Failure is an important part of success. Often people are so afraid of failure that they do not take enough risk.
We most often defeat ourselves. Rarely do others defeat us.
Nothing is ever achieved without hard work.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stuart Bewley, owner of Alder Springs Vineyard in Laytonville, California.
Stuart Bewley grew up in California’s Central Valley, where hard work and farming were a part of life. Stuart started his career in his 20s when he and his high school friend Michael Crete experimented with mixing wine and fruit juices. They ended up inventing the wine cooler, and the iconic California Cooler brand was born. Within four years, they went from selling cases from the back of a pick-up truck to a multi-million-dollar business.
The pair started the business in 1980 in the midst of a major economic downturn. They spent a year on product and market research, acquiring permits and writing a business plan. They set a goal to raise $140,000 to get California Coolers off the ground. They offered anyone who would listen 3.33 percent equity in the business, in exchange for a $9,333 investment. Stuart and Michael were 27 at the time, and had no experience starting a company, yet, amazingly, they never had to go back to investors for more money, nor did they ever borrow a single dollar.
Over the course of four years, they built a company that grew to $200 million in sales, with just $140,000 in capital. Investors got a $6,660,000 return on their $9,333 investment!
In their early 30s, the pair sold California Cooler and Stuart moved on to a new challenge. Going back to his farming roots, Stuart immersed himself in the study of viticulture. His seven-year search for the perfect site ended at Alder Springs ranch, in Laytonville, CA in northern Mendocino County.
Stuart bought the ranch and broke ground in 1993 on his first vineyard block. Today, Stuart meticulously thins his grapes with a “bonsai” pruning method. While his yield per-acre is well below the industry average, the resulting quality of the grapes is one of the highest in California.
Alder Springs Ranch spans 6,000 acres with a 140-acre vineyard planted to a mix of red and white varietals that include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and 39 other varieties. Alder Springs sells grapes to dozens of esteemed California wineries who recognize the quality that results from Stuart’s farming practices. Ever prescient, with warming trends throughout the winegrowing world, the high elevation, cooler climate bodes well for producing balanced, diverse wines.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in the Central Valley of California near Lodi. I was the third of four children. My father was a dentist, and we lived in the country, surrounded by walnut orchards and hayfields. My father had grown up on a farm, so he was very handy for teaching me and my brothers how to build, garden and repair everything. We worked all day on Saturdays and a half-day on Sundays on the property, for our dad.
The only exception was if one of us had a paying job. I got paying jobs early in life to get out of working for my father for free! I grew popcorn and sold it to neighbors, I raised chickens and delivered eggs by bike in my neighborhood, and I mowed lawns until I could get jobs further from home.
In fourth grade, I found out I am dyslexic. The challenge of learning to read and spell forced me to work four times harder than everyone else. I also realized that I needed to get creative to be successful in school and other pursuits. The writing was nearly impossible for me. Often on tests, teachers would mark every misspelled word to the point that I would fail — even if my answers were correct — because of the misspellings. So I did everything possible to get extra credit: I sat in the front row, answered questions in class — anything to show that I deserved a passing grade. Hard work and creativity were traits established early in my life- and they have been my go-to’s ever since.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
When I was young, my family would take a summer vacation, and my mother would bring a book to read to us in the evenings, before bed. I remember an autobiographical series by Ralph Moody about his growing up in the West. His family had a tough life, but they overcame every challenge. His story left a lasting impression on me.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” This quote means a lot to me, because it asks us to get out of our comfort zone. We are only on this planet for a short time, and we had better make the best of it while we can.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact initiative. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
After the Coronavirus pandemic hit, I wanted to find a way to help people in need. I knew so many people were struggling with job losses, the virus itself and the resulting anxieties and worries. My team and I created a program to empower people to help.
The Alder Springs A Case for a Cause program offers a case of Alder Springs Vineyard wine at a generous discount, where every case of wine comes with a $200 donation to any beneficiary that the customer chooses. It can be a charity, a school, a friend or family member in need. This program is a way to let people do some good, while drinking some great wine.
It lines up with my life-long sense of responsibility and the importance of leaving the world a better place. This applies to the way we farm the vineyards and make my wines. We practice responsible farming by protecting the environment, using organic materials, treating our employees with respect and making quality our top priority.
We have 14 beneficiaries on our website that you can choose from to receive the $200 donation, but people can also choose their own beneficiary. What we have found to be most interesting is that a number of participants have chosen to give to non-profits and individuals of their own choice.
