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The owners of B.C. Fort Berens Estate Winery.
The owners of B.C. Fort Berens Estate Winery.

Trailblazers

Vineyard owners offer words of advice Add to ...

The founders of B.C. Fort Berens Estate Winery, Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek, serve up three things to know before you start:

Ask for help

Paying for advice might seem like a bad idea for cash-strapped entrepreneurs, but Mr. De Bruin says it’s worth every penny. He and Ms. Pannekoek forked over about $10,000 in the start-up phase for advice on strategy, wine-making, and planting their vineyard. “We were calling our winemaking consultant in the middle of the night saying, ‘What do we do next?’” That’s something an unpaid adviser might not appreciate.

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Be flexible

The recession forced Mr. De Bruin and his wife to change their original plan to buy a 65-acre farm. “We discovered that during a financial crisis, the bank becomes very risk-averse and doesn’t lend money, especially to two people new to the country,” he says. In the end, the couple negotiated a lease agreement with the landowner, with an option to purchase in five years.

Admit ignorance

“You need to start by knowing what you don’t know,” says Mr. De Bruin, who admits he and his wife knew little about winemaking. So, Ms. Pannekoek enrolled in a viticulture course, and both read everything they could get their hands on. They also reach out to people in the industry for both paid and unpaid advice.

By their numbers

$525,000: Vineyard planting and equipment

$75,000: Initial inventory of wine and grapes

$16,000: Average monthly operating costs

572: Number of $28 bottles of 2007 Merlot they need to sell each month to break even

This feature originally appeared in the September, 2010 issue of Your Business magazine.

 

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