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The Vine in Winter

After harvest in the autumn, the leaves eventually fall from the vine (thus the other name for the season!).  Once the leaves are gone, the vines will sleep for about four months until they re-awaken in spring.  Remember, the vine never sleeps during the growing season, working literally non-stop for up to eight months. 

During their well-deserved winter hibernation with the bears the vines re-charge, preparing for yet another season of continuous work. This time of year several people ask me if all the rain is hurting the vines. The answer simply is ‘no’.  The vines are sleeping & the rain does nothing more than replenish much needed water tables, reservoirs & streams.  We welcome the rain during the winter months.

Humankind has marveled through the millennia at how the vine’s re-birth every spring is a sign that someone up there loves us.  So much so that Vitis, the scientific name for the genus of the grape vine, is derived from the Latin root for life itself (vita).  Now that we’re past the solstice and the days grow steadily longer, let’s lift a glass and remember Dante Alighieri’s (1265-1321 toast to the noble grape vine: “and that you may the less marvel at my words, look at the sun’s heat that becomes wine when combined with the juice that flows through the vine”.

Building A Business – The Humanitas Model Part 1


In 1997 I had this wild idea that I wanted to create my own winery.  Well, it wasn’t that wild.  I’d been in the wine business all of my adult life and had been bitten by the wine bug at a very early age.  I had dreamed of owning my own winery for years.  In fact, I had been in the wine business for over 19 years at the time and had learned enough to know that the last thing this industry needed was yet another purpose-less wine label out there polluting an already flooded market…but I still wanted to follow my passion.

Fortunately, I put on my rational businessman’s hat and began writing a formal business plan.  I mapped out the core issues at hand & established my model.  I dedicated myself to establishing a sustainable business model operating profitably and driven by demand; that is a ‘pull’ equation not a  ‘push’ product.  At the heart of this model, and really the first step in any plan, was establishing my compelling point of differentiation…my reason for existence…or in the vernacular of the day…my unique selling proposition.

This was no easy chore.  Realistically, how could I create a wine that had a unique selling proposition and clear positioning that set itself apart from all the rest?  Was I going to base my company on making better wine than everyone else?  Well of course I was going to make better wine (!), but in reality, that is a subjective element that I could not quantify.  How could I prove that my wine was superior and therefore worthy of a competitive edge?

Was I going to make a unique varietal — something that no one else had and therefore a necessity in every wine lover’s cellar?  Doubtful.  How about technology?  Did I have something I could say that technologically was unique and ‘better’ than all the other wineries?  Clearly, no.

Meanwhile, in a parallel channel of my life, I was simply trying to ‘do good’ and trying to give something back to make the world a better place.  The challenge there was that I had little or no money to really impact charity, I had little or no time to volunteer to charity, and dare I say, I also learned that I simply didn’t have the constitution to help the truly needy.  It depressed me.  I really wanted to help — but at the grassroots level, for me, it is not that easy. 

The light bulb went off and I married the two paths of my life together, establishing Humanitas, a winery that is dedicated to two primary drivers — excellence in wine and making the world a better place by supporting local charity.  The model was Paul Newman’s Own, with a twist.  Rather than giving back to some national headquarters of a charity, I would track sales and give back to charities local to where the wine is sold.  This provided a ‘reason to believe’ for the consumer because they’d be enjoying fine wine AND helping their own community.  And it provided an incentive for the charities to support Humanitas and act as the virtual sales force

In August 2001, I finally made the leap and established Humanitas.  With a strong sense of purpose…with a reason for people to seek my wines and understand that this was something a bit unique from the rest of the wine world, I’d found my reason to build my business.  Without this clarity of vision, I would not have started Humanitas — it simply wouldn’t have had a compelling point of difference from the rest of the thousands of wine labels available in the market.

This post is the first of what I hope are several blogs chronicling the birth and almost 10 years of existence of Humanitas, the first winery to invite wine lovers to ‘drink charitably’.  In my mind, Humanitas is still in its nascent stages of life with much, much more to come.  The blog will serve to bounce ideas of the readers as well as impart my opinion and I welcome comments.  Heck — feel free to give me ideas!  I’d like to see it grow & grow and can use all the help available!

This first ‘Building a Winery’ entry focuses on the most critical message I can impart to anyone starting a business of any kind.  That is, know why you exist as a business and be able to communicate that message clearly & with purpose to your customer

Does your business/winery have this first critical step down?  If not, think about it, and establish it. It is Step 1.  Your positioning will drive every aspect of your business and pave a much clearer path for any and all of your business activities.

Thinking Out Loud…Inducement?

The sign at the gas station reads “Would you like a carwash?  If yes, pay 15 cents less per gallon and the carwash is just $5.” 

