Saturday, May 20, 2006

Entrepreneurship & innovation in wine

Sp3220060519115927This is a story of passion. A story of returning to the roots. It is the story of a friend who involved me early on in his project. It's about a talented software engineer who wanted to continue the tradition of making wine in his corner of Germany. But he also wanted something different: the alliance of tradition and innovation.

Well over a year ago, when Markus told me about the project he and his wife Claudia had to start making wine, I was a bit surprised. You see Markus is a successful and respected IT professional, a fromer colleague of mine; he has three kids and he could really just settle down and live a quiet life. But for Markus and Claudia, creation and challenges are important aspects of life. Aside from this more personal side of things, I was also wondering how somebody could enter an industry about which there is considerable press coverage claiming that it is in a difficult period. Not that this would be entirely new to Markus whose family has been making wine for decades. But still, it is a cut-throat business with high volume producers flooding the market and holding key distribution positions. Markus wanted to do something different: achieve top quality, guarantee remarkable customer experience and go direct to eliminate the cost of distribution. To do that Markus and Claudia went through a process of reviewing each step of production and distribution, workign on marketing communications and sales methods... Now, that's quite interesting...

I am always fascinated by innovative entrepreneurial endavours. They don't have to be in high-tech; innovation can happen anywhere and there is no such thing as a low tech business in my opinion; there are conservative and conventional managers, but not low-tech businesses. A product like wine becomes a commodity only when marketers are tired and become rigid in their ways of doing.

Over a year later, the first bottles of Jostock-B├╝lhoff wine are available for sale. The site is up and running and the owners have tons of ideas in stock to make this wine experience a memorable one for customers. I purchased some wine with them this day as I am curious to discover the innovative packaging with the stainless steel cap that allows you to reclose the bottle without risks of leaks. In fact I have been lucky to taste their wines and there is no doubt in my mind about the quality of the product itself.

Interestingly Markus and Claudia have found a way to raise funds to finance the growth of their business. They sell shares of future production, which is a sort of asset backed security scheme, again direct and with no intermediaries. Of course, they are not offering that on a large scale and it is not advertised; the system is reserved for their network of supporters. I decided to buy a few shares and to use part of the wine I will be entitled to under the share scheme for business gifts. Let's say it is my way of spreading the word about this fine project.


  1. Excellent wine-related surprises are to be expected from Germany: I posted a comment there ( two years ago, as I was delighted by the quality of Fritz Walter's productions.
    It is extremely heartening to see people exploring new fields in one that seemed all set since... middle-age? A lesson for France.

  2. Agree with you David. Yet another field in which France had better abandon the illusion of its supremacy: French wines are excellent and so are wines from other spots of the planet... an interesting marketing problem ;-)
    What is great with beautiful and significant creations is this: the more there are of them, the better for the world. Thanks for the reference to Fritz Walter.

  3. Well, the fact should not be hidden, that I had a very competent partner to discuss possible business concepts with. Thanks Alex for your insights and advices.
    We are now all curious about how our ideas will develop and whether or not they are going to be profitable and how people will accept those concepts.
    We are looking forward to interesting times!

  4. Markus,
    It's been fascinating discussing your project with you. And of course, I look forward to the next stages, which I have no doubt will become reality. Your drive to work hard to develop mere suggestions of mine is testimony of a great motivation.
    For me this is an opportunity to test my belief that TNSTALTB (there is no such thing as a low-tech business). It is also a way of paying tribute to Gandhi whose insights are precious lessons for me. In this case, I'd say this quote comes to mind:
    "A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history. "
    All the best.