Entrepreneurial success often results from individuals who turn their experience and enthusiasm into viable businesses. Colleagues and friends Flint Nelson, Carolina "Cat" Warwick, and Gina Adams-Royer decided that they wanted a winery and vineyard to call their own, so they recently established Wit Cellars in Prosser, Washington.
“It was a passion of ours to make and sell wines," said Adams-Royer. “We love the hospitality side and connecting with people. It was a good idea to start a winery."
Following Their Passions
All three business partners had a background and interest in winemaking before starting Wit Cellars. “We as a group got together and decided that it was a passion of ours to make wines and share in that creative art form," said Adams-Royer.
Nelson attended Washington State University, where he studied food science and horticulture. He made wines with Hogue Cellars and Columbia Winery, and was most recently the head winemaker for Kestrel Vintners.
The first graduate of Yakima Valley Community College to earn a winery technology degree, Warwick worked with Nelson as an assistant winemaker at Kestrel.
Adams-Royer was introduced to winemaking by her stepfather, who hosts an annual grape stomping event. “We would have Italian music playing and stomp these grapes," she said. “The first time I did it, I knew nothing about wine. It was just about having family bonding time together. My nephew was a baby in diapers and he was covered head to toe in grape juice."
Identifying the Right Varieties
Using their collective knowledge of winemaking, the team at Wit Cellars has chosen to offer a variety of wines, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, and a red blend composed of Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are one to three years old, and can be purchased individually or through the company's wine club.
According to Adams-Royer, the red wines tend to be dry and to have a bold blackberry taste, reflecting the particular environment in which the grapes are grown. The whites showcase the minerality that comes up through the earth. Nelson, who is the winemaker, has a Southern hemisphere style, she said.
Building a New Wine Country
Prosser, Washington boasts a population of 5,700. “We're on the way to Walla Walla, which is like Sonoma or Napa Valley," said Adams-Royer.
To ensure that they would be ready for the launch, the three partners enlisted the help of Prosser locals to construct their tasting room. Adams-Royer continued, “The community came and said that they wanted to put Prosser more on the wine map. They wanted to build this wine country here."
Mastering the Business Requirements
In the lead-up to the grand opening, the team had to buy all the products for making the wine, create systems for credit card purchases, and figure out how to track and store the customer data from the wine club. They also had to determine, legally, how they wanted to structure their business and ensure that it would be protected.
Established as a limited liability company, Wit Cellars is in the process of registering its own trademark and building its brand.
Looking back at the process she and her team went through to get Wit Cellars off the ground, Adams-Royer said it was crucial that she didn't focus solely on the legalities. Instead, she had to keep her other priorities at the front of her mind.
“You need to be looking at your sales goals, your marketing strategy, and how you're going to sell. If you don't do all that, your business is not going to be successful."
Moving to the Next Level
Now that the winery is officially up and running, the Wit Cellars team can focus on how to grow their business and take it to the next level.
Adams-Royer said that they hope to be able to employ more people, since right now just she and her colleagues tend to the responsibilities. “It's really exciting to be able to create jobs locally for people, because it's what we need here."
During the opening days, which were May 6, 7, and 8, 2016, Wit Cellars sold 10 percent of its inventory. According to Adams-Royer, she and her partners are thrilled with how it went, and are looking forward to what the future has in store. She said, “We are on track and doing awesome, and we could not be happier."