Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Julie Kuhlken, co-founder and owner of Pedernales Cellars, located in Stonewall, TX, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I am an owner of Pedernales Cellars, a family winery in the Texas Hill Country just west of Austin. Pedernales Cellars is a majority women-owned winery in an industry that has historically been dominated by men. We are passionate about our wines, and so are our customers, who we consider wine pioneers just like us. We have been growing grapes in Texas for over a quarter of industry, and we are still learning what grows well, and our consumers join us on that learning journey vintage after vintage.
Tell us about yourself
Before I got into the wine business, I was a philosophy professor. Most people are surprised by this former life of mine, but in fact, wine culture and philosophy are siblings, both having arisen in the highly conversational society of the ancient Greeks. I consider this my pre-life in the world of wine, where I came to appreciate wine’s cultural importance – it is more than just a drink.
In practical terms, I got into the wine industry because of my family. My parents first planted Kuhlken Vineyards in 1995. Growing grapes is a lot of work, so everyone comes together to make sure the harvest comes in. In so doing, I discovered how fascinating the whole process, from vine to glass, is. In addition, working together as a family links the generations in a common project. My daughters have been harvesting grapes beside my parents and me for a decade. Knowing I am working toward a future that involves them is very motivating.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Seriously, being open for business. When looking for big accomplishments, there is a tendency to look for the out of the ordinary. But honestly, running a small business year after year is a huge win, especially given the recent dislocations of the pandemic. In addition, making wine in a state with weather as mercurial as Texas means that every vintage is a huge achievement. I am very proud of the many times I have brought the story of Texas wine to a national audience. We have been featured in Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Forbes, and most recently, I appeared in a segment of Good Morning America.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I’d like to be really original here, but honestly, I am going to say the same thing as everyone else: The hardest thing about being a business owner is finding and retaining excellent staff. One of the advantages that we have as a family business is that we can pivot people we want to cultivate over the long term, even as they pass through life changes: marriage, births, and deaths. I am very proud of the team we have built in every part of the business.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Think long-term. Like any consumer-facing industry, the wine business ripples with fads – remember when oaky Chardonnay was in? – however, just because something is in, it may not be something that is well-suited to your business. If you take the time to build your own audience, they will want what you are uniquely able to deliver consistently.
- Marketing works. Particularly, if you are working in a business sector that involves a lot of craft, such as the wine industry, it is easy to believe that if your product is good enough, people will buy it. However, they cannot buy it if they have never heard of it, and that is where marketing comes to the rescue. Not everyone is good at marketing, but everyone needs to find someone who is.
- Sustainability pays. As the very name suggests, investing in people, environments, and communities makes a business viable for the long term since it supports the ecosystem in which it is inescapably a part. Family businesses have an advantage in this territory because they are already thinking in multi-generational terms, but every business should see itself as part of a greater whole.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
If you haven’t tried Texas wine, it is high time that you do so. Obviously, I would love for you to try our wine, but the fact is that there are many excellent wineries in the state, all run by entrepreneurs like myself who have put blood, sweat, and tears into developing Texas terroir.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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