Our first Wine show....

Discussion in 'Commercial Winery Forum' started by Hokapsig, Jan 27, 2016.

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  1. Feb 16, 2017 #21

    Hokapsig

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    well, 2017 has started and we have done 5 wine shows and 2 fundraisers. We have past the halfway point of money made in 2016 after just 6 weeks. We are still learning and selling.

    We learned that sweet wines sell 10 to 1 over dry wines, though there are areas/shows that are almost all dry wine drinkers. We learned to take a dry wine and make it a sweet wine and were able to sell to both sweet and dry drinkers. We also took carboys of wines sitting around since our hobby days of home winemaking and blended them together to make another wine. After a TTB label approval, those wines have sold out. A blend of Carmenare with Red Zin did very well, and a party wine of Corot Noir, Cab Sauv and Red Zin appeared as "Winemaker's Blend" and sold out too.

    Finding time to clean tanks, bench test and bottle is hard to do. We (the wife and I) would spend from 6 to 1130 bottling and cleaning in preparation for weekend shows, only to sell out and have to do it all again the next week, which is a good problem to have. Purchasing the pickup truck has given us some freedom to run for bottles and juice, and we got some magnetic stickers for the truck which makes us look more professional.

    Thanks to Runningwolf for the heads up on equipment which a winery was selling as he was voluntarily going out of business, ffemt for all his counselling, truck use, physical help and wine selling expertise, and Julie for mentoring me along in the early days. More to come.....
     
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  2. Jun 27, 2017 #22

    Hokapsig

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    another 4 months has passed and we have exceeded our sales from all of 2016. Our learning from the first shows has helped us greatly and we are a fine tuned wine selling machine now. We are now able to figure out the amount of cases that we will sell, which saves us from handling the wines twice. We have expanded out for larger quantities of California and South American juices, though these will sit for another year at least before bottling. We can now be more choosy with the shows that we do, but even the shows that we are doing to help a non profit or charity are helping us to sell a bunch of wine. We are learning that we need to seek the counsel of a professional for our taxes, which are far more complex than anyone can figure out.

    Equipment wise, we are now reinvesting some profits in bigger tanks and bottling equipment. We are constantly looking for deals. We are also shopping for property in which to put up a building or tasting room. We are gauging our decision on our sales at a local farmer's market. Sales have exceeded our expectations and we have been encouraged to follow our dream of a building/tasting room. We now have financial backing based on our success, though we absolutely hate debt and we try to figure how much wine will need to be sold to make the mortgage payments.

    we are also helping to mentor 3 new wineries who are learning from our mistakes and successes. Although only less than 2 years into the process, we have taken the seat of "old winery owner" and love to pass on our wisdom learned from experience to new winery owners. Looking back, we wish we would have done this years ago, but with schools to pay for and a mortgage, this was not possible. In our mid 50's, we are happy to make and sell wine, which beats sitting around watching TV. Let's see what the second half of 2017 has in store for us.
     
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  3. Jun 27, 2017 #23

    GreginND

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    That's awesome. We are also growing - 150 cases in 2015, 450 cases in 2016 and over 900 cases this year. I keep ordering more bigger tanks. Just ordered a new larger destemmer with must pump. Now I just need to figure out how to make some more climate controlled storage for the wine. The stacks of cases in the winery leave no room to do anything. The other problem is our laws. I'm only allowed to do 20 events off site a year and each one must be approved by the state tax commissioner. 17 of those are used up with our local farmers market in the summer. So we can only do 3 events beyond that.

    I did make a mistake this year and forgot to add the sorbate to our sweet red Frontenac wine this year. It would have been our bestseller but we had to uncork 800 bottles. However, we are using it as a base for Sangria which is selling like crazy. And I can take wine right out of the tank for that even while it is still fermenting.
     
  4. Jun 28, 2017 #24

    Hokapsig

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    Luckily, PA lets me do 100 shows off site, not including farmer's markets. Farmer's markets are ALL covered under one permit which is good for the year. However, my project is to figure out how to drive people to the winery once its built. That asset will have to be working 24/7 to generate the cash flow to make the bills. However, we will probably still do the shows as they generate free cash.

    I only want to work professionally for 4 more years, then transition to the winery. It's something that I like to do and have a passion for. I can't do much stuff right, but selling wine is something that I excel at.
     
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  5. Jun 28, 2017 #25

    ffemt128

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    Glad to have been there for the journey thus far. Looking forward to the rest of 2017 and the adventures it will bring.
     
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  6. Jun 28, 2017 #26

    GreginND

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    We find a lot of traffic coming out to the winery after the farmers market. Mainly because we only take a small sampling of our wines there. We have had great growth due to social media. My wife is vigilant about posting on Facebook several times a day. Word of mouth has been increasing exponentially because we provide an amazingly welcoming experience. We have hardly ever paid for any advertising or marketing.
     
