4th of July Weekend Marks Two Year Anniversary for 'Sonoma William' – and Brings More Changes, Evolutions & Decisions
It's snuck up on me again, perhaps because (as many echo to me) it is sometimes hard to imagine I have only been here two years. In many ways I feel like was always here.
Two Years Ago – The Long Overdue Journey Begins
I knew in my heart and soul, over 12 years ago this is where I would live: The result of working for a Petaluma startup and discovering Sonoma County's Russian River Valley. However being (at that time) in my early 30s's, and single, I was in denial a rural, agrarian county was the place for me, and instead lived in San Francisco and Marin, but sojourning regularly into Sonoma for work and play. Russian River Valley (I fell in love with Pinot, my 'first girl') and often Dry Creek Valley, became monthly visits.
Flash forward to 2009; after leaving the Bay area and brief stints in Seattle, Denver, and Baja Mexico, I returned to California in 2007 and was working in Silicon Valley.
A rapid series of life & work events landed me here in North Sonoma, newly single, on paid 6 months off, really not knowing anyone, and keen to dive, at least partially, into the wine industry. After much urging by friends, I also decided it was time to start a wine website and blog on it. I was fairly new to Facebook, not even on Twitter, but realized, with my background in marketing & technology, that these Social Media tools really could provide some social integration and networking, as well as establishing the brand of 'Sonoma William.' Today the blog Facebook page has 2400 followers, and Twitter, 4000.
Which incidentally I get push back on occasion as a wine writer. I write, travel, and review all wines and AVAs. Sonoma County is where I live and love, not my wine focus, per se. Although she holds a special place in my heart, and where above all other places, I choose to live.
I wasn't alone – we had other new entities like Hardy Wallace and Rick Bakas, all of us only a brief span apart. move into wine country. The differentiator for myself being I was completely independent and self funded. (Not that I wouldn't want a large or progressive thinking, funded, winery at my back!)
It wasn't long before I heard regularly – 'you are everywhere!'
Things coalesced: I finished the blog site, self designed and hosted; I was fortunate enough to have good local Industry backing, especially of the North Sonoma Wine Road, and then it spread to organizations like Hospice du Rhone, and momentum just grew. More of my background and first adventures can be found in my post: ‘Sonoma William’ Joins Forces With the Rhone Rangers; Some History & New Directions. I jumped into 2009 harvest. I covered events and just waded in head first.
Alas, my 6 month 'sabbatical' ended prematurely and I had to stop mid harvest and begin the struggle of trying to balance time between two very distinct worlds.
Now, two years later much has evolved, personally and professionally, but one thing is certain – being involved in the wine industry was my calling – but on what path?
More Changes and Several Paths To Choose From Ahead
Two years later, a touch ironically, I am amidst another series of life changes.
Until last month, I have been head of sales for a small, VC funded, software company, which by its nature brings volatility, especially when you are subject to the whims of Venture Capitalists, and in turbulent times. Despite the fact I helped the company grow and 2011 was on target to meet or exceed another 25+ percent growth year, a never ending series of changes and re-orgs, my role was eliminated. Without the big corporate severance package this time.
It was clear this was an opportunity to assess and decide – is this the time to jump full time into the wine industry? I have had offers before (and now) – but the issue has always been a huge decrease in income, at a time with a new farm, small vineyard, and other projects where capital is needed…can I afford to? We shall see, for right now I am pursuing other avenues and interests, hopefully through Harvest 2011.
Additionally, a bit unexpected, I am in a relationship with someone, also in (and new to) the wine industry. After many years of focusing on everything but my own life, I am investing substantial hours per week in building and growing this relationship, and spending time with a person who completes my life in many ways. My 'usual' line of work involves heavy travel 2-3 days a week, every week, and has always made relationships a challenge, so I am welcoming the quality time getting to know a dear person I both greatly respect and whom I think the world of. Life is short, time is precious. It's time to live, love and practice what I preach about enjoying life's primary pleasures.
