We had the good fortune of connecting with Brian Callahan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brian, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
We joke that we started our business based on a number of uninformed decisions, perhaps fueled by drinking too much wine. While that may be partially true, wine making was such a departure from our corporate jobs, it was an easy choice. By the time we made a go of the commercial winery we had already accumulated the necessary tools to do the job; we had planted 3 acres of vines to 6 different grape varietals, we had the equipment from our 8 years of home winemaking, and we had a track record of making some delicious wines. Winemaking is rooted in farming. You can’t make great wine from marginal fruit. That was a great excuse to get outside and be in our vineyards and a welcome alternative from attending meetings and the day-to-day drudgery of corporate life. My business partner, Steve, and I both work in unrelated areas of the healthcare industry. In addition to grape growing, the work in the winery is very satisfying too. It’s part art and part science. It’s physical and cerebral and emotional at the same time. All these things were the primary drivers of our decision to start Crux Winery… well, that and our wives didn’t say ‘No’.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
First and foremost, we are so lucky to be doing what we do. We are grateful for all the circumstances that brought us to the place we could start our winery. Some of the circumstances we created through hard work and ingenuity and others were luck and good fortune. This is a bootstrap operation, just as it was intended. We don’t have trust funds or tech millions to spend on this. We knew we’d need to keep our day-jobs for a number of years, so we can pay our mortgages. We started small (a couple hundred cases the first 2 years). We didn’t want investors or employees and the complications that come with both those things. We wanted to have the maximum level of control. We leased our own winery space, choosing not to go the custom crush route. Custom Crush is a facility where multiple wineries make wine in a common space using shared equipment and teams. That means you wait in line for things and don’t necessarily get to do stuff when it is most advantageous. It also means native yeast ferments are virtually impossible due to the amount of cultured yeasts in the environment. Cultured yeasts are much more aggressive and will take over a native yeast fermentation. We wanted to make wines we like to drink, not necessarily what is ‘popular’ in the mainstream market. It’s extremely uncommon for wineries as small as us (~1,000 cases per vintage) to have their own vineyards and their own facility. While we only contribute about 20% of the fruit we make wine with these days, the growers we contract with are now our friends. Their vineyards are close by, and we share the same farming practices. We use old world technics, like the native ferments. There is not much new oak in our cellar. The few new barrels we do buy each year and some of the only things we buy ‘new’. Most of our equipment was bought used; either in disrepair or discarded for something new and shiny. We fix things and modify them to do the job we need to do. We rack our wines once when we create our blends. We don’t typically, fine or filter our wines. While it may clarify their appearance (at least the whites and Rosé), it strips away flavor and things that enhance mouthfeel. Our goal is minimal intervention. Because our wines are sold directly to consumers, we can eliminate many steps taken by larger wineries. Our wines don’t need protection from warehousing, or multiple truck rides without concern for the weather. You won’t find our wines sitting on a grocery store shelf. Just as we intended.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
One of the many things we love about the wine industry, especially amongst us little wineries here in Sonoma County, is the willingness to collaborate, encourage, and lend a hand. Wine is not made by a recipe and farming is a communal endeavor. Proprietary information is not a concern. Our colleagues are willing to help us out and vice versa – whether it be advice, manpower, or the loan of a critical piece of equipment, nothing is out of the question.
We also couldn’t survive without organizations that help small, family run wineries compete in a very competitive sales environment. Most of us don’t have large marketing budgets so we rely on others to help get the word out. For example, Wine for Normal People is a fantastic platform dedicated to educating wine consumers of all levels through podcasts, classes, and publications. WFNP works hard to demystify wine and promotes producers of craft wines over the large, corporate, manufactured wines (most of the stuff on grocery store shelves).
Photos taken by winery owners and by heidiadlerphotography.com