December 2009 Archives

This has been a tough year. I have tried hard to be a good girl. I know I didn't always answer all my emails on time, or return all those darn phone calls, but I tried to keep a smile on my face and keep the faith even when being told “no”. I hope you will think of me as you put together your Christmas gift list this year. Here is my wish list:
1   An improved economy. I'd like people to have good jobs with a little extra money so they can enjoy the finer things in life like wine.
2   A 90 point score. Or, a mention on the Oprah Winfrey show. (I'd be happy with either, Santa.)
3   The end of distributor consolidation. Or, at the very least, my distributors to pay more attention to us. Or, for lots of wineries to decide they don't need distributors after all.
4   Some extra French barrels. (I know they're kind of big for my stocking, but they would fit nicely around the tree.)
5   A new software system. Boring, I know, but it would really help improve our business.
6   A redesigned tasting room that includes a private tasting area for wine club members and an outdoor garden area that we can reserve for our visitors.
7   A new way to traverse the country-one that doesn't involve airplanes!
8   A high speed money collection method. Net 60 isn't cutting it anymore.
9   Extended payment terms from most of our vendors—somewhat contradictory to #9, but what the heck. 
10   A little extra time with family and friends. Make that a lot.
11   Ditto on #10.

But mostly Santa, I want peace, happiness, health, and prosperity for all. I want all my blog readers to know how much I cherish their feedback and support—it is what keeps me going in the wee hours of the night.  I especially hope our employees have a joyous and restful time with their families. They deserve it.

Thanks Santa,

Kim (aka Wilma)

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I had been trying to come up with a blog topic when one just fell in my lap. It's definitely an “insider's look at the wine country life” but not in the way that you think.

It could be called, “why families should not do business together.” Or, “how feelings can get in the way of running a business.”  Or, how about this one: “hurting a family member's feelings is inevitable when everyone's egos are so darn fragile.”  Yep, you guessed it; someone in our family has gotten their feelings hurt again!

This seems to be a fairly regular occurrence in family owned businesses. So is stepping on someone's toes, feeling underappreciated, unrecognized and left out.  It's no wonder so few family owned businesses survive through multi-generations. (Imagine the Frescobaldi's, who are in their 17th generation!)

At our company, we are not immune to this. As a matter of fact, we've spent YEARS trying to make sure that everyone feels loved and appreciated, especially my father, now that he has chosen to retire. But alas, it's a delicate subject and a recent photograph that was used in a marketing project has stirred up some tender feelings. (Hint: the photo did not include a certain someone.)

It never would have occurred to me that this was a boo-boo.  But the resulting emails, meetings, and demands for this, that and the other thing, (no, we can't have a revised 25 year financial plan with an ROI of XXX% by a week from tomorrow!) have shed some light for me.

I am not alone in this quagmire.  A close winery owner friend, shares the same struggles with numerous family members working in the business and dozens of others sitting on the sidelines putting in their two cents worth. I have another friend who runs a restaurant with her husband. A couple of kids are involved as well.  Things will be going along just fine, when all of a sudden someone will get their feelings hurt. Unlike corporations and more professional organizations, where co-workers calmly confront each other to resolve issues, the whole family goes into a tizzy. Then they have to go home together and pretend everything is ok.

So as you sip that favorite glass of vino tonight, one that is hopefully produced from a family winery, think about all that went into its production. Think beyond the grapes, beyond the winemaking, and beyond the barrel aging.  Think beyond the scores, beyond the price and beyond the availability. Instead, think about those poor suckers who had to deal with countless family squabbles and hurt feelings in order to see the fruit of their vines come to fruition.

Then, raise a glass to them, cause let me tell you, it ain't easy!

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It takes a village. This is true in nearly all things in life whether it's parenting, selling wine or building a business. This notion really struck home for me after last week's national sales meetings.

Every year, usually twice, we have national sales meetings. The name sounds rather ominous and important for a fairly small group who gather to strategize, review, and brainstorm our upcoming year's sales plans and goals. I figure I've sat through at least 46 of these things. (That's 2X per year for 23 years). And to some degree I always feel a sense of déjà vu. I mean, there are only so many ways we can skin the cat, you know? But this was the year when the rules changed. When we had to throw out conventional thinking and look at our business in a new light. Like so many in this country, we got back to the basics and applied ingenuity and entrepreneurship that is part of our country's heritage.

But, trying to forecast sales with an economy so unpredictable is like predicting the weather in Hawaii. (It can change several times a day.) Sure we've got years of historical data along with this year's numbers, which by all measures have been pretty darn good. And, we have numerous promotions lined up for 2010 that will make an impact.  But if you asked me if I know FOR SURE whether we'll hit our 5 year plan or even a 3 year plan, I'd have to say I think so. And with this admission, comes a small degree of unease. A lot of my vintner friends are in the same boat. Ask anyone in real estate, building, banking or manufacturing—and I'd hazard to guess they'd say the same thing too. Of course some industries are booming. Take tortillas. Sales are sky rocketing. So are nursing homes and elder care. But wine, well it's as variable as there are wineries today.

At Dry Creek Vineyard, we are very happy to be finishing the year with sales flat to last year. (You know what they say, “flat is the new up!”)  Interestingly, national sales are off modestly, while California sales are up quite dramatically. Tasting room sales are also down a bit but then again, we've had 3800 fewer visitors this year over last. Happily, the wine club and online sales are booming.

As I sat through these sales meetings, the thing that kept coming back time and time again is the importance of relationships. In other words, if you strip away the complicated process of how we get our wines to market, it all boils down to one thing: Relationships. Relationships with distributors. Relationships with restaurants. Relationships with retailers. Relationships with wine lovers. Relationships with wine writers. Relationships with growers. Relationships with vendors, with lenders, you name it. It's all based on relationships. And no amount of planning, strategizing, brainstorming or forecasting can take the place of this old fashioned way of selling. It's how my father did it and it's how we do it.

Now back to my village analogy. Our sales team is our little village. They are our “relationship experts”. They are the wheels that drive the engine that brings the enjoyment of our wines to so many people. And, they are some of the nicest, hardest working, most ethical and caring folks I know. Thanks guys for all that you do!  

(And thank goodness we don't have to meet again until next year.)

After our meetings, we broke into teams at Relish Cooking School for a culinary cook-off—a highly recommended adventure!

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2009 is the previous archive.

January 2010 is the next archive.

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Wilma Hits The World of Blogs
Most Intriguing New Wine Blogs of 2008
Midwest Wine Guy
Winery of the Month
Julia Flynn Siler
Meritage wines - and a fascinating glimpse into family business
Winery Web Site Report
New Winery Blog: Wilma's Wine World
Start Up Ladies
Insider's View of Family Owned Dry Creek Vineyard
The Glue that Keeps the Whole Thing Going
Atlanta Dish
Blog of the Week
Blind Muscat
The Merits of Meritage
Boston Wine Expo exhibitors, and the reason why winemakers are so darn happy