Another One Bites the Dust
My jaw dropped about 3 feet last night. I was attending the annual Wine Spectator Big Bottle party (a schmooze fest of mass proportion!) and learned that our good friends and longtime neighbors The Seghesio's, have sold their family winery. To hear that this historic, 4th generation winery of Italian descent, which has survived some of the toughest periods in American history (World Wars, the Depression, a Recession, the Civil Rights movement, and even a catastrophic fire that nearly destroyed the winery in 1996) has sold out to yet another corporate entity whose name I can't remember because they all sound alike, is well...rather sad. On the one hand, I'm happy for Pete and Cathy, Ted, Camille, Cousin Dave, and all the other family members I've known over the years. They have worked tirelessly to modernize their winery and become a leader in our industry. Their turnaround from a mediocre jug wine producer in the 70s and 80s to an upscale and elite producer of some of the most respected wines in California is nothing short of miraculous. I admire them greatly and have enjoyed watching their success. But, I can't help wonder if selling the family business had more to do with a growing dissent among the family than a desire to retire rich or live the good life after so many years (and generations) of extremely hard work.
It makes one realize how RARE the mid-sized family winery (like ours) is becoming. A dying breed, really. And, it's one that if not honored and supported by loyal wine enthusiasts could become even rarer. Because this business can slowly suck the life out of you. While there's a notion that it's all fun and games (or sipping and spitting as the saying goes) the truth is that making and selling great wines year after year, is very difficult. Take the growing cycle. That alone can make grown men weep, as I've seen a few do lately with the late season rain storms we are having. Then there's always the threat of phylloxera, eutypa, and a host of other farming maladies that can occur. Once the grapes arrive at the cellar, there's a plethora of winemaking and cellar practices that can go awry if just the right person isn't shepherding the process every step of the way. It takes enormous attention to detail and a meticulous approach to winemaking right up until the time of bottling. Actually, even the bottling process can foul things up if a bad cork is used or the wine is stored or shipped improperly. Then think about the marketing and selling of wine. Try finding a distributor these days that will make your brand a priority. Good luck! The four P's of marketing (product, price, place, promotion) are just the tip of the iceberg for seasoned marketers. Throw in public relations expertise, social media, hospitality, special events, e-commerce, online marketing, consumer direct sales and endless amounts of sales and promotional travel all around the country and you are only lightly scratching the surface of what is required to sell wine. Of course, you can't forget about the day to day operational challenges: financing, planning, forecasting, environmental and political issues, staffing, human resources, etc. Quite simply, the work is never done. You just hope you have the energy to keep on going and the right people to help take you there.
Did the Seghesios just get fed up and burnt out over time? Did they get an offer they simply couldn't refuse? Or did they get to a point where they were tired of the family squabbles (known as FAMILY BS) and wanted a break. Whatever the case, I'm driven more than ever to assure we don't end up in the same boat.
Long Live Dry Creek Vineyard!!!
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