Lieb Behind the Scenes – September 2018

Hey all,

Harvest is here! It marks my 6th at Lieb Cellars. Yesterday my husband and I brought our two daughters, Renny who is 4 and Gabi who is 2, out to the vineyard to help our crew pick Sauvignon Blanc grapes. They pretended to drive the tractors, played with our vineyard foreman’s daughter Nilda, snuck tastes of the grapes and ran around acres of open space. Reflecting on the day, I felt incredibly grateful to live where I live and work where I work.

It also made me nostalgic about my past 5 years at Lieb. Where I started to where I am now. The ups, the downs and everything in between. So I thought I’d use this opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and relive what’s happened at Lieb “behind the scenes” since I started.

Here we go:

2013 (Year 1) – “Oh Crap, What Have I Done”

In summer 2013, I was hired as Lieb’s Director of Production. I was formerly the general manager of smaller, family-owned North Fork vineyard, and it was a tough decision to leave. But something told me Lieb was destined for bigger things and it was the right move for me, despite not fulling grasping the company culture or what my day-to-day responsibilities would be. Whelp, I quickly realized that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. While the team at the time was welcoming and helpful, they were lax and lacked focus and drive. And, while “Director of Production” sounded important, it basically meant I was the person who had to order all of our bottling supplies. Buzz kill.

There were glimmers of hope, however. Like when I’d get the opportunity to spend time with our winemaker, Russell, who was a wealth of knowledge about the region and the technical side of winemaking. I was a sponge around him. I learned something new every time he spoke.

Jildo, our vineyard foreman who had been with Lieb for 20+ years, was inspiring as well. He worked around the clock and treated Lieb’s vineyards like they were his own. He was committed and passionate and Lieb’s vineyards were pristine as a result of his efforts.

Despite an initial instinct to run, I stayed that first year because the fundamentals of Lieb – our winemaker and our vineyard manager – were on point. Lieb’s backbone was strong. There was potential.

2014 (Year 2) – “We’d like you to be our General Manger”

Early in 2014, our CEO at the time approached me about a promotion to General Manger. As GM, I would essentially run the company, overseeing Sales, Marketing and Operations in addition to Production. I was interested but there were three potential barriers: 1) I was 3 months pregnant and hadn’t told anyone yet. 2) The staff at the time, outside of Russell and Jildo, needed to change. And 3) the branding needed to change, too. If the latter two things had to stay, I couldn’t.

A few weeks later, I accepted – on the conditions that I could bring in a new team (which I did) and rebrand both Lieb and Lieb’s second label, Bridge Lane (which we did). It was a heavy and sometimes difficult but productive and pivotal time. We were starting to make change, big change. And about 5 months into the process, 3 weeks early, Renny was born. Needless to say, 2014 was an eventful year for me.

2015 (Year 3) – Overhaul

While much of 2014 was spent putting all the staffing and branding pieces into place, 2015 was about re-thinking and re-vamping every aspect of the business. We had a new team and new brands and now it was time to clean out all of the old (wines, habits, events, processes, etc.) and implement the new. I worked tirelessly on product development in order to introduce alternative formats (box wine and kegs). Alicia overhauled the tastings rooms. Dana restructured our wine club. And Mike led a transition in the wholesale side of our business from an internal model to a distributor model. We held 4 warehouse sales that year with the goal of pushing all of our old labels (with old branding) out of the market as quickly as possible so that we could clean the slate and start fresh.

(If you bought wine from one of our warehouse sales in 2015, thank you for unwittingly helping us to meet this goal. And you’re welcome for the $80/case specials J.)

2016 (Year 4) – Fresh Start

As I like to say, 2016 was the first year of the new Lieb. Old labels were gone. Our new branding, new team, new distributor states and new mission (to grow the business!) were in place. Free from the burdens of the past and without excuses at our disposal, it was time to sink or swim. Luckily, we swam. Fairly steadily. Our sales grew 16% over 2015, and we were proud of that. We pushed and improved and worked hard to earn every dollar.

Oh and Gabi was born that year! Just like that, I was a mom of two and running a company. I’m sure I was tired, I know I was stressed, but I ran on adrenaline, caffeine and excitement over the progress we were making.

We also had a trick up our sleeve for 2017: canned wine.

2017 (Year 5) – “Something’s Happening”

Late last summer we finally introduced canned wine. It was a product we had been working on since early 2016 but that required a lot research and trial and error to get right. Careful not to screw it up, our roll-out plan called for a small “test batch” of rosé cans made available in our tasting room only, before we’d can all 5 Bridge Lane varieties and launch them in wholesale. As I’m sure you know, the rosé cans were a hit. More like a craze. They were sold out in the tasting room in 3 weeks, and there started to be a “buzz” about us locally and in even nationally in the press. It seemed like no matter where I went or who I talked to, they wanted to know about our cans. Something was happening, we could feel it. And sales reflected it. We grew another 16%.

Oh also, we hired Alice last year. If you don’t know, she’s the person behind our social media. She was/is a game changer.

2018 (Year 6) – “We’re Blowing Up!”

As I reflected on in my last post, this year has been a whirlwind. Once we launched all 5 Bridge Lane cans in wholesale, we blew up. We’re barely keeping up with the demand this year and many of our products have sold out well before we had anticipated. Year to date, our sales (across the board, not just cans) are up 56%. To put things further into perspective, we made 25,000 cases worth of wine this year. Next year, based on our rate of growth, we’re planning to make close to 40,000.

Truth be told, anything less than 50K cases is still considered a small winery as there are thousands of wineries in the US and around the world making 500,000+ cases. But for Long Island, we’re now one of the biggest. And we’re growing. There’s still so much to do and so many ways to expand, but I feel confident enough to say … we have arrived.

When I started at Lieb, I wasn’t sure if it was the right fit for me but I recognized the potential. Our winemaker and vineyards were top notch in the region. Our fundamentals were strong. In my mind, what we’ve accomplished over the past 5 years is simply bringing the rest of the company – our branding, our team, our service, our distribution – up to their level. Russell, our winemaker, is proud of us. Not one to dole out compliments, he pulled me aside and privately told me so earlier this year. He’s proud to be our winemaker and proud to be a part of our team. Hearing that confirmed for me that joining Lieb turned out to be a great decision.

I predict 2019 (year 7) will be the year of “Breaking Barriers.”

Thank you for, once again, letting me take this opportunity to be reflective. As is often said, looking back lets you know that you’re headed in the right direction.

I truly appreciate all of you who support Lieb and follow this blog!

Cheers,

Ami Opisso

General Manager & Certified Sommelier