(Very) early days: Laughing Stock owners David and Cynthia Enns having just launched their wines. The backdrop has changed somewhat since then… But I love the mood in this pic c. 2005
Laughing Stock: Building on the past
Naturally, the Enns want the Laughing Stock story to continue and be a thriving legacy.
It’s important not to lose that momentum, says David. “For us we’ve got the momentum going. We have the enjoyment of great relationships in the marketplace. We’ve stuck to our knitting of not having a product proliferation of 20 wines. We just want to go deep and continue to improve. There’s the volume challenge: we can’t meet demands. And we’re up to our production limits. It’s a perfect storm. We just don’t want to walk away from it …”
“There are growth opportunities for our brand and we just need some help. This has turned out to be great.
“We’re pleasantly surprised about the language being used. About getting back to being creative, being entrepreneurial and helping to grow the brand. It lets us take away the noise around it, especially for Cynthia. Because the wine business is highly bureaucratic. Paperwork, licensing and so on (are) a shocking drag on good business.”
He also says it’s crucial to solve the cross border shipping problem.
“I think there’s a national profile that’s going to happen in the wine business because of interprovincial shipping. Even though we’re across the country it’s so painful to do business with Ontario and Quebec. It really is.”
“We have huge demand from our past association in the investment management world in Ontario and Quebec. And in Boston and New York … So here are these great relationships and I can’t even exploit them because we can’t ship wine. It’s got to change.”
An emphasis on partnership
As part of the deal, the Enns will remain on the property and continue to manage the winery. For now, at least, David Enns will continue to make the wines.
Jay Wright says: “The model for us is really simple. It’s partnering with folks who have a vision and a dream. It’s to take away some of the hassles and allow them to get back to what they love to do the best. And continue the growth of Laughing Stock Vineyards.”
However, it’s apparent that this is something of an exploration of possibilities for both parties.
“I think for the industry it’s helpful for us to connect with entrepreneurs,” says Wright. “Especially now, with Canadian ownership, to play a role in bringing the industry forward in ways that when we were a distributor of a global company weren’t as much of a priority.”
“Connecting and understanding David’s and Cynthia’s concerns around the industry allows us to prioritize and focus on where we want to bring regulatory change over time.”
It’s an opportunity, he suggests, to collaborate on “evolving regulations in our industry, for both boutique and other wineries.” And Enns agrees.
“It’s an area where Cynthia and I can kick in. If we have the muscle from Arterra and Jay behind us, we can attract the attention from the regulators, seriously, globally…”
So what lies ahead?
Says Enns: “ Business as usual is the mantra.”
And as for production levels? “There’s no reason for it to dramatically change, although it’s natural to have some growth to meet the demand… “
As to how that growth plays out, says Wright: “We’re in discussions now. How do we continue to leverage their vision for growth in the future? As a company we’re back in investing in vineyards again and expanding our capacity for quality wines. So the question is: How do we do that so David has the opportunity to set the pace at a level that makes sense for the quality of wines he’s got?”
Enns says: “There’s some really easy low hanging fruit—like separating red wine making from white wine making. Two different presses, two different facilities. That gives us breathing room.”
“One super motivator to partner with these guys is the quality of vineyards that they have,” says Wright. It’s all about the vineyard. That’s where it starts. And not just great vineyards but how you care and nurture those vineyards.”
“We live in a vineyard, we’re staying on the Naramata Bench,” says Enns.
“Think of it this way: Yes we sold the company. No I’m not going to Tahiti. And yes, I’ve reinvested in the community already…”