Sounds reasonable enough — the gas station is going to give me a discount on my gas provided I also spend money with them at  the carwash.  Happens every day with all sorts of items.  Think about the grocery store — “buy 5 yogurts for the price of 4”.  Or on-line shoe stores — “buy more than $50 and the shipping is free.”  Or info-mercials — “buy within the next 15 minutes and we’ll throw this bonus CD in for free!”

This all seems so easy to digest for me, but for those of us in the wine industry, just about any ‘encouragement’ we give to consumers to buy our wines is or can be interpreted by the powers that be in our government as ‘inducement’.  And ‘inducement’ is illegal.

I’ll make an assumption that this dates back to Prohibition because just about everything does in the alcoholic beverage business.  The thinking is that the government does not want to ‘encourage’ consumption of alcohol, therefore any efforts by the producer to do so is considered ‘inducement’ and frowned up.  More than frowned up — it is illegal.

Now — interpretation of the law is a funny thing.  ‘Free shipping’ is inducement, but ‘shipping included’ theoretically is not.  Weird.

Meanwhile, I stroll the grocery store in the cereal aisle and the health claims on, for instance, Fruit Loops, jump out at me.  Am I not being ‘induced’ by Fruit Loops to buy them because they benefit my health?  Really? And forget about any health claims we might use for wines.  Oh my, no!

I’m really not indicting Fruit Loops or my Chevron station — I’m merely pointing out the lunacy and scrutiny imposed on wine (and other alcoholic beverages).  At Humanitas, I am dedicated to making really good wines…and to giving profits (7% of my revenues — see my ‘7% Solution’ post) to charity.  Is this ‘inducement’?  I guess it is once again ‘interpretation.’  I suppose if I said ‘if you buy my wine, I’ll give my profits to charity’ vs ‘for every purchase of Humanitas wines, I donate my profits to charity’ – that would be the difference between illegal inducement and legal promotion (this is an example only — I honestly don’t know this).

I suppose I’m feeling a little invaded lately.  Again, I’m just trying to make honorable wines and do an honorable deed by giving back to the community.  Is anyone in the wine business consciously inducing consumers to do something wrong or bad for them?  I just don’t think so…but then again…I’m just thinking out loud.

Anyone else out there have a thought on this?  Are we inducing or simply promoting like everyone else in the free market?  I’d like to hear from you.  Meanwhile, of course, drink charitbly!

A Simple Twist of Fate – Part 1

With a nod to Bob (that’s MR. Dylan to you, sonny!), the New Year has rendered me a bit nostalgic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely jacked up about 2010 and the future, but sometimes I drift off into thinking about my past. I’m guessing you do too.

Life does throw out interesting ‘twists of fate’. I mean, here I am, living in Napa, running one winery by day & owning/operating my own winery (that’d be Humanitas!) by night.  But there was a time when…I was going to be an architect.  And then I was going to be an oceanographer ala Jacques Cousteau.  And that of course led to the dream of being an under-water architect, combining the two dreams (my kids love that one).

Back in 8th grade, my buddy Brook had an uncle who was a US Senator.  We were going to be Senate Pages the following summer (not ever sure what happened to that) which no doubt influenced my decision to major (for a very short time) in political theory during my UCLA days in the ’70’s as I was sure I was going to go into politics.  In fact, it was a Facebook posting by a friend of mine showing shots of us in the Spring of 1977 that inspired this post.

High School introduced me to Yosemite and the glory of nature. I was one little click away from growing my hair out, not shaving, and becoming a Yosemite park ranger while I pursued my passion of being a world-class rock climber.  This closely associated itself with my post-college trip to Nepal where I was sure I was destined to be an adventure guide & lead folks down wild rivers in rafts & kayaks.

And of course, at one point, back in my UCLA days again, I was going to be a pro baseball player & break all sort of records and be fantastically wealthy & famous…and retire to play golf the rest of my life.  And that naturally led to my second career as a pro golfer on the Senior tour.

But somewhere along the way I was inspired to go back to graduate school — where I met my wife — and where somehow we ended up in Napa with me working for Robert Mondavi (hey…another Bob!) and ultimately leading to me establishing Humanitas.  Kids came along and emotions I never knew existed exposed themselves within me & a new series of adventures are in progress.

And now I’m really looking forward to the next ‘twist of fate’.  What will my dreams have brought in 10, 20, 30 more years in the future?  I don’t know the ultimate destination, but the journey so far has been a stunning one.

What about you?  Any dreams, twists of fate, left/right turns you made you’d like to share?  Might I suggest you grab a glass of something delightful and take a few moments to recount your own twists & turns.  It is well worth the journey — and please share!

Humanitas New Year Haiku

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get back into blogging.  I took several months off to focus on other areas of the Humanitas business (which will become fodder for some of the future posts!), but now feel compelled to spread the good word of Humanitas Wines once again…and with passion!  So many wonderful people supported Humanitas over the Holidays and spoke so highly of the wines and the mission — I’m inspired & honored by these folks & feel 2010 will be a breakthrough year.

