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Leaving CrushPad

Posted by Brian , May 5, 2010

Go ahead and pick your overused cliché:  change is a good thing; change we can believe in; change is inevitable.

Change is all of the above and more.  For us, change is what we’re jumping into with both feet for the 2010 harvest.  After making our wine at CrushPad for the past two years, we’ve decided to take the training wheels off and learn to pedal on our own.

Why?  How?  Huh?

These are just some of the initial reactions we’ve received as we’ve started to inform our friends of our decision.  In the coming weeks, we’ll learn to tackle the “how”.  Because CrushPad is a soup-to-nuts operation, leaving them means that we’ll now have to do most things on our own.  From sourcing grapes, to obtaining licenses, to buying barrels, to finding warehousing and fulfillment – it’s just me and Kerith now, cobbling pieces of the puzzle together.  We’ll examine every step along the way, detailing the importance of each to the wine making process and its impact on the quality of the finished product.

But for today, let’s tackle the “why”.

Let’s be clear – CrushPad is great. Great people, great product, great idea.  Realistically, without CrushPad there would be no Bruliam Wines.  They enable microscopic wine brands with absolutely no prior experience to make world-class wine with limited upfront capital expense.   Nobody holds a candle to CrushPad in the niche they’ve carved out.

That said, two primary issues lead to our decision:  logistics and economics.

CrushPad recently announced that they were moving from San Francisco to Napa.  For many of their clients, this is a great boon – there will be a tasting room on the Silverado Trail, greater client access to the vineyards, and a number of new marketing opportunities.   At the same time, we’ve entrenched ourselves in the northern Sonoma town of Healdsburg.  I don’t particularly buy into the whole Napa vs. Sonoma rivalry, but I do know that it is a major inconvenience to split time between San Diego and Healdsburg if our wine making facility is in Napa.  When CrushPad was located in San Francisco, we could (and often did) pop in on our way to or from the airport.  We could also do same day up-and-back trips during harvest.  Drop the kids at school, sort our grapes, and fly home in time for swim team and after school curriculars.  Sadly, that’s impossible with the relocation to Napa.

As for economics, there’s nothing wrong with the CrushPad model.  It works perfectly fine for those who can’t or don’t want to fully manage the winemaking process (and all the non-winemaking activities that are a necessary evil in the business).  Fortunately, we’re Type A enough to do just that.  And, as I modeled our growth plan and looked into the cost structures of alternative solutions, I saw a number of potential and very significant cost savings.

For many, winemaking is a labor of love – not a job.  While we feel the same, the hard truth is that I can’t turn off my business background when staring at an upside down P&L and projections that show no light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of the revenue ramp.

Our aim is to create world class wine, raise awareness about charities we care deeply about, and donate 100% of our profits to those charities.  Along the way, we want to involve you in all aspects of this project – including the charitable giving – making the accomplishments of Bruliam Wines a communal effort.  I think we’ve succeeded at all levels to date. 

But, the hard truth is that if we can’t ultimately generate a profit, there really is no purpose in this endeavor.  So, simply put, moving out on our own provides us with a much clearer path to profitability, thereby ensuring the long term viability of our label.

For those of you who loved our 2008 pinot and are anxiously awaiting our next release, we can understand some apprehension.  All we can say is that if you’ve liked what we’ve done so far, you ain’t seen nothing yet!  We’re nearly bursting at the seams with excitement over what’s coming from the 2009 vintage and everything we’ve got lined up for the 2010 harvest.

Until then, we are humbled by all of your support to date and can’t wait to share the next steps in this adventure with you.

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