Keeping the Dream Alive

Toasting the first press

WANNA HELP OUT?

I have written a bit about being a new mother and being a winemaking entrepreneur – and the struggles that come with combining the two.  What I haven’t done is get into the details of how delivering my son into the world had put me back physically and mentally – and how that’s been a major challenge for my business.

Being a mother has been the greatest gift of my life!  Nothing wonderful comes without a price.  I have had to take mental stock on what it means to continue my business.  I have had to stand on a philosophical precipice with uncertainty about an end looming for me.

My financial struggles with my business began long before I had my son.  The joke in the wine business is:  How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?  You start with a large fortune and lose some of it.

Well, there was never a fortune.  LOL.  College debt, yes.  Fortune, no.

I thought making exceptional wine was enough to hitch my dream to a shooting star.  But, it’s felt more like a falling star.  I innocently tried to pay for production with revenues from the sales of my wine.  Somehow I’ve been able to make it work.  A small investment early on helped me stay on track.  But, when the availability of those funds disappeared after I already made a commitment to set out on a trajectory towards steady growth – well, I’ve been panicking quietly to make ends meet ever since.

The continued search for an investor has come up short.

To add salt to the wound, I relied on distribution sales to help pay for my production.  You lose 50% of your retail sales prices on distribution sales.  While it’s essential for marketing purposes to get your brand in outside markets, it dramatically decreases your revenues.  Also, too often distribution payments come in late – sometimes months after due dates – and I would get behind on paying my bills.  It’s been a painful, vicious cycle of not being able to operate with the integrity I value so dearly – to not just pay my suppliers on time, but to pay them ahead of schedule.

Imagine if all businesses paid ahead of schedule?!?!   This would help spread the spirit of conscious capitalism – a mindful approach to capitalism that I believe is the direction all businesses need to go.

I digress…

I was a bit naïve to think making good wine would be enough to launch a successful wine business.  I didn’t have the negotiating skills to get a line of credit.  I have been asked by local banks if I had a husband (before I had one) before I’d even fill out an application for business credit.  I couldn’t get a credit card with enough credit to cover my needs.  My credit score tanked over the years of trying to keep the business going.  It’s been a real struggle.  Even in marriage I haven’t been much better off – aside from some of my husband’s contributions to pay for things on his personal credit card.  We bought our first home and I innocently thought having a mortgage would help us get ahead – at least a line of credit for the business.  I could not have been more wrong!  We are considered more of a liability.

It’s difficult to be this raw and vulnerable about dishing on the hardships of trying to maintain a wine production business.  But, I think it’s important to lift the veil of perception – it appears on the surface that my business is successful.  Writers have been graciously covering my story and praising my wines.  For that I can count my lucky stars!

It would appear from the accolades I received that I was making it in the wine business!

Not so.  It’s been a blessing to get such amazing press – features in Wine Enthusiast, forbes.com, Food & Wine, and so on.  The media attention did help to generate more sales – which I am ever grateful for!  But, the reality of balancing a rate of bills coming up faster than the money is coming in makes it an impossible situation.

So how is it that a “successful” winemaker has come so close to losing her business?  

It’s a lot of variables – including our margins.  The cost for production greatly outdistances our sales.  I’m not interested in making an entry level Cabernet Franc wine for $50/bottle.  But, based on my costs to make my wine I should be charging $50 for my entry level wine.  Instead, I charge $25 and my reserve wine sells for $50.  If I was producing 150,000 cases of wine I could afford my price points.  But, I’m producing 1800 cases of handcrafted tiny lots of wine and feel compelled to keep the prices down.  Am I a glutton for punishment?  It just might be that I’m not a savvy entrepreneur.

After the birth of my son, I had many challenges, both physically and mentally.  I sustained a lot of pain in my long recovery, including dealing with a strange birth injury to the hip, painful endometriosis and C-section scar tissue, and postpartum depression.

I started going to a therapist just months after giving birth and it has been a profound experience of healing and growing.

But, this healing and growing came with a price.  I got behind on my sales.  I couldn’t stay on top of my business.  And, little by little I became more and more behind on paying the bills.

I’ve had to ask myself what’s next.  Feeling helpless and stressed all of the time isn’t an option while I’m taking care of my infant son.

I was encouraged to start a crowd fund campaign.  I never thought I would turn to something like that.  It made me feel self-conscious and embarrassed.  My therapist had me meditate on feelings of inadequacy that this experience has brought up.  She told me being a failure is different from the fear of failure.  I had to let that one sink in.

I decided to take the plunge this morning.  I set up my GoFundMe campaign.  I winced a little, cried a little, then set it free to the world to consider helping me.

Doing this exercise was like a meditation.  I found a great quote to lead the appeal on my Facebook page:  “Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.”

So, I’m asking for it.  It’s humbling.  And, I’ve learned a few things in the process.

Honestly, I don’t know if I could ever adequately express what the support of my community would mean to me.  As I thought about asking for and receiving help, I thought about my son.  I want to show him that it’s okay to ask for help, that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, and maybe most importantly – that his mother was a leader in her industry and literally made something from nothing.

I have been struggling for so long that I have a hard time imagining being free from the burden of my struggle.  Thank God for therapy and leaning in toward growth and change.  Faith and stubbornness got me started on this journey.  Now I turn to grace, gratitude and persistence to carry on.  And acceptance.  If it’s meant to be, it will be.  If not, there’s something else out there for me.  But I will mourn the wines I crafted with love.

Asking for help isn’t easy.  But, I believe the greater good from asking for help will manifest in my desire and ability to “pay it forward” – supporting causes I care about, causes that enrich my community and help in building a kinder, better world for my son to grow up in!