2K10 will present some challenges…but hopefully it will be a significant improvement over the ‘character building’ year of 2009!

Two-Thousand & Nine…
A ‘Character-Building Year’!
Welcome 2K10!!

Good luck to us all in the new decade.  I’ve always found that the harder I work, the luckier I get…and I’m feeling lucky to start the year.  I hope you share my optimism.  Drink Charitably in 2010!!

Judd Wallenbrock - Humanitas Founder

Overheard in Wine Country…”Catch 20-20″


I’m reading (correction:  listening to) Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22’ and really enjoying it.  I read it so many years ago and have forgotten so much — and listening to it vs reading it really provides a different experience. 

While listening the other day, I wandered off in my mind to something I ‘overheard in wine country’ while attending a Holiday party a few years back.  The party was at Mustard’s Grill in Yountville — a quintessential ‘wine country’ dining experience.  The group was a regional sales force & their significant others.  My wife & I were pleasantly engaged in dialogue with the various attendees, trying to meet new friends and learn new things.  One young women we spoke to told us she was in school to be a film maker.  And in order to make ends meet while attending school she was bartending at a restaurant at night.  She told us that she felt that it was really tough being a woman trying to break into film making.  In fact, she said,

“Being a woman trying to be a film maker is a real Catch 20-20.”

Now who could argue with that?  My wife & I immediately averted our eyes and quickly bit our lips.  But the instant we reading-glasseswere alone and caught each other’s eyes, we busted up.  And to this day, anytime we talk about a situation that is a ‘Catch-22’, we call it a Catch 20-20.  In fact, we use it so much, we often screw it up and say the wrong thing. 

So the next time you find yourself in a completely circular logic situation, remember that it is always wise to have a clear vision of what to do.

Thinking Out Loud…Tax the Wine, Feed the War!


“Wine Tax!”

I’m just thinking out loud here, and I apologize for the sensationalized headline, but I do have a point of view on this subject.  With the economy in ruins, the government has taken on the role of bailing out companies & individuals to jump start the economy.  The current tactic is to feed revenues to the government to increase the income side of the country’s P&L so it can have the funds to pay for the bailouts.  Simple accounting — increase taxes to generate revenues — spend ‘appropriatly’ to feed the economy.

One of the government ‘income’ proposals is to tax alcoholic beverages – in some states that translates to a 10% tax per drink — in others (such as California) it translates to a ‘nickel a drink’ tax to raise revenues earmarked to reduce the budget shortfall and provide support to programs addressing alcohol related problems.

I suppose this sounds good on paper — but wait a minute — more taxes simply don’t translate into appropriate spending!  It takes a great leap of faith, I believe, to think that a government (that’d be any government) has the expertise to prudently re-invest revenues earned.  In fact, I think they have an incredible track record of doing exactly the opposite — feeding more and more bureaucracy and building less and less efficiencies.  President Obama has told Chrysler & GM that their re-structuring efforts just aren’t good enough — yet I’m seeing an enormous amount of money going into both state & federal governments hands, with little accountability and results.   They are asking companies to cut, yet they are growing.  Hmmm.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe government is critical for the efficient running of a country — I just don’t believe they are adept at business, and I simply don’t trust that the money going in, is spent appropriately.  And now they want to tax alcoholic beverages even more.  Is this the intent of our Founding Fathers?  I just don’t think so.

One of the foundations of the Humanitas business model is to, by virtue of selling wine, generate revenues to give directly to charities.  These charities operate extremely efficiently – with only a small percentage of the revenues generated going to the overhead needed to manage the charity — and the vast majority going directly to those in need.  Can we say the same for our government spending?

I’m quite certain readers have an opinion on this — please share in the comments section.  I, for one, am tired of increased taxes with no accountability for the results.  I’ll just lob that one up for a start.

Wine Circles…My Life in a Nutshell

I was reflecting on the beverages that rule my world the other day & wondered if this summation of my life in a Venn Diagram compares to anyone else out there:


A creature of habit, I’m amazed at the predictability of what I consume liquid-wise.  I’m up at dawn brewing up a pot of Peet’s.  After 3 cups of java, about 10:00 I switch to water.  Throughout the day I have 4 or 5 tumblers of H2O, which I’m told is ‘healthy’.  And around 7 in the evening, the wine starts flowing.

That’s about it.  I don’t really drink tea (tho’ I’ve tried several times to make the switch — ain’t gonna happen) – I’m not a beer or hard alcohol guy – and I don’t drink soda.  In my personal ‘share of stomach’, I’m very predictable. 

Does this ‘wine circle’ look familiar to you?  Let me know your personal Venn Diagram of beverage consumption – might be fun to compare.