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  7. Dec 24, 2017 #27

    Hokapsig

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    with 2017 all but in the books, we can look back on the year. We came close to tripling our sales. We took a chance and did a local farmer's market. I had told my wife that people usually don't go to farmer's markets to buy wine, but only vegetables and plants. I put a goal to sell $100 a week and the cost to attend the market was $10 per week for 18 weeks. The first week, we missed our goal by selling 7x our goal and we never looked back. Once our wines caught on, we were selling 10 to 15 times our initial weekly goal. People liked our story, liked that we were local and that we attended every week. We learned to vary our wines every other week which kept our line up fresh. However, this created another problem that I didn't foresee - The farmer's market cut into our inventory so much that we ran short of wines at the end of summer. Success has its problems, but those are good problems to overcome.

    We took a chance and did some additional shows. Some were very good and we sold well. Others ere TOTAL busts. Lesson learned that if a show didn't sell tickets and the promoters tell you that people will come without advertising, turn and run away as fast as possible. One show ended up with 12 people at the 5 hour show. Fortunately, we sold to the vendors to cover our costs, but still should have lost money, We also found many shows that didn't cost a lot to attend and sold well at these shows.

    We are currently looking for a tasting room/property to establish a winery as we have outgrown our basement. Supplies storage now force me to park my car outside of the garage. Though we use some 6 gallon carboys for blending purposes, the carboys take up valuable floor space and we will be selling many of those this year. We acquired a heat tunnel for capsuling, 2 more Italian corkers and an additional enolmatic filler, though we are looking for a 4 or 6 spout filler. Our super jet filtering system is being replaced with a twin 20 inch column system to allow us to filter twice at one pass.

    With 2018 looming, we are seeking local property to put in the tasting room. We were offered to rent a church with 5 acres, but for $3500 a month, the cost was too high with little return for equity. We have found several possibilities, the best being 2 old farmhouses with acreage, and one with 22 acres and no improvements, Our bank account is healthy and we can put down an higher than modest down payment. We realize that a property will strap us to make us have to make a mortgage payment, but we feel that our cash flow can more than handle that. We are looking forward to the challenge.....
     
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  8. Dec 24, 2017 #28

    Johnd

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    Wow, that’s quite a story!!!! Congratulations for pursuing your passion and making it work, sounds like you guys are on a wonderful trajectory. Looking forward to seeing pics of the new winery when you make the move.
     
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  9. Dec 24, 2017 #29

    sour_grapes

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    That's just great, Ho. Congrats to you, and may you exceed your goals again in 2018!
    :br
     
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  10. Dec 26, 2017 #30

    balatonwine

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    There is no free lunch. You "pay". But simply not in cash. ;)
     
  11. Jan 3, 2018 #31

    ffemt128

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    Its been a fun year..
     
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  12. Jan 8, 2018 #32

    JohnT

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    Question: Are there any permits or special hoops you have to jump through to be allowed to sell alcohol at a farmer's market?
     
  13. Jan 8, 2018 #33

    Hokapsig

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    not in PA, other than paying for a farmer's market permit and adding it to our master state permit. We can sell by the bottle or case, but not by the glass as the farmer's market has no liquor license. At our farmer's market, there was one other winery and 1 to 2 distilleries.
     
  14. Jun 19, 2018 #34

    Hokapsig

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    with 2018 almost half in the books, we continue to have success. We are currently running at 50% over last years totals in sales. We have sought out more lucrative shows to boost our sales and are now venturing into different wines. We have learned that an all grape line up will limit your sales. Vary your offerings with different tasting wines and you will do well. Different is VERY good.

    We continue to learn the rules of the state. We no longer donate bottles for charity fund raisers as the state considers this participating in gambling which would threaten our license. Although we feel that we should be able to donate to whoever we please, we will abide by the state's rules. Boo, hiss on the state.

    Our search for a tasting room continues. We have been offered very pricey venues, but having to sell 30 cases a month just to make the rent seemed a little steep of a price. We are working on an offer to share a space in a town 45 minutes away, but are continuing to seek a closer location to our winery. People are very proud of their property in our neighborhood, so buying any property will be very pricey, We had an offer to buy 20 acres with an old farmhouse, barn and out buildings, We spoke with the company that had purchased the property (for the gas and oil rights) and wanted to divest the ground, It was going to be a match made in heaven, but at the last minute, the company pulled the plug, We had already had our builder and were moving on financing when the company reneged on their offer, Maybe we were being told that this site isn't in the cards for us.