I am asking for help!  It is both a burden and an opportunity.  I humbly wait to see what the universe has in store for me.

If you are interested in lending a helping hand, please visit my GoFundMe page.  Thank you for considering my appeal!  xo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Mutha of a Vintage

 

There is a gentle humility that comes with expecting and then delivering a baby.  Something intrinsic in your wiring switches and your life is no longer all about you.

Motherhood literally changes the brain.  There is plenty of research demonstrating how having children – even childbirth itself – changes a woman’s brain.  Did you know that after giving birth the brain actually grows?

There’s no question for me how important the prenatal experience was for my child’s early development.  Pregnancy did not happen without some external intensity for me – and, really, that was regarding my work.

I could not abandon ship during the most critical season – harvest.  I had to figure out how to see the 2018 vintage through while carrying my son in the second and third trimester, and miraculously get the white and rosé wines bottled weeks after giving birth while struggling through a difficult and painful recovery.

It wasn’t easy.  To be honest, it’s been a mother of a struggle.

Five months postpartum – and I have to maintain barrels of red wine, prepare for bottling the red wines, and prepare for the 2019 harvest.  My brain is narrowly focused on one thing – my son.

I don’t understand how any mother can return to a full time job during the first 6 months postpartum.  I am one of the lucky ones.  Being an entrepreneur means I create my own schedule – to a point.  As a winemaker, the seasonality of my work drives my schedule.

My brain is still fixated on the track of mothering.  It is a full time job – and then some.  Work-life balance is a challenge.  As an entrepreneur the business never really shuts down for you.  You have to create healthy boundaries to ensure you stay in business, that you are engaging and taking care of your customers, and, of course, keeping the process of production on schedule.

I was a little late in the game with bottling and releasing my white and rosé wines this year – with good reason.  Still, it made it more challenging for me to release and sell these important wines.  I am relying on my distribution partners to see the benefit in a later release with aromatic and rich Sauvignon Blanc and bone dry, savory rosé.  Truth be told, the 2017 vintage wines that are still out in the market are really tasting amazing at this time.  Holding off a little on releasing the 2018 vintage only means the wines will evolve and taste better with a little extra bottle age.  This is a good thing!

Still, bills need to get paid.  A delay in releasing and selling these wines means a delay in bringing in capital to pay for our production costs.  The dance between production schedule and related costs against sales schedule and bringing in capital for the business is complicated and stressful.  It never pans out just right and I’m constantly squirming to pay our bills on time.

This is stressful as a business owner.  Add pregnancy and motherhood to the mix – it’s pretty daunting and emotionally draining.

Something has to give.  And it’s not going to be at the detriment of my son.   I work hard to produce world class wine.  I’m confident that I am making among the best expressions of Cabernet Franc wines available anywhere.  But making wine is no longer my first priority.

I am taking some of the pressure off of me to perform perfectly.  2018 will be an exceptional vintage, I am certain.  But, I am awaiting a major learning point here.  I relinquished some of my obsessive tendencies regarding winemaking to care for myself and my son during this precious time.  I called on some help to see things through in the cellar.  I hired a part-time employee to do some basic cellar work for me – like washing tanks and topping barrels.  My husband came to the rescue a few times to check on and top barrels and to clean up our cellar space.

This is a big deal because for the past eight years I have performed pretty much every bit of the work load by myself.  It’s been an important lesson to let that go and get help, as needed.

To be a creator or a maker… and to follow a disciplined schedule… AND to evolve into a new mom – it’s no easy undertaking.  There are a ton of emotional ups and downs.  I even resented my business for quite some time.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I even lost interest in wine while I grew my baby and began nursing him.

I feel like I owe others a piece of me, via my wine, and it gave me such anxiety as I struggled to work.  This was especially true during the weeks after giving birth when I had to prepare our white and rosé wines for bottling.  I was an emotional wreck.  My body hurt and a part of me didn’t care about what I was doing.

It was my husband who was my greatest cheerleader, who pushed and encouraged me to get things done when I didn’t want to work at all.

I’m coming around.  Working part-time feels right for me right now.  I will need to pull some longer hours in the coming weeks when we prepare our red wines for bottling.  Harvest will require a lot more from me and I hope I am up for the task!  I am currently pulling together a couple of smart, capable people I trust to help me out during the most intense part of the wine production season.

I am asking my kind customers, business partners, friends and family for continued support, patience and understanding.  I always mean to make thoughtful, expressive wines that continue to excite and engage wine lovers.  I am also a new mom trying to find my way.  Some days are harder than others.

Each vintage tells a unique story.

For me, 2018 wasn’t just about the weather, the season of wildfires, the climate and long growing season, the effects of global warming and having scrutiny over the physiology of the grapes coming in after exposure to an ever increasing warming pattern (note:  I write extensively about the effects of global warming on wine grapes, especially regarding the increased population of spoilage microorganisms, like pedioccocus bacteria, that come into the winery on fruit that is sustainably or organically farmed, and how I need to mitigate the start of my fermentations to ensure cleanliness, purification of fruit and eliminating spoilage microbes by creating an environment for healthy fermentations completed by desired saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts with the goal of reducing byproducts, like biogenic amines, that can taint wine).

The vintage was about all of those things and how I navigated my work while growing my son – enduring many symptoms of pregnancy including edema, Braxton Hicks contractions, and exhaustion.  Even getting the calories I needed via holistic nutrition was challenging – but, I made it a priority.

I don’t know if the 2018 wines will be my best wines or not, but, they will be reflective of the major changes  that came along during my journey as a winemaking mother.  In the coming weeks I will be tasting through barrels and evaluating each lot and making decisions about what will be the final blends.  I am excited to see how these wines will transform over the next few years while I watch my baby grow into a toddler and little boy!