Rocky Mountain High


Last week I had the priviledge of spending a few days on the road selling Humanitas in Colorado.  I’m a native of California and am pretty sure I couldn’t live much farther from a beach than about an hour, but if I had to move anywhere without a coast, it would be Colorado.  The place is gorgeous.

It is also the home of my distributor, Veraison Beverage Distributors, which is really the official name for a band of wine die-hards founded by veteran Colorado wine sales guru Bob Cohen.  Bob has been selling wine in Colorado for a long time & is the absolute master of story-telling.  Which is why I work with him — he actually tells the story behind the wine — a lost art.  In today’s modern distribution era where huge corporate distributors gobble up smaller ones and have portfolios of thousands & thousands of wines, the sales reps simply do not have the bandwidth nor the time to really sell by telling the story behind the wine.  Finding a gem like Bob & his team is huge for a small winery like Humanitas with dynamic wines and a compelling story.

The trip started on Tuesday — I landed in Denver where Bob was dropping off another winery principal.  As she walked into the airport, I walked out — such is the life of a distributor — shuttling suppliers all over the place.  We drove to Applejack — one of the most famous wine shops in the country — and did a staff tasting in the back room.  Applejack has been a strong supporter of Humanitas – it was good to meet the staff face to face & tell the story.

From there we drove to Vail.  Bob lives about a half hour West of Vail in Gypsum — his house was to be my hotel for the next few nights.  After seeing a few accounts that evening, we retired to his house and had a small business review.  However, we were up early the next morning as I had an interview on Plum TV, the local cable station, at 8:30 on the mountain at Vail.  Despite the cold, the interview was a success — allowing me to tell the Humanitas story and plug the winemaker dinner later that night.  You can view the interview below.

I spent the day with a couple of Bob’s reps nearer to Aspen driving Bob’s 300,000  mile + Toyota.  Nice ride!  I returned to Gypsum in time to change and head off to our winemaker dinner at Matthew’s in Edwards, CO.    It was a fantastic meal paired beautifully with the Humanitas Wines, and a delightful evening talking with the 40 or so attendees.sure-beats-working

The next day was perhaps the most unique selling experience in my 29 years in the wine industry.  Bob & I were up early and at Vail booted up with skis in hand to ski to accounts on the mountain selling Humanitas for staff tastings.  Yep — with wine samples in our backpack, we spent the day skiing to accounts, tasting staff, and telling the story.  Incredible — what’s not to like about this business!

That evening, we changed in some friends house and hustled over to Beaver Creek for a tasting and presentation to the patrons of the Vilar Performing Art Center.  Ninety or so sensationally nice folks tasted Humanitas while I again, got to tell the story.  And for a really nice surprise, the management then gave us tickets to go in and see Kenny Loggins & his band perform — fantastic!

And it isn’t over.  The next day we were up at 5:30 to head to Denver for an 8:30 meeting and presentation of a $500+ check to Habitat for Humanity – Colorado.  This is what makes Humanitas click — when people buy the wine, we give back to the community directly.  In this case, the check represents our ‘7% Solution’ where we give 7% 0f our revenues (that’s revenues — off the top!) to charity.  It represents 100% of our profits — all simply because the good people of Colorado buy Humanitas!!

Finally, we ended the trip with a staff tasting & brainstorming session with the sale reps from Veraison — one of the best group of wine folks I know — and now official ‘Humaniacs’!  From there, off to the airport and back home to Napa.  Despite the economy, life can be pretty rewarding when you drink charitably!!

Thinking Out Loud…Wine, The Social Lubricant Can Change the World!


The more I think about it, the more I believe that wine, the ultimate social lubricant, can change the world.  I believe it so much I created Humanitas Winery for that very purpose.  What I mean by this is that the power of wine brings people together in a such a positive way that it can galvanzize & unify people to make a difference…just because they can.

I don’t know of anything else with quite this power.

Try this — next time you get together with a group of friends or associates and the wine starts to flow — take 10 minutes to ask the question of the group “What can we do to make a positive impact in the community?”  My guess it won’t even take 10 minutes to come up with something enlightening & amazing.  Try it without wine, and you may never come up with a single idea.  Seriously.

And when you’ve done this — drop me a comment about your activity.  You see, wine can…and will make the world a better place…one sip at a time!

Remember the words of Margrit Biever Mondavi: 

“If it were a prescription it would read:  2 glasses with every meal. It enhances food, reduces stress,encourages friendship, kindles romance and in moderation it helps digestion, protects the heart,promotes good health and it definitely helps ourdisposition. 

However, if abused, it is unsafe, potentially dangerous and decidedly uncivilized, And, while you may not be able to play tennis when you are 90, you can enjoy a glass of good wine indefinitely.”

Go ahead…drink charitably!