I have written a bit about being a new mother and being a winemaking entrepreneur – and the struggles that come with combining the two. What I haven’t done is get into the details of how delivering my son into the world had put me back physically and mentally – and how that’s been a major challenge for my business.
Being a mother has been the greatest gift of my life! Nothing wonderful comes without a price. I have had to take mental stock on what it means to continue my business. I have had to stand on a philosophical precipice with uncertainty about an end looming for me.
My financial struggles with my business began long before I had my son. The joke in the wine business is: How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? You start with a large fortune and lose some of it.
Well, there was never a fortune. LOL. College debt, yes. Fortune, no.
I thought making exceptional wine was enough to hitch my dream to a shooting star. But, it’s felt more like a falling star. I innocently tried to pay for production with revenues from the sales of my wine. Somehow I’ve been able to make it work. A small investment early on helped me stay on track. But, when the availability of those funds disappeared after I already made a commitment to set out on a trajectory towards steady growth – well, I’ve been panicking quietly to make ends meet ever since.
The continued search for an investor has come up short.
To add salt to the wound, I relied on distribution sales to help pay for my production. You lose 50% of your retail sales prices on distribution sales. While it’s essential for marketing purposes to get your brand in outside markets, it dramatically decreases your revenues. Also, too often distribution payments come in late – sometimes months after due dates – and I would get behind on paying my bills. It’s been a painful, vicious cycle of not being able to operate with the integrity I value so dearly – to not just pay my suppliers on time, but to pay them ahead of schedule.
Imagine if all businesses paid ahead of schedule?!?! This would help spread the spirit of conscious capitalism – a mindful approach to capitalism that I believe is the direction all businesses need to go.
I was a bit naïve to think making good wine would be enough to launch a successful wine business. I didn’t have the negotiating skills to get a line of credit. I have been asked by local banks if I had a husband (before I had one) before I’d even fill out an application for business credit. I couldn’t get a credit card with enough credit to cover my needs. My credit score tanked over the years of trying to keep the business going. It’s been a real struggle. Even in marriage I haven’t been much better off – aside from some of my husband’s contributions to pay for things on his personal credit card. We bought our first home and I innocently thought having a mortgage would help us get ahead – at least a line of credit for the business. I could not have been more wrong! We are considered more of a liability.
It’s difficult to be this raw and vulnerable about dishing on the hardships of trying to maintain a wine production business. But, I think it’s important to lift the veil of perception – it appears on the surface that my business is successful. Writers have been graciously covering my story and praising my wines. For that I can count my lucky stars!
It would appear from the accolades I received that I was making it in the wine business!
Not so. It’s been a blessing to get such amazing press – features in Wine Enthusiast, forbes.com, Food & Wine, and so on. The media attention did help to generate more sales – which I am ever grateful for! But, the reality of balancing a rate of bills coming up faster than the money is coming in makes it an impossible situation.
So how is it that a “successful” winemaker has come so close to losing her business?
It’s a lot of variables – including our margins. The cost for production greatly outdistances our sales. I’m not interested in making an entry level Cabernet Franc wine for $50/bottle. But, based on my costs to make my wine I should be charging $50 for my entry level wine. Instead, I charge $25 and my reserve wine sells for $50. If I was producing 150,000 cases of wine I could afford my price points. But, I’m producing 1800 cases of handcrafted tiny lots of wine and feel compelled to keep the prices down. Am I a glutton for punishment? It just might be that I’m not a savvy entrepreneur.
After the birth of my son, I had many challenges, both physically and mentally. I sustained a lot of pain in my long recovery, including dealing with a strange birth injury to the hip, painful endometriosis and C-section scar tissue, and postpartum depression.
I started going to a therapist just months after giving birth and it has been a profound experience of healing and growing.
But, this healing and growing came with a price. I got behind on my sales. I couldn’t stay on top of my business. And, little by little I became more and more behind on paying the bills.
I’ve had to ask myself what’s next. Feeling helpless and stressed all of the time isn’t an option while I’m taking care of my infant son.
I was encouraged to start a crowd fund campaign. I never thought I would turn to something like that. It made me feel self-conscious and embarrassed. My therapist had me meditate on feelings of inadequacy that this experience has brought up. She told me being a failure is different from the fear of failure. I had to let that one sink in.
I decided to take the plunge this morning. I set up my GoFundMe campaign. I winced a little, cried a little, then set it free to the world to consider helping me.
Doing this exercise was like a meditation. I found a great quote to lead the appeal on my Facebook page: “Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.”
So, I’m asking for it. It’s humbling. And, I’ve learned a few things in the process.
Honestly, I don’t know if I could ever adequately express what the support of my community would mean to me. As I thought about asking for and receiving help, I thought about my son. I want to show him that it’s okay to ask for help, that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, and maybe most importantly – that his mother was a leader in her industry and literally made something from nothing.
I have been struggling for so long that I have a hard time imagining being free from the burden of my struggle. Thank God for therapy and leaning in toward growth and change. Faith and stubbornness got me started on this journey. Now I turn to grace, gratitude and persistence to carry on. And acceptance. If it’s meant to be, it will be. If not, there’s something else out there for me. But I will mourn the wines I crafted with love.
Asking for help isn’t easy. But, I believe the greater good from asking for help will manifest in my desire and ability to “pay it forward” – supporting causes I care about, causes that enrich my community and help in building a kinder, better world for my son to grow up in!
I am asking for help! It is both a burden and an opportunity. I humbly wait to see what the universe has in store for me.
If you are interested in lending a helping hand, please visit my GoFundMe page. Thank you for considering my appeal! xo