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. This story originally ran in the March/April edition of Vintner Magazine.
Arthur Murray — Vintner and Owner, Flambeaux Wine — Healdsburg, Dry Creek Valley, California
VINTNER: Flambeaux seems to be known for big wines: Cabernets, Chardonnays and Zinfandels. What was the process involved with deciding what kind of wine you wanted to make, and how has that evolved over time?
MURRAY: The wine we decided to make when we started out was Cabernet Sauvignon, and we made only that varietal as it was my favorite. And my family’s favorite wine too. When we began, we didn’t know that Flambeaux Wine was going to become a serious business. Then we realized we had some really beautiful fruit on our estate. So about three years in, we made Zinfandel from the vineyards on our property. I had to come to love the Zinfandel, and it is an amazing wine that I do love. The Chardonnay happens to be the white wine that goes best with our program and wine portfolio. It helps that we have an excellent and well-respected winemaker in Ryan Prichard. We have had access to good grapes, and going off site to get more grapes we have made friends in the wine business. Again, it goes back to those personal connections. Growers such as the Sangiacomo Family won’t just sell their grapes to anybody. By establishing a good reputation, and having gained momentum it has all been positive. Just connecting with people. That’s the key.
VINTNER: How has your business strategy evolved to help you stay competitive?
MURRAY: We aren’t aiming to compete, we are getting our name out there to grow a brand. So that people know who we are, we make quality wines, and people enjoy the intimate and rare experiences that we offer. It’s more about really getting people to know who we are and getting the word out about us.
Making friends is a pivot and big piece of what we’ve done in 2021, following the dramatic changes of 2020. It really is more about who we are as Flambeaux, then we really don’t have to “compete” or have a specific strategy. Our position is that to succeed you really need three things: a good experience, a good story and good wine. If you have all three you can do really well, and it’s a matter of time not of strategy. You must invest the time to get those things out there.
VINTNER: What idea have you or your team come up with that has been a big benefit to how your winery functions?
MURRAY: Our idea and approach is actually based upon going back to the basics. We are just always trying to have a very personal connection with people, and it has made us stand out. We have very long-tenured wine club members, we don’t lose a lot of people to attrition, and we do find a lot of people via word-of-mouth. We make an effort to respond to everyone within 24 hours, and usually do so within an hour. Each person is an actual person to us. This is partially due to our smaller size, but it is also because that is what we want. We strive to make connections, not just serve wine. Our wine tasting experiences are longer, and we tell a lot of stories. We want people to feel like they are friends and family, not customers. That’s what makes for a lasting relationship in a fickle wine world. If they aren’t meeting you, meaning the owner or vintner, the person who represents your winery has to be as good as you. That’s why we have a dedicated, full-time wine concierge at Flambeaux who really gets to know people, takes care of them the way that I would, and does it the way that I want it done.
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?
MURRAY: Clearly the challenge is the one that we knew about before we got into the wine business. How do you get people to try your wine on faith alone? It is a well-priced wine, but often expensive for a lot of people. We have had to do a lot of events and wine dinners, to make the personal connection. The small events with other industry people, where you can talk to people and really connect. With our size and goals and value, we seek enough of those situations where people try the wine and buy it. Your best friend is people talking about your wine. That’s when people will try and then buy the wine.
VINTNER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
MURRAY: We learned from many people in the wine industry, it hasn’t been any one person. We have made a point to reach out to and meet others in the wine business and there have been so many that have helped us, even if they didn’t intend to do so. I feel that they value the referral relationships, as we do. Their customers love visiting Flambeaux and going to our experiences as they are different. Likely in part because I am not originally from the wine industry, I have new and fresh ideas that are out of the box. People do get systemic and regimented when they have been in any business for 20 years or more. I am sharing information about social media and evolving with the times, and always come back to providing that ultimate Flambeaux Wine experience. We don’t just post wine or pictures of people experiencing wine on our social channels. A high percentage of what we share is about our family, the kids, the dog, our family being our family. Other brands are seeing that and take it to heart, and I think that’s why they like working with us.
VINTNER: What was your winery’s greatest accomplishment in 2021, and what are your goals for this year?
MURRAY: Our sales grew dramatically in 2021, and being able to grow at a time when growth didn’t seem or feel possible was truly a great accomplishment. It may have been attributable in part to shifting to adjust for the pandemic, but we were also at a place where we shifted our momentum. We received a little press, and then the growth was exponential as more and more people were taking about the wine. While we are not a wine that would be called a “cult wine,” there were enough personal connections taking root. It was like a forest that was growing trees, and we are continuing to feel that real momentum.