 2005----11,428------13,468---------26,215---------591,290
April 2006----15,075------15,202--------30,381----------589,296
April 2007----11,453------15,034-------- 27,262--------- 658,901
April 2008----12,374------16,685---------n/a-------------n/a

May 2003-----9,875--------11,542-------22,807---------581,330
May 2004-----9,519--------13,059-------23,890---------572,909
May 2005-----12,383-------15,222-------28,859---------623,797
May 2006-----13,240-------17,630-------30,963---------684,191
May 2007-----13,601-------18,694--------33,081---------735,960
May 2008-----14,848-------22,043--------n/a------------n/a

Year---- Va. Wine/---Va. Wine/----Total Va.---- Total
----------Distributor--by Wineries--Wines Sold--Wines Sold

This 'n' that from the Brandywine trail

A note from Karen Cline, who assists with handling activities surrounding the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail:

Other than our individual winery events (I see you already know about Chaddsford’s Jazz Fest), we have some great things happening. Wine author and News Journal writer Roger Morris has selected 12 wines from our wine trail members to represent the variety that our members offer. The case is called Case of the Brandywine 2008. We have a limited number of these cases for sale via our Web site and they are going fast. It is a great way for individuals to “taste our Trail!” In addition to the case, we added four of our passports (more on these below) as a bonus value of $100.

The annual Harvest Fest is coming up too. Sept. 27-28 and Oct. 4-5 will offer a grape-stomping good time to those visiting our members. Each winery offers something different on those weekends in the form of harvest entertainment. I’ll be posting something on our website soon with more details. This is a “passport” event. Our passports will go on sale in early August and can be obtained by calling us or visiting our Web site. The good thing is, the passport is a great value -- $25 for all winery tastings, as opposed to our regular $40+ tasting fees. And, it is good from Sept. 27 through Dec. 30, so people can take their time in visiting our locations.
Also in the works is our annual Vintner’s Dinner, planned for November. Our winemakers attend this dinner, sit with the attendees, and discuss wine and winemaking. The dinner is held at Longwood Gardens and is a terrific night out. This event is still in the planning stages; more information will follow in the ocming weeks.

We currently have seven members in our Trail, with six operational and selling wines. The seventh, Black Walnut Winery, has pushed its opening date back to late fall.