This is part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the American wine community from across the United States. Vintner Magazine will share business and personal insights from winery owners, vintners, marketing managers, sales directors, QCQA staff and others to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.
Ben Papapietro — Co-Owner and Winemaker, Papapietro Perry Winery — Healdsburg, California
VINTNER: How has your business strategy evolved to help you stay competitive?
PAPAPIETRO: One of the key things that has helped us remain competitive is that we evolved from selling primarily through the three-tier system to mostly direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales. Closer interaction with our audience has helped us a lot, as the profit margin is better for our business. In addition, good scores from wine critics, as well as consistently winning competitions such as the North Coast Wine Challenge, the American Fine Wine Competition, Pigs & Pinot (we are the only winery to win this one twice, taking 1st and 2nd place), and our wines have been the People’s Choice Winner eight times in a row at the Healdsburg Pinot on the River, now known as Healdsburg Crush. Ongoing recognition amongst consumers, friends and neighbors has been positive.
VINTNER: What idea have you or team come up with that has been a big benefit to how your winery functions?
PAPAPIETRO: For the winemaking team, consistency in the product is important. When we present our wines they are consistent year after year. For wine consumers, consistency means that if you like a particular wine, you want to be able to depend on it to be similar the next time you drink it or buy it. When I was into wine early on, one year or vintage you might like a winery and the wines were really, really good. Then the next year, they were terrible. Consistency is important fo the consumer, two that hey can depend on the fact that the product they like continues. By following the same production methods year after year, we maintain consistency. Consumers want dependability. Fans of our wines may love the Leras Pinot Noir or the Peters Pinot Noir, for example. They return year after year for those wines, and the vineyards remain consistent year after year too.
More recently, along with our wine club manager Kristen Greenberg we have done more than 68 live streaming shows. We have innovated during the two-year COVID-19 lockdown, exploring a different direction to keep us in people’s minds. We don’t try to get too fancy, Kristen is a lively gal and we get along really well featuring special guests, and of course our wines.
VINTNER: What has been the greatest challenge that you’ve been met with since opening your winery, and how did you work to overcome it?
PAPAPIETRO: I could say the economic crash of 2008 was a seminal point for us. At that time, no distributor, restaurant or wine shop was buying wine from us. It was a difficult time for small wineries. So along with the guidance of Renae Perry, one of our co-owners and our CEO, we brought outside professionals in to train our hospitality team on how to close the deal, and build consumer club memberships. Today we sell about 92% of our wine DTC. This has helped us out, to continually sell wine.
Another important factor is that around 2005 to 2007, when we moved from a production site called Windsor Oaks to our new expanded location at Timber Crest Farms in Dry Creek Valley, that first year we made 5,000 cases and then moved up to produce 8,000 cases. Many wineries want to continue to grow. We are very comfortable with our focus upon DTC and staying at the size we are, we have no intention of growing and increasing production. Bringing professionals in to show our team how to close a club membership and focus on DTC was a big deal and change for us. That was twelve years ago, and now just a small percentage of our wines are sold through dealers and distributors, in about 10-12 different states, which keeps us visible in the marketplace.
Many businesses were damaged in 2008, and the same thing happened with the pandemic. Because we have been able to shift and evolve, we are performing better now than two years ago. We have very loyal and committed consumers and have therefore had a very bright two years in this very difficult time.