Wine Marketing Consulting
Over the last year, I had been doing some side consulting for marketing and social media integration to several clients, mostly in conjunction with wine Public Relations veteran Marie Gewirtz of MGPR, and occasionally independently. Given recent changes, I am now open to new clients, and have recently closed several with more request
opens for proposals. These can range from a Social Media only focus, helping launch Facebook, Twitter, building a following, integrating key applications like Cruvee and Google Analytics for measurement, training, and handing over the keys to the castle over some months, to campaign and event consulting, or a full blown soup to nuts Marketing , Public Relations, and Social Media campaign combining the resources and and experience of MGPR, and others who work with us.
I need to build an 'accolades' page, as we have already accomplished some great things, and I have also launched several projects including the new Santa Rosa Wine Trail. I also teach seminars for Wine Organizations, teach at Sonoma State University, guest lecture at Santa Rosa Junior college, and have presented at winery's national meetings. Work has never been this much fun, or fulfilling, until now.
In the background I have been working to create my own small brand, focusing on Rhone blends, producing 7 barrels of Rhone varietals (175 cases) and am going through all the fun paperwork. (Especially daunting has been the name creation.) I have had help and coaching from many people, ranging from Rhone icon Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon (whom I feel guilty to even contact) to the guidance of local winemakers Darek Trowbridge (and Steven Washuta) (Old World Winery), Alan Baker (Cartograph), Dylan & Tobe Sheldon (Sheldon Wines) & Kevin Hamel, veteran Sonoma wine maker and consultant. Busy with their own small artisan wine brands (all personal favorites) , these people have been kind enough to mentor me.
The ultimate size of this label? Remains to be seen… I think this is my long term future…but is that five years out? Ten? It's still TBD as I let it happen somewhat organically. Joining with a life partner, investment partner who is also a passionate wine aficionado could accelerate this. My experience with Venture Capitalists makes me reluctant to create a business plan and raise outside investors who aren't hands on involved, and like minded.
Wine Writing, Press Tours, and Wine Judging
At the same time, my following and reputation as a wine writer seems to have really accelerated. Readership is high, for a niche wine website. Requests for media coverage and event press passes flow in. I am having to decline some wine samples, based on backlog, capacity, and really wish I again had active wine writers again for events and reviews.
A new twist has emerged that I am excited about – wine judging. In early August I will be a judge in the Mendocino County Wine Competition. In September I am judging the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, our biggest competition. And in November I am judging in a brand new competition called the Garagiste Festival.
Additional requests for press and media tours continue. I recently have been spending time exploring Mendocino County with a press tour and Paul Dolan biodynamic writers camp. In July I am one of six writers selected on a all expense paid week media tour in Spain, sponsored by Freixnet, and visiting properties and wineries of the 22 brands, including Ribera and Rioja. Wine writing doesn't pay, but it has its perks!
Stepping into the Rhone Rangers Board of Directors, and Starting the North Coast Chapter
Life has been so busy, I haven't even had time to craft a press release about our record Rhone Rangers San Francisco Grand event, nor my appointment to the Board of Directors last month.
Additionally, I am also spearheading the new North Coast Rhone Rangers chapter, in the footsteps of the successful Paso Robles chapter. Our initial goal is a map of Rhone producers with an electronic map for Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Lake Counties. More on this in a separate article, but if you are a winery that fits this or can recommend one, please contact me ASAP. I love working with wineries, but if you have ever done any cross winery work, you know its cat herding at its finest!
Where Does It All Lead?
The above items are by far a complete list; add in the monthly social events host for 100+ people, the live tastings I do, and much more, life is very full! But where does this lead? I often get asked where is my 'master plan'?
Atypical for me, I don't have one. I see multiple possible paths in front of me, and I am letting them play out, somewhat organically, or naturally. Water follows its own path, and in this case, I think my life will as well.
I can't wait to see what the 2012 Third year anniversary summary brings! Cheers!