Winery Owner and Winery Startup Consultant

Rachel Martin

New York, New York

Shortly after obtaining my Bachelors from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts from Boston/Tufts University, I made a life-changing pivot toward making my longtime love of wine into my full-time vocation. After fast-tracking my academic wine education with a degree in Viticulture and Enology from Napa Valley College, and a diploma from the prestigious Sensory Evaluation program at the University of Bordeaux School of Enology, I was tasked with jump-starting my family’s winery in Virginia. As Executive Vice President of Winery Operations, I took Boxwood Estate Winery from being a purely local presence in Virginia’s wine country to a 5,000-case, nationally distributed brand (as well as opening distribution in Canada and the United Kingdom).

Not only did I have an impact on Boxwood’s position in the Virginia wine hierarchy, I spearheaded the effort to gain AVA recognition for my area. After consideration of the petition that I was sole author of–a rarity in this field–by the TTB (the federal agency responsible for determining if certain areas merit their own AVA designation), the Middleburg Virginia AVA was approved. Attaining coveted AVA status immediately enhanced the value of all the wines and wineries coming from this part of Virginia. My efforts have been lauded by internationally recognized wine experts, including Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson (who has praised my “marketing savvy”), Oz Clarke and Stephen Spurrier, among others. Boxwood’s wines have garnered numerous 90+ scores from the most esteemed wine writers both in the United States and abroad.

In 2016, I pivoted once again, this time toward California, where I created a winery from the ground up. I was able to take all of the practical experience from my work at Boxwood and channel it into Oceano Wines, a boutique producer of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made from grapes sourced from an exclusive SIP-certified vineyard, sited within view of the Pacific Ocean, just outside San Luis Obispo in the Central Coast AVA. I refined the tools and knowledge I developed at Boxwood and implemented those at Oceano. My efforts have again been acknowledged to have been a success. Oceano’s single-vineyard, limited-production Chardonnays and Pinots have been featured in The Washington Post, Food & Wine, Vinepair, Decanter, Forbes and the Terroirist, among many others.

How Rachel Martin Built a Winery From the Ground Up

In 2016, Rachel Martin tackled her biggest challenge ever in her longtime career—building a winery from the ground up. With a limited budget and vast scope of work, Rachel knew she had to break the project down into digestible pieces. To accomplish this, she relied on her in-depth understanding of the industry and past experiences. 

Previously, Rachel turned her family’s Virginia winery into a nationally distributed brand. But to get there, she had to navigate the complex task of seeking American Viticultural Area (AVA) recognition for her area from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Rachel succeeded and earned praise from wine experts across the world. 

By 2016, Rachel had set her eyes on California’s Oceano Wines. There, she leveraged her Boxwood experience to build a successful winery once again. Below, Rachel describes how she undertook her latest challenge.

The challenge: Develop a winery with limited external help

Given that I had ample practical experience but limited capital at my disposal, the challenge was to get a startup winery from the conceptual—dream—stage to the first vintage of production without the benefit of a legion of consultants, who typically would have handled discrete aspects of the project while reporting to the owner(s). 

The solution: Break each category into manageable parts

I broke each category into its parts. Next, I made a careful determination about which areas I could most effectively tackle myself. I considered whether it was cost-effective for me to do so even if I had the requisite skills—versus those tasks or categories that I would need outside assistance with at least initially. What originally seemed like a daunting undertaking, starting a winery from scratch, now looked completely doable, albeit with lots of hard work!

1. Determine the applicable categories

The spectrum of categories that entail this sort of project can range significantly. As a whole, the project can feel overwhelming. But once it’s broken down into distinct categories, the management and delegation gets easier. Although there is a myriad of considerations, the primary types include:

  • Business formation and organization issues
  • State and federal licensing
  • Branding tactics such as label design, bottle-shape choices, social media, events, and marketing
  • The varietal selection
  • Winemaking philosophy
  • Vineyard sourcing
  • Sales-channel development, like direct-to-consumer (DTC) wine club and wholesale distribution streams
  • Vineyard management 
  • Production and bottling facilities

2. Breakout categories that I take the lead on

Given my Boxwood experience, I knew that I would be the primary on branding elements (with input from trusted professionals in the wine production, marketing, and writing spaces). The same held for deciding what wines to produce, the style of wine I wanted to create, and where grapes for those wines would come from given my experience working with soil scientists and geologists when I went through the AVA-petition process while at Boxwood. Setting up and managing sales channels would also be within my purview because I had done that at Boxwood. 

3. Breakout categories that I would actively work with consultants on

While steeped in all aspects of the actual making of wine, I knew that I would need a consulting winemaker because my home base is New York City, not California, so I undertook a search and found an ideal candidate. To this day, we continue to work together. I share all aspects of the decision-making process with our winemaker, including barrel selection, harvest and bottling choices, and blending trials. 

4. Breakout categories that required consultants as the primary

I understood that vineyard management would necessitate a day-to-day presence. We settled on one of California’s foremost companies to handle the vines we had under contract, though I have input in several aspects of the grape-growing process. And while I did use the services of an attorney and accountant, particularly at the formation stage of the business, I have handled certain compliance issues myself.

Understand your limits and develop a plan

It was vitally important that I be absolutely honest with myself regarding what I could handle. By breaking out the various categories involved in every aspect of the project, I created a road map or flowchart enabling me to manage myself, the categories, and the external resources. 

Get help building your winery

From technical issues to marketing and branding, Rachel has the experience to show you the ropes. Get answers to your pressing questions and plan your next steps by scheduling a call with Rachel.