By Lindy Novak, Excerpt from the 2013 Newsletter
In our more than thirty years of existence as a winery, we have enjoyed many gratifying moments and milestones. Having had the good fortune to drop into the Napa Valley over forty years ago and discover an historic estate that needed someone to care for it and tend to its renewal and restoration has certainly been rewarding, as has the building of a successful family business and well-respected winery. However, we all agree that the most rewarding thing of all is the relationships we have established, maintained, and enhanced over the years.
This started with a network of friends in the valley, many of whom were winery owners themselves, who shared their knowledge with us, and branched out to include vineyard managers and winemakers, then our winery and vineyard staff, then suppliers, then stores and restaurants, distributors and importers, and our winery-direct customers. It can accurately be said that the wine business is fascinating, and on many levels, from the basic connection to the land, to soil, weather and location, to grape clones and rootstocks, to wine characteristics and specificity, and finally, to marketing. The people involved in the wine business are at least as fascinating as all of these things! This business encompasses a cast of characters, and the air of camaraderie that develops between everyone who is interested in wine creates a congenial atmosphere for friendships to develop.
We are very fortunate to be in an industry that is about enjoyment and friendship and sharing, not to mention conversation and learning and humor. We have had the opportunity to meet a great many interesting, delightful people and to develop meaningful relationships that feel as though they vastly transcend business. So many people we have met we consider friends, and these personal connections make what we do not only fun but make us feel like what we are doing is truly worthwhile — in a nutshell, we think we are enhancing customers’ lives, and the enhancement is mutual!
Relationships in the Spottlight
When our family first moved to St. Helena, we met and became friends with a number of winemakers and wine families — Ric Forman, who lived right across the street from Spottswoode and advised us to replant the old vineyard to Cabernet Sauvignon; the Chappellets, who were friends of friends; the Duckhorns; the Meyers and the Duncans of Silver Oak; the Shafers; and the Davies of Shramsberg. We have enjoyed seeing many of these old friends at events and gatherings inside and outside of Napa Valley, from Sun Valley to Destin to Nantucket to Big Sur. When Mary established the winery in 1982, realizing the dream that she and her late husband, Jack, had shared, a recommendation connected her with Tony Soter, who became our first winemaker. Together, he and Mary started meeting with select distributors from across the country as well as some retail shops and restaurants in California. Would-be distributors and importers often knocked on the front door of Mary’s house (the winery office resided upstairs) to inquire about representation, and we still work with many today. We see them on a regular basis and, in fact, many attended our 25th Anniversary Vertical Tasting at the winery in 2007. This was a great reunion of our very talented former and current Spottswoode winemakers and vineyard managers, all of whom shared their insights on Spottswoode’s terroir and wines. Jose Luis Lopez found us in 1982 and he has worked with us (in the vineyard) ever since. In 1988, Peah Armstrong, our Vice President, answered an ad for office and administrative help placed by Mary and Beth in the St. Helena Star, and she has now been with the winery for almost as long as Beth. We are fortunate to have many long-time employees, as we place a high value on these relationships and we work hard to create a collaborative and rewarding work environment in which our employees feel truly connected and part of our family.
Our relationships with our mailing list customers have developed over many years, starting also with people knocking on Mary’s door to inquire about our wine, or calling the winery, having read something about Spottswoode, or heard about it from a friend, or tried it in a restaurant. Many of these people remain our customers and fondly remember their first visit to Spottswoode (it seems there are often many repeat visits). There are many who want to move into Mary’s house and/or be adopted by her — but she thinks five children are enough!
Since the outset, Mary, Beth, and I traveled both nationally and internationally, forging a great many lasting relationships by hosting dinners in peoples’ homes or connecting with them at restaurant dinners or tasting events. We have been building on these friendships ever since, both out in the marketplace as well as here at the winery. Many of our customers have been buying from us for many, many years, as evidenced by how many are friends, and the comments and questions we get about our wines from the eighties, and this is obviously terrifically gratifying. Customers run the gamut from funny to serious, from collector to semi-novice, from old to young. We also have many personal friends who have become customers — and customers who have become personal friends — and all are now advocates and ambassadors for our wine.
The fun and interest lie in the variety of people we meet from all walks of life, professions, and locales that have discovered and remain interested in our wines, our business, our family, and our extended family (our winery team). Our Sauvignon Blanc is some peoples’ “house wine” (of course, it is Mary’s, and she sets an excellent example). No matter where we go, if we happen to mention the fact that we are in the wine business, peoples’ eyes immediately light up and they start asking all kinds of questions about what we do. The bond created through wine and our story is one that carries with it loyalty and friendship and enjoyment and connection to history, place, authenticity, an agrarian lifestyle that feels real and perhaps uncomplicated (though this is not always the case, of course), and family. It’s truly a bit magical — that something lovely and unique in a bottle can help to forge and sustain such rewarding human connections.