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August 17, 2005

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Mary Baker

At Dover Canyon, we are approaching sell out of our 2,200 case production in less than a year. At that point, we would like to slowly grow to about 5,000 and cap it there. We would like to increase our email audience to 5,000, and cap our wine club at 1,500. Just as importantly, we want to achieve our growth goals while enjoying financial stability and the personal freedom to enjoy what we do, and have time for family, friends, and other projects.

Owner-winemaker Dan Panico and I have both worked for mid-size and larger wineries. We know the industry, and we know ourselves well enough to know that a small, artisanal production is what we really want to do.

Ironically, in this extremely competitive business it's easier to grow than to stay small. Distributors want our wine. Brokers want our wine. They get really miffed when we suddenly sell out of a popular release, even though we repeat, and repeat, "these wines are limited productions." And it's easier to produce wines in an affordable price range with a larger production. It's easier, financially, to create a lovely tasting room when you have a larger production and greater cash flow, which in turn raises consumer awareness of the product. We've seen this kind of "attractive growth" happen to friends in the local wine industry. Sure, they build wine empires, but they end up flying a desk, to borrow an aviation metaphor, instead of working in their own vineyard and wine cellar.

So I would have to say my biggest recurring headache is explaining to brokers and distributors over and over again that we have a limited production, and that we have no intention of significantly increasing that production. While it's not exactly an obstacle, it's an ongoing campaign.

Frankly, I can't really think of any obstacles, let alone three, to achieving our goals, but that may be a combination of my general tenacity and optimism, combined with a very solid business plan and a financially conservative owner-winemaker. I'm certain that we will achieve our goals within the next three years. The challenge will be in adhering to our plan and saying "no" to pressure from distribution channels!

Competition is definitely a factor and a problem; something we face every day. But the competitive friction does not come from other wineries of our size and quality. There's an expansive and growing market for this level of wine. The friction comes from large wineries with the inventory and the staff to keep distributors happy without interruption. Distributors and sales reps do not want the headache of telling a customer, "Oh, we sold you on this wine, but now it's gone. Sorry." They also want to taste samples in January and place orders in June, without being told, "Sorry, that wine is sold out."

And yet, there are customers out there who want the wine. I recently Fedex'd several cases to a wine shop in Florida that desperately wanted to carry our wines. Two Florida distributors tasted these wines in May, and are wooing us as clients, but have yet to place an order. Two of the wines they tasted are now sold out.

Rather than continue to bang my head against the rock wall of this monumental business, we will celebrate the newly reborn shipping statutes, and continue to build our direct consumer base, while working with brokers and distributors who are already proving themselves committed to representing artisans.

To that end, I have upgraded my website with a wealth of information, published a cookbook, started a blog, and I am honored to participate as a forum host for the culinary site eGullet.org. I am also working on two more books, and a pilot for a cable television cooking show. At the same time, I am always looking for ways to expand and improve my marketing efforts. That's why I am so happy to discover this site, with it's useful information on creative marketing, and links to other winery blogs!

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