Following on from yesterdays post, the following is part 3 of 4 of a post made by a friend of mine, Lucas Meeker – Assistant Winemaker at Meeker Vineyards in Sonoma. The post originally appeared on professional Q&A website Quora.com.
The question Lucas answered was: What are some Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of Owning a Napa Winery?
My annotations throughout the article appear in the form of: [Notes like this], and as always I’ve highlighted what I consider to be the key points.
Answer by Lucas Meeker
Fringe markets that haven’t been fully explored. As much as selling Napa wine that isn’t Cab / Chard is tough, it’s really where the only good opportunities lie. Or, alternatively, it’s about selling those varietals at a quality / price tier that is simply better than most of the competition. That’s not impossible, but will take hard work and a lot of education. I have a winemaker buddy who makes insanely solid wines at prices all sub-$20, and then a separate brand that is ~$30/bottle Cab. It’s a nice wine as well, and represents a lot more bang for the buck than the big boy competition. As a result, his little ~15K case/year winery does just fine and he sells all of his wine out and provides a nice life for himself all by himself. [It is indeed a shame that a lot of mediocre wines command a higher price point, simply because the brand has more money to throw at marketing. I guess the same can be said for restaurants though…]
(But, he also has decades of winemaking experience across the globe and is one of the most chemically sound winemakers I know, and I would guess that most people looking for a SWOT on a Napa winery aren’t that themselves, and I can assure you the salary of those types of reliable hard-working types is not exactly favorable to the concept of small/medium winery profitability.)
The truth is that the opportunities in Napa are very limited compared to other regions, and the nature of the wine industry is reactive in that opportunities don’t present themselves, you really have to carve them out for yourself. I.E.: Nobody really thought twice about Napa Zin for a long time, until somebody finally noticed what Biale was doing and now everyone thinks Zin is better in Napa than Dry Creek (they’re wrong, but hey, at least they’re consistent, because everything is better in Napa, right? /sarcasm). [Quite nice of him to point out the sarcasm! Normally I just scatter sarcasm without a care in the world in my articles, and hope that the readers get it!]
You want people to notice your wine? Do something new and then to quote Walt Disney: "Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done and done right."
That mantra works for all businesses, but the truth is that it’s the only way to carve out an opportunity for yourself in hyper-saturated hyper-competitive Napa. Impossible? No. Easy? Hell no. Fun? At least not initially. Will you get to trot around in a Bentley wearing boat shoes and bragging about all the new French oak you paid for that was basically a waste of money? Probably not, but it’s perfectly possible that you can enjoy the benefits of a relatively high tax tier as a result of your hard work and dedication to an honest, blue-collar craft that you can be truly proud of, made entirely in the good ol’ U S of A. The pride associated with that is opportunity enough for some of us.