Wine is glamorous. But winemaking? Not so much.
I recently interviewed Susan Wingo Kiers, owner of Ox-Eye Vineyards, a Virginia farm winery in the Shenandoah Valley. Susan and her husband John Kiers purchased a 100-acre farm in 1996 for the purpose of growing grapes. Now, after twenty years of planting, pruning, mistakes and successes, the Kiers run a successful vineyard, winery and tasting room. Ox-Eye – www.oxeyevineyards – was named a top 10 Winery to visit by the Washington Post, and their wines are favorites of wine experts.
John is vintner and winemaker, while Susan runs the tasting room, and handles their website. Their four daughters have also planted and pruned. The Kiers’ twenty-year journey provides four key insights for would-be entrepreneurs.
1.Decant your childhood
Kiers says, “My husband and I stumbled across a Rhode Island winery on our honeymoon. I said to him, “Wow this is the life.” He said, “You’re thinking that? That’s exactly what I’m thinking.” Growing up in rural North Carolina, John had farming in his blood. Susan was raised in a suburb of Washington DC. Yet she says, “I was fascinated by The Little House on the Prairie books. I daydreamed about sustainable living before it even had a name.“
Swirl around in your childhood, what were you interests and why? Lots of kids read The Little House books dreaming of becoming writers or teachers. For Susan, it was the farm lifestyle. What was your dream? Which elements can you bring forth into a business?
2. Buy a lighted tractor
The Kiers worked the farm for 10 years before John quit his job as money manager. Susan says, “He would work all day in Charlottesville, come home and farm. He would farm on weekends; he would get up at 5 a.m. and get on his tractor before he went to work. We got a tractor with good lights so he could work the farm in the dark.”
Do you love your idea enough to pursue it on nights and weekends? Keeping your job enables you to stay cash positive. Owning a business can seem like freedom to someone with a boss, but in the beginning, it’s anything but freedom. Do you want it badly enough to buy a lighted tractor?
3 Check the soil samples
Susan says, “When we started looking in earnest for a farm, we would find beautiful farmhouses. But we had to remember, we were looking for the right piece of land. John looked at soil surveys, he felt the lay of the land; he assessed the way the wind worked in the Shenandoah Valley.
It’s easy to get distracted by peripheries – the office, website, etc. Do your research; stay focused on things that matter. Where are you planting your business? What are the key elements that matter most?
4. Go one vine at a time
Susan says, “Whether or not you have deep pockets, start slowly, know your site. Your site is not the same site the guy from over the hill.” The Kiers worked their vineyard slowly, paying attention to what worked. Susan says, “The big surprise was Riesling, it’s beautiful grape that makes a beautiful elegant wine. Now it’s a big crop for us.”
Every business has surprises, some good; some not so good. Pay attention to what’s working and build on it. Every successful business starts as an idea, what’s yours?