At first, we thought this would be a short-term program, but with the ongoing pandemic, we’ve decided to keep the program in place indefinitely. Unfortunately, we’ll have to hold some wine shipments during hot weather, but we won’t hold up the $200 checks to beneficiaries — we’ll get those out right away.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I’ve been a results-oriented person since I was 12 years old. That’s when I started making lists of goals I wanted to accomplish, with different timelines. The list included thing I wanted to do before I died, things I wanted to do in the next 10 years, and things I wanted to do in the next six months.
The lists would change from time to time but some things stayed on the list for years! What I found, to my surprise, was that once I wrote them down, they actually started to happen. The 10-year list would affect the six-month list, and it all became a powerful motivator for achievement. This simple act taught me that nearly anything is possible!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
It’s still early in the A Case for a Cause program, so we don’t yet have those stories, but I can tell you about an individual who impacted me and set me on a path to do big things.
When I was a kid, I had a neighbor named Harold, who was a great storyteller. He was such a kind, warm person and he was great to all the kids in the neighborhood. He would share stories about people he knew, and the amazing things that their kids were doing. They were all older kids, but their lives sounded very exciting to me! It was as if Harold was giving us permission to think big, be bold and go out and do great things in our lives. It was the most empowering experience of my childhood.
Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?
First, people can participate in A Case for a Cause. Visit our website, choose your beneficiary for a $200 donation, and choose your case of wine.
Secondly, people can spread the word about the A Case for a Cause program to everyone they know. The more people who know about it, the more beneficiaries will get checks.
And thirdly, people can tell charities to spread the word, and ask their own supporters to participate in A Case for a Cause. We’ve had a number of organizations share the information in their newsletters and ask people to choose that charity to receive the $200 donation.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership to me is having principals and ideals and communicating them to your staff so they now the values of the organization.
Another important part of leadership is setting a good example. I’ve always worked hard and been fair and honest, and I expect others I work with to do the same. This has always worked out for me!
What are your “4 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Failure is an important part of success. Often people are so afraid of failure that they do not take enough risk.
- We most often defeat ourselves. Rarely do others defeat us.
- Nothing is ever achieved without hard work.
- Any new idea that I have come up with gets evaluated on five criteria:
- The idea must not have been thought of before
- The idea must have little or no competition
- The idea has to appeal to a large audience
- The idea has to result in a good profit margin for the business
- The idea has to support the business without requiring an unreasonable amount of capital
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Many people think that all of the good ideas have already been thought of — that all the great opportunities are in the past. This is not true! I believe problems are opportunities that need to be solved. We have plenty of problems and always will, so there are as many opportunities to make a difference today as there ever have been.
The other piece of advice I give to young people is to work for free. Find something you are interested in and passionate about and work for someone outstanding in that field. The experience will be one of the most valuable of your lifetime and it will create opportunities you can’t yet imagine. This advice is often met with skepticism but I have given it more than 50 times. Only one person has taken me up on it: my son, Will.
When Will was 16 years old, we took my 33-year-old Land Cruiser to a repair shop in Sonoma. Will also had an old Landcruiser with 250,000 miles on it that he drove to high school. Like me, Will had fallen in love with his Land Cruiser. While we were in the office at the repair shop with the owner, my son blurted out, “Can I have a job?”
Before the owner could answer, Will said, “I’ll work for free.” The owner agreed. Will started working the next day, and went back day after day after day. He knew little about mechanics and auto repair, but he learned. He started a thread on an internet forum for Land Cruisers, posting pictures and explaining the work that was being done on different Land Cruisers. People started sending him questions and he engaged with them, offering tips and answers. By the time he went off to college, he had 37,000 followers on that thread, and had met hundreds of interesting people!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Creativity is like throwing baseballs: not every ball goes over the center of the plate.” I find that for every good idea, I have four or five bad ones. The trick is to identify good ideas from bad ones. I like to take a new idea and write it down, think it over. Then I set it aside for a few days. If I come back to it and still like the idea, I let it go for another week. If I still like the idea after a week, I think it might be a pretty good one! If I like it in a month or two, I know that I am working on one of my best ideas.
Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
David Brooks, the op-ed columnist for The New York Times. He is such a deep and thoughtful thinker. He sees things that others do not. I love reading and listening to his insights.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please visit www.alderspringsvineyard.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!