The demographics of wine country are diverse. Next year go see for yourself at the St. Helena Fire Department Lobster Feed. It is a great time and you might sit next to Francis Ford Coppola or a cashier from Steves Hardware or an investment banker from New York City or a winemaker.
Driving around you will see the likes of $3 million Ferraris (one broke down in front of our house but it still looked good). And you will see a lot of fully depreciated pickup trucks. There is plenty of money around and there is plenty of “I wish I had more money” around. But the great equalizer is the life to be lived here, whether you have money or not.
Visitors recognize the “lifestyle” here. There is food, drink and romance but sometimes one has to really stop to appreciate it. This is my occasional stop to enjoy our wine country world.
With apologies to the purists for adaptation, a famous parable applies in wine country.
A wealthy venture capitalist (VC) was hanging around at a small vineyard one day just as the winemaker appeared. They were neighbors. The winemaker was proudly moving a few cases of his wine to be readied for shipment. The VC complimented the winemaker on the quality of his wine and asked about his annual production. He replied, “About 600 cases, but I sell out each year.” The VC then asked why he didn’t produce more. The winemaker said at 600 cases he had just enough to support his family and he didn’t want the pressure of having to sell more. The VC then asked, “But what do you do with all of your time? Six hundred cases is not that much.”
The winemaker said, “I have a garden, hang out with my kids, get a coffee at the Model Bakery with other wine workers, and in the evenings I have a nice dinner with my wife, drink wine and play guitar. I have a full life.”
The VC scoffed, “I can help you. You should spend more time in the vineyard and increase production. Go into debt and buy the property next to yours. With the proceeds from more production you could buy more vineyards, first in Lake County, then in Oregon. Instead of dealing with a distributor you should sell directly to customers by enhancing your Web presence. You should buy your own production equipment, don’t use any custom crush facilities and you will need warehouse operations. You will control everything from grape to the customer’s lips.”
“Of course, you will need to leave St. Helena and move to Lodi, San Francisco or New York to run your expanding enterprise.”
The winemaker asked, “But, how long will this all take?” To which the VC replied, “Fifteen to 20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the winemaker. The VC laughed and said, “That is the best part. When the time is right you will be able to sell your winery and become very rich, you will make millions! The wine industry is always consolidating.”
“Wow, that’s a lot of money, then what?” The VC said, “Then you can retire. Move to a small wine country town where you could grow a garden, play with your grandchildren, hang around at the bakery with your wine buddies, and in the evenings you can have a nice dinner with your wife, drink wine and play the guitar.”
The moral of the story? People come here from all around the world to enjoy what we see and do every day. You are here. You don’t have to say, “Someday I am going to come back here.” You are here. And we are all lucky.
Rich Moran enjoys watching venture capitalists and winemakers chat with each other.