Vitner and Founder of Dogwood & Thistle, Erin Robertson, on Taking the Leap to Start Her Own Vineyard
Please share a brief introduction about yourself and your business:
I’ve been working in the wine industry for just over twenty years in various sales and marketing roles for different wineries and wine businesses! In 2017, my husband and I started our own small brand, Dogwood & Thistle, where we make small lot wines from special vineyard sites all over Northern California and, starting in 2022, Central Virginia.
What excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?
Getting to meet other female business owners, and hoping to share resources and tips!
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
The wine industry is one that is fueled by passion, drive, individuality and grit. After working for so long for other people, my husband and I couldn’t help but think, “Well, if it was my winery, I would do it THIS way…” So finally, we decided to start our own small label, so that we could express our creativity and passion for wine in our OWN way.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I’ve worked in the wine industry for just over twenty years, starting out selling wine in restaurants and wine stores in my 20’s, then moving on to national sales and marketing positions for various, high-end wineries in Napa Valley in my 30’s and 40’s.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Nope! It never appealed to me at all until I got my MBA in 2012-2013 and started thinking of myself as a potential business owner.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Our first year of production was pretty small, so while we were making the wine we started collecting email addresses of friends and family who expressed interest in buying our wine when it was released. We initiated release campaigns, held release parties and a few other events to sell initially, and then continued to grow our mailing list organically, plus we did a little bit of restaurant distribution in Napa Valley. Yep, it worked! We were sold out of our first vintage within a few months of our release.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way and what did you learn from it?
Our biggest challenge is funding, because the wine industry is very capital intensive for the first few years in particular. We’ve learned to just keep going, and if you believe it in that things will fall into place!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
One of our wines – the 2019 Coombsville Merlot – was named #15 in the 50 Best Wines of 2021 article on VinePair late last year. We were among a lineup of much bigger wineries and brands, and incredibly proud that our small brand would get such amazing recognition on the national stage!
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Yes, I do. My best tips are: – Don’t dive into emails too deeply on your phone (save important stuff for when you are in front of your computer). – Outsource, outsource, outsource – get that house cleaner, invest in childcare (or pet care!), keep yummy frozen meals stocked in your freezer – whatever it is that frees up physical and mental space for you when you need it to get your work done and have the personal life you want. – Strongly maintain at least one hobby that has nothing to do with work or your family. Mine are reading and exercising – both are things I do solo and keep me sane.
What’s a piece of advice you can share that you wish you’d known when you first started your Entreprenista journey?
Get your financial ducks in a row immediately – make sure your books are being maintained properly, etc.
What have you achieved recently that you’d like to celebrate with our community?
Taking on investors for the first time! It felt like a big step, for sure.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
A bi-coastal portfolio of wines, and hopefully opening a tasting room in Central Virginia!