Starting a Wine Business

Interview with David Johndrow, Founder of Johndrow Vineyards,

After selling a successful technology company, David Johndrow took his passion for wine and started his own wine company. Are you an oenophile looking for tips on how to turn your interest into a business? Read on.

David Johndrow, founder of Johndrow Vineyards, gives advice on turning a hobby into a business.

Tell me about your current business. What kind of wines does Johndrow Vineyards sell?

Johndrow Vineyards was started to make great wine at affordable prices. We currently have five bottles on the market, ranging from $12 to $75: two cabernet sauvignons, one Bordeaux blend, one red blend and one white blend. Our wine is available on shelves in California, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Utah, as well as online, and we are preparing to release the second vintage of our Reserve Cabernet this spring.

When did you start the business?

Johndrow Vineyards was founded in 2005. After numerous trips to Napa Valley and years of studying wine, I was ready to start my own label. The vineyard is located in St. Helena, CA and I handle business operations from Oklahoma City, OK.

What were you doing before this?

Before starting Johndrow Vineyards, I owned a technology company, HRLogix. That company developed software to screen job candidates for employment in Las Vegas and held 90 percent of the market. After selling HRLogix, I decided to pursue my longtime passion and hobby - wine.

That's quite a change in businesses. How did you come up with the idea to start a wine company?

My fascination with wine began at the age of 21 when I realized the person who knew the most about wine at the dinner table controlled the conversation. After studying wine for 15 years and making regular trips to Napa Valley, I teamed up with third generation Napa winemaker Rob Lawson to create the Johndrow Vineyards label and further explore my passion for wine, and I knew I wanted this company to be different. We don't have a dog running through a vineyard on our labels. I wanted my wine to be the best that Napa has to offer, yet approachable and affordable. We have integrated this approach into everything we do at Johndrow Vineyards.

Since you run the business from Oklahoma, but the vineyard is in California, how do you effectively run the business? Have you outsourced any portion of it?

Operations decisions are made in-house but I outsource shipping and design. This gives me the flexibility to conduct business from anywhere I travel, with the peace of mind that my orders are being filled and my products are being updated in real time.

Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?

Yes. We rely heavily on Facebook, online photo galleries from celebrity events where our wine is featured, YouTube videos that spoof wine snobs and branded product downloads. We do have some printed materials, but it is very minor. This keeps our prices low and gives us the flexibility to make changes on the fly. So we're keeping things fresh and to the market at the pace our customers want it.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

The best thing I have done to grow the business is to get out there and meet people. I've drawn on the connections I made when my business was my hobby and I make sure to support a charitable cause in each market I do business. I'm also always looking for great partnerships, such as notable chefs with whom to pair my wines for high profile dinners I attend. These relationships have positioned me for my greatest successes, such as being the featured winemaker at last year's ESPYs dinner and for the second year in a row in 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival. We also recently served our wines at parties celebrating "Precious", Lee Daniels and "The Cove" at the 2010 Oscars.

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

Wine had always been a hobby for me, and turning it into a business seemed like a natural fit. What I didn't expect were the number of good problems we'd have, like producing enough to keep up with demand. Last year, I sold out of my first few shipments into a new market and had to work quickly to get the wine back onto shelves. This year, we are planning to sell 1,000 cases of wine in Oklahoma alone.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a wine business?

Anyone getting ready to start a wine business needs to have passion for the product, great networking skills, and a firm financial base. This is an industry that requires time and investment; growing the grapes, producing the wine, labels and advertisements and then bringing the wine to shelves can be a long process.

It sounds like a very interesting business, David. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

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