Stewart Bryan – Wine Sales

June 16, 2006
Posted in interviews
June 16, 2006 Terkel

Stewart was a Biological Sciences major in college with an emphasis on Marine Biology. Somehow he ended up in the wine business. At the time of his graduation, the opportunities were not there for marine biologistist. A lot of programs were being shut down, and when Stewart finished his dissertation, he was working part-time in a wine shop. Using his experience there as a springboard, he recognized an economic opportunity in the wine industry. He decided to go with his gut and went for it.

Stewart didn’t have a lot of background in wine, and hadn’t been trained as a wine maker. He hadn’t even taken any business classes while in school. It was perhaps this lack of knowledge that allowed him to take the risk necessary to be successful. What he did have was a background in retail wine sales, from which wholesale selling was a smooth transition.

Stewart also started his own winery, IL CUORE (pronounced: eel qua-ree), which when translated, means ‘the Heart” in Italian. Since 1989, IL CUORE wines have been produced from premium grapes grown in the North Coast, in the viti-cultural heart of California. This is where the name stems from. Please visit the website at to learn more about the IL CUORE winery.

To anyone interested in opening a winery, here was Stewart’s response when asked about the barrier to entry:

“It’s fairly capital intensive, especially if you are just starting. You have to buy raw land and develop that by planting and it will be 5-7 years before you even get grapes. It’s almost a ten year window. What a lot of people do is buy the grapes first and develop the wine while the vineyard is developing. But one of the best jokes is if you want to make a million dollars in the wine business, you better start with two or three.”

Stewart said that the most important thing in the win industry is gaining experience and working your way up through a wine sales program. He said that one of the best programs is provided by E & J Gallo. He advised that it may be hard to gain experience with wine in college, but to that interested students should try to find a sales position. This will differentiate yourself from others when a sales position in the wine industry arises.

Some additional things aspiring people should think about when going into the wine business is what market segment you want to be in. By choosing a specific market, you will then be able to more easily decide what grapes you want to grow and determine the quality of the wine you will produce. They will also have to decide which kinds of stores you will sell your product to. Another thing to consider is how your product will be made available to the public. Will you have a tasting room that allows customers to buy onsite? Will you sell to a re-sell customer, such as a store or restaurant, at a discount? Or will you sell to a distributor, who sells to the re-sell customer, who then marks up the wine and sells to the consumer?

Stewart advises students to:

“Keep your eyes and ears open to different opportunities while in school. I would have bet you anything that I would not have ended up in California, in a wine sales position. What is happening now is that markets are moving quickly, opportunities are popping up everywhere, so don’t be afraid to try new things.”


My background was in biology and sciences.  Marine biology.  This is in the early 80’s.  At that time the economy wasn’t so great.  They called it Reganomics.  They were cutting back a lot of the programs.  When I finished writing my dissertation, I worked part time in a wine shop. I saw a lot more economic opportunity in that area.

It wasn’t intentional.  It wasn’t something I was looking for.  I didn’t have a background in wine and hadn’t taken business classes.  It was just something that I started doing. 

I first got started in retail, then wholesale, then wine importing companies.  By that time I was full time work at 25 years old.  That’s what I’ve been doing since.  The first half of my time in college was spent trying to figure out what to do, and the second half was spent doing something totally different. 

I started this winery with a partner.  There’s 3 of us.  Last year we sold 2,000 cases nationally.  Something that started small and blossomed.

If you’re just starting it’s fairly capital intensive.  It’s almost a ten year window.  What a lot of people do is buy the grapes while they’re getting their land ready. 

One of the best jokes in the wine business is you want to make a million, you start with two or three. 

In a way, it’s a commercial entity.  I’m a supplier, and you’re a buyer.  The fun thing is establishing a relationship with a buyer and selling this romantic item.  You do things that sort of take on a personal relationship.

We’re a fairly small winery.  We distribute on a national basis and we do 10,000 cases.  We decided we didn’t want to be very big.  We decided we didn’t want to be cheap.  We wanted to be in nice restaurants.  We want a higher end audience.  We don’t want to sell in Safeway.  We try to position ourselves as a higher quality.  The last thing you want to do is case by the price.

What I do is I’m involved in the sales and marketing of our product.