• Tim Kuepfer

The Hardest Part of Starting a Winery

Other winemakers say that the hardest part of starting a winery isn’t growing the grapes or making the wine — it’s selling it.

I tell people that wine is easy to sell. They should try selling financial data, like I used to.  I would ask a customer, “would you like to try my financial data?”  They would cross their legs and look at their feet, and politely say “Uhh…”

But when you ask people, “would you like to try some of my delicious wine?” they get excited, their eyes glow in anticipation, they grab a tasting glass and line up three deep at the tasting bar.

So when we opened our winery store three years ago and did our first tastings, we thought, wow, this is great!  People really love their wine!

Wine is certainly a pleasure to sell.  It’s a product we love and people enjoy.  If someone shows up in our tasting room on Closson road in the middle of Prince Edward County, they’ve sought us out.  It’s an experiential transaction which is about more than just the wine — it’s about lifestyle, it’s about enjoying the country, it’s about the craftsman conversing with the consumer.

But it’s hard to sell enough wine at a price that makes it all worthwhile.  We need to grow by leaps and bounds to make a business out of it.   With only one Big City Income at chez Kuepfer, the time has come for Broken Stone Winery to leave its infancy and start contributing to the family, so to speak.  We need to leave the farm and go out into the world to make a name for ourselves.  Last year we dabbled in farmers’ markets, which was good exposure, but an excruciatingly slow way to sell wine.  Now we can’t just rely on people to randomly show up.  Now we need to kick it up a notch and get the word out about our beautiful vineyard and delicious wines.  We need to give people reasons to actively seek us out.

One way to do that is simply to get more people to taste our wines.  What’s the saying – “if the mountain doesn’t come to Buddha, then Buddha must go to the mountain.”?  In a fit of ebullience, we signed up for five successive off-winery events in April.  They were a great opportunity to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have tried our wines.  First there was an event at the Drake Hotel in Toronto and Riverside Winefest on Queen Street East.  Then we went to the Toronto Food and Drink Market, a medium-sized trade show in the Enercare Centre in Toronto.  Then County in the City — a Toronto Taste-and-Buy event.  And then County in the Capital, a similar event in Ottawa.

Whew, that was exhausting!  We don’t really make a profit at these events themselves.  The tickets or orders that we collect generally cover the cost of entering, the cost of the wine, and our time if we are lucky.  We look at them as a chance to promote the winery as well as events, newsletters, bus tours and wine clubs.  Between the five events we touched thousands of wine consumers.   The best thing that can happen is that someone new decides to come to Prince Edward County and add our winery to their must-visit list.

Feedback is quick and clear.  Some of the most common questions we had at the events were:

“Broken Stone Winery… are you guys new?  How long have you been open?”

“Broken Stone Winery… I was just in the County… how did we miss you?”

“Broken Stone Winery … where are you?”

(And occassionally “Wow, you’ve come a long way.  I didn’t know that they made wines in Prince Edward ISLAND“)

Obviously we need a bigger sign — lots of people are coming to the County but somehow missing our winery!

By being at the events, we’re reaching a lot of people that haven’t heard of us and have been coming wine touring to Prince Edward County.  We’re also County ambassadors, handing out wine tour maps and reaching people who have never heard of our wine region.  Getting the word out about our winery is hard work, but all the effort will be worth it.  It’s just a slow and steady process and we need to have faith in its eventual success.

Now after all that marketing work, it’s back into the vineyard to begin the hard work of pruning the vines for a new season…we can’t wait!

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