By Nancy Dahlberg The Miami Herald
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) An interesting look at some very creative wine entrepreneurs based in Miami.
The Miami Herald
Miami may not seem like a natural environment for wine entrepreneurs to flourish, but meet a few and you may want to raise a glass.
Make no mistake: These entrepreneurs aren't doing things the way it has always been done in the $300 billion global wine industry. Maybe it's being outside the well-known wine-making locales where innovative ideas can ferment more freely.
South Florida's wine entrepreneurs have put their individual stamps on the centuries-old traditions.
That might mean outsourcing tasks rather than having to own the expensive real estate for vineyards and tasting rooms -- and finding innovative ways to bring the wine to small towns, and big cities, as the son of a well-known California winemaker has done.
How about a sparkling wine that is a third of the calories but no less pleasing to the taste buds? And one entrepreneur has found a better way to dispense wine and save the rest of the bottle for another day -- or week -- without losing any quality. Wine can be made totally off the grid, at 10,361 feet above sea level and at sea, as another entrepreneur has proved.
Still another food and beverage entrepreneur celebrates the French tradition of sabering, or opening, a bottle of champagne bottle just as Napoleon did with his sword -- but safely.
They join a growing number of Miami-area companies in the wine, beer and spirits business -- from Schnebly Redland's Winery in South Dade to a dozen or so craft beer makers in the tri-county area to rum maker Atlantico and multinational Bacardi's U.S. headquarters.
Others, like Miami business leaders Bruce Orosz, Dennis Scholl and Mark Tobin, have founded their own labels. Add to that mix a number of tech startups with platforms for data gathering, marketing, selling, delivering -- or just bringing the party to you.
Miami-based Southern Wine & Spirits was the largest U.S. distributor even before its 2016 acquisition of Glazer's, a distributor based in Dallas. It's now called Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits and still a critical piece in the success of Miamians' new brands.
Let's meet some of South Florida's startup wine entrepreneurs:
PLUM: 'BETTER THAN THE BOTTLE' Tech entrepreneur David Koretz' love for the complexities of wine started at a young age.
The serial entrepreneur launched his first company, a consumer electronics distribution business, as a teen.
Yet how was he going to order the wine at business dinners he hosted without the sommelier asking for his ID?
He taught himself about wine so he could impress the sommelier with very sophisticated wine requests. It worked every time. "From 17 to 21, I was growing my company with underage drinking."
A couple of successful startups later, Koretz founded and ran Mykonos Software, sold it for about $80 million in 2012 to Juniper Networks and stayed on in Silicon Valley as a Juniper executive for a while, also treating himself to a little winery in Napa Valley.
In his travels, he began to notice how the "wine by the glass" experience was poor, particularly in hotels. You have the choice of cheap wine in the minibar or long waits for room service. By contrast, for coffee, you hit a button.
"Why don't I have a great experience for wine like I do with my coffee? And my wine is a lot more expensive," he said. That started the entrepreneurial wheels rolling again.
When Koretz told friends and colleagues he was leaving Silicon Valley for Miami in early 2015 to pursue a wine-related startup, it didn't go over well.
"Florida -- everyone thought that was code for retirement. Nobody thought I was serious about building a business," he said.
But Koretz gathered a tech team, including top engineers from Google, Amazon's Lab126 and Motorola. "Not your normal wine appliance team ... What we wanted to do is build the most advanced appliance ever built."
After a couple of years of development, and his team at Plum (plum.wine) recently introduced the first appliance that preserves, chills and serves wine by the glass. Plum also raised $9 million in funding earlier this year to help the startup expand into the luxury hotel sector. The round was led by Khosla Ventures, and included locally based Las Olas Venture Capital, as well as wine and hospitality industry veterans.
With the Plum appliance, you drop up to two bottles in and close the door. Cameras connected to a computer photograph each label, identifies the vintage, varietal, region, winery and wine and automatically chills it to the perfect serving temperature. On a 7-inch touch screen, the Wi-Fi capabilities allow Plum to offer tasting notes, such as a video of the wine maker sharing his thoughts.
The moment you pull a cork out of a bottle, the oxidation process starts, so in Plum's appliance, a motorized needle instead pierces the cork, pressurizes the bottle and sucks the wine out without introducing oxidation, Koretz said. "So what we have done is built something where you can drop in two bottles of wine, put it on tap and it is perfect."
Anyone with a wine collection (there are 20 million, give or take) or consumers who live alone or in split households (one prefers red, the other white) would be the market for the luxury consumer product.
In pre-order sales, Koretz said he sold out of the $1,500 machines, priced about the same as a super automatic espresso maker.
But Plum's real potential is in the 4 million luxury hotel rooms around the world, Koretz said, allowing customers to hit a button and have a glass of fine wine on the balcony for sunset.
Plum has signed deals with Four Seasons, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Intercontinental, Caesars and others -- 18 hotel deals so far. Its appliances are in Miami Beach's Confidante hotel, too.
"Wine is often seen as a pretentious and fancy thing. The definition is a good wine is a wine you like and bad wine is a wine you don't," said Koretz, who has well over 1,000 bottles in his "drinking cellar." "I love the idea of making wine more accessible."
Plum will be announcing a large retail partner soon, allowing consumers to buy Plum in a retail store, Koretz said. Still, trying to change 300 years of history isn't easy.
"Wine is celebratory, it's romantic, everyone loves to pull the cork. We decided to rise to the occasion and build an experience that was better than the bottle."
DANIEL COHN WINE: 'THAT SUBTLE FORCE' Dan Cohn set out to make the best possible wine at the best possible price.
That meant forgoing the overhead of expensive real estate and fancy tasting rooms and going back to the basics that he learned from his famous rock music producer-turned-Sonoma Valley winemaker father, Bruce Cohn: Make a great wine, and it will hit all the right notes. You will just know it.
So a few years ago when Cohn, who lives in West Palm Beach, set out to make his own brand, called Bellacosa, he did things a little differently than his highly successful dad. He's bringing the California wine country to the people, whether its in Chicago; Flagstaff, Arizona; or Chattanooga, Tennessee.
And he's doing it all from South Florida, backed by several friends well-known in Miami banking and real estate circles -- Sergio Rok, Jimmy Tate and Javier Holtz.
"When I decided it was time to make my own brand, they got behind me and said 'let's launch something and let's launch something great,' " said Cohn, who admitted that the sale of the family winery, B.R. Cohn, was a catalyst. Rok is on the board of Daniel Cohn Wine Co. (danielcohnwine.com).