    Out partnering with the local battlefield is paying great dividends, As we named our winery after the local French and Indian war battlefield, we designed themed wines to benefit the battlefield, We donate a dollar per bottle sold of these themed wines to support the battlefield. The first year we donated about $700 which totally surprised the historical society that runs and maintains the battlefield, This year, we were able to give $1700. The battlefield now helps us by promoting our winery, giving us free locations to sell our wines, invites us to all their functions to sell, and supports us by buying the wines. It was well worth doing the background work to name and partner the winery with an organization that is mutually beneficial for both parties,

    We have also begun to scale the production by purchasing additional used tanks. We are now selling off our home winemaking equipment to buy more professional equipment, Craigslist is our friend, We continue to be thankful for other wineries which help us with their advice. We look forward to pay it forward and continue to help other winerys. We continue to wonder where we would be if we would have started 5 years earlier, IF you're thinking of testing the waters, do your due diligence and dip your toe into the water, Do a good business plan first as making your mistakes on paper is MUCH cheaper than with your wallet,
     
  15. Jun 19, 2018 #35

    nkearney

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    Thank you so much for sharing your journey! It is helping me tremendously!
     
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  16. Jun 19, 2018 #36

    WinoDave

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    Nice read, thank you. I’ve only been into wine making for 2 years now, all kits but I really enjoy it and I think my wine kits taste better than Most store bought wines. I do tweak them a little. Congrats on your success and may it continue.
     
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  17. Feb 26, 2019 #37

    Hokapsig

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    time to update this thread.....

    As we now go into our fourth year, the winery has grown. We purchased twelve 300 liter VC tanks from wineries which were closing and now have purchased two 500 and six 600 liter tanks from wineries which are upgrading their tanks. Look for these two types of wineries to increase your capacity. However, this year, we are finding out that even these tanks are too small. We have been doing bigger shows and will do at least 2 farmers markets, so trying to forecast production is becoming an issue. So far this year, we had one show that we totally sold out of 28 cases in 3 hours (they even bought our tasters) and came close to a 70 case sell out at another show. We are beginning to "compete" with the big boys, who have been nothing but helpful to us. As my wife says, we are becoming a "thing". Our problem is that we can't make and bottle wine fast enough.

    Our next step is to now purchase some property and put in a tasting room. We wanted to make sure that we had the business to take such a leap, but this appears to be the next step in the process. For the past 4 years we have operated out of the wine cellar (aka the house's basement), keeping our overhead low, staying debt free and learning. Watching the success of ffemt with his tasting room has been a blessing and a learning experience for us and we thank Doug for allowing us insight into his operation. We are moving slow and are finding out about all the costs associated with opening a winery tasting room. Our zoning will work as we will be agri-business, but we must grow grapes on the property (which we will do just to make for ambiance and possibly a You Pick revenue stream). We will still go to the professional vineyards and have juice/grapes come in from Cali for producing our wines. We are still having to purchase some young wines from the vineyards to supplement our production. We don't like to do this, but our success depends on it as we can't produce enough fast enough to satisfy demand. The farm we are looking to purchase is about 28 acres, with 3 barns and 2 houses. The owner didn't want to see her farm become a housing plan and was happy to deal with us. Our initial walk through is today and we have to determine if the soil will perk. All the money we have made and banked from the winery will go just to pay for the septic system. Fortunately, there is other money set aside for the purchase of the property.

    My wife has "retired" from the business world and now works for the winery. She pays the taxes, does the books (make sure to get QuickBooks) and runs the farmers markets in the summer. She is also my delivery service, meeting local customers to deliver their wines. We have also trained extra friends which help us at the shows and they are happy to volunteer and work for wine. We have 2 of my son's friends which like our wine and now work for us at the shows and we hope to soon allow them to run either a satellite location or their own shows for us. We have figured out what sells at shows, not only the wines and the choice of wines in the lineup, but also HOW to sell the wines. Customers like the personal connection to the staff and how we talk about the wines. All of our staff is PA RAMP certified.

    We are now branching out to fruit wines and are using the farm over the hill from us for their raspberries and a friend's orchard for our pear wine. Our wines have been very well received and we are always experimenting with "different" wines to be able to sell something that no one else has. We are experimenting with different revenue streams, such as shirts, hoodies and wine glasses. These sold well at Christmas. We are considering a "12 days of Christmas" wine case for sale in the holiday season.

    it's been a fun ride, but it is a LOT of work. From driving for juice, bottles and supplies, to prepping for bottling and shows, this endevor takes a lot of your time. Each night after work, I come home, eat dinner and head to the winery until 1030 or 11 or later. Many problems to solve, much wine to make. Here's to a fun 2019.
     
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  18. Feb 26, 2019 #38

    Jal5

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    Good for you Bill glad to hear that your journey is coming along.
    Joe
     
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  19. Feb 27, 2019 #39

    KevinL

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    Congrats and it's great to hear things are going so well. My little operation is well on it's way. I'm curious to see how we do this year. Having more demand than supply is a good problem to have I'd say.

    Good luck this year!
     
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  20. Feb 27, 2019 #40

    danno

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    Congrats on your success - very inspiring!
     
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