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Colliding Circumstance and Wine in the Great Midwest

A couple of weeks ago Mark at Uncorked detailed an encounter he had at a wine tasting in Houston, Texas.

It seems that one of his biggest wine bargains ever was the purchase of Chateau Guiraud Sauternes from a now closed wine shop in Ohio. 

In a small world moment of the first order, Mark had the opportunity to run into the former co-owner of the Chateau at the tasting in Texas—she still living in France, he still living in Ohio, they convening serendipitously at a tasting in Houston, Texas.

I’ve now had a similar moment that still boggles my mind for its colliding circumstances.

Over the course of 2004 and into 2005 I wrote a business plan for a wine shop that would be based in Indianapolis. It combined a number of inspirational elements from wine shops on either coast and some unique elements that are not found here in Indianapolis, or anywhere.

Wine retail isn’t a fabulous business to get into if you are a little thin in the pocket book because inventory is anathema to light cash flow and terms in the wine business are usually 15 days net.  Cash goes out, product comes in, there are no returns to the distributor and you hope the customers come.

I had a couple of meetings with the principal investor of a restaurant in Indianapolis called Binkley’s—they had a vacant storefront in a neighborhood that fit all of my criteria—next to their restaurant that could act as a destination pull for traffic with a similar customer base, situated in an urban environment, mature neighborhood with close proximity to nightlife and a university and a mixture of baby-boomer’s and youth with rich demographics, traffic counts were good, etc.  It was a perfect location.  Alas, the space was just too damn big—over 3000 square feet.  There wasn’t any way I could make sales projections work that would suit the amount of space.  And I would need a perfect storm of business and foot traffic to make sure I wasn’t set-up for failure.  Distinctively, I also have the dubious quality of having absolutely no retail experience.  The investor, a guy who has made money out of both sides of his pants pockets for years knew this as well and simply said, “You don’t have enough of your own money to make this work.”

Fair enough. 

The process of creating the business plan was a good one and I put together a pretty good plan regardless.  I subsequently started this blog as a creative outlet for my wine enthusiasm and I wound up working for a wine company based in Napa—a turn of events and circumstance that I think was manifest destiny anyways. 

I was out in California a month or so ago for business and I attended the Wine 2.0 function in San Francisco.  As the evening progressed, members of our team at Inertia left for another nightspot to wind the evening down.  A customer of ours, Jason Goelz from Sapid Wines, was hanging out with us, as well.

Jason is a younger guy, 30 years old or so, and a real good guy dedicated to making good wine as he launches his brand.  In guy talk, Jason is “out kicking his coverage” meaning that he’s crafting good wine at a pace to market that isn’t normal.  I expect many good things for and with him in the future.  Inertia is excited to help him and he uses Inertia services for his direct-to-consumer business and very soon for direct-to-trade business, as well. 

Come to find out, Jason is an Indiana guy. He was born here, he lived here for several years and he still has family in Indy that he visits for the holidays.  We quickly made plans to have a glass of vino and a bite to eat while he was here in the city.  While we were chatting, Jason mentioned that he had distribution in Indiana with a distributor that I was not readily familiar with, Crossroads Vintners.

When I came home from my trip to California last month, my wife and I attended a tasting from a visiting winemaker coordinated by a wine shop, The Grapevine Cottage, the best wine shop in Central Indiana.  The tasting was nice enough, but I ran into an old acquaintance at the tasting who, come to find out, had recently started a wine distributor in Indianapolis with a partner called Crossroad Vintners.  Hmmm.  We chatted for a few minutes while he worked the tasting and we both marveled at the joy of both of moving into the wine business resolving to grab a bite to eat in the near future. 

This was weird.  I start working for a technology company in Napa, CA, following my passion for wine while working out of a home office in Indianapolis.  Then, via a business relationship I serendipitously talk to a California winemaker who has family in Indianapolis and would be visiting shortly.  Next, I bump into an old acquaintance that starts a wine distributor in Indiana and he works with this same small, boutique winery and winemaker. 

What could be weirder?  The distributor and the winemaker meet for lunch yesterday; I decline to participate to let them do their business without an interloper.  Where did they meet for lunch?  Binkley’s of course.  Binkley’s is the restaurant that was home to my business meeting with an investor a year and ½ ago that started my wine odyssey in a serious way.

You can’t make this stuff up: Indianapolis and wine at the center of a colliding set of circumstances that makes you scratch your head and wonder about cosmic forces at work.


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