Photo: The Laughing Stock winery on Naramata Road
This summer, Laughing Stock Vineyards was
the only winery to be included in Profit magazine’s list of Canada’s 200
fastest growing companies.
With a five-year growth rate of 279%, the
winery was 159 on the list. Of course, the winery, launched in 2003 when David
and Cynthia Enns bought a vineyard on Naramata
Road, has grown from a comparatively small base.
Even so, the growth rate is sizzling.
What are the reasons? First of all, David
and Cynthia are very good business managers. In their previous career, they ran
a consulting company that worked with leading financial companies. Cynthia has
an MBA and such a good head for figures that David quips: “I am married to the
They are very effective at marketing their
wines. “When the business plan was developed, we sat down and talked about
distribution channels,” David recalls. “We used to do that same strategic
planning in our other business. Where are we going to generate revenue? Where is
our margin the best? How do we create and meet expectations?”
One of their best marketing ploys has been
to sell futures on a portion of their flagship red wine. Customers who put
their money down in February for a case or two to be delivered in October
currently save about $5 a bottle on Portfolio, now retailing at $42 on release.
The futures program and the direct sales to Laughing Stock’s wine club account
for about 40% of the winery’s sales.
You might think there is a risk in buying a
case before tasting the wine. In this instance, the risk is low, given Laughing
Stock’s track record for quality. The winery’s sales have grown rapidly because
the wines are all well made.
Portfolio 2010, just released this month,
won a gold medal in the recent Canadian Wine Awards competition. The two
previous vintages of Portfolio also won gold medals.
Many wineries of Laughing Stock’s size,
about 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year, have been content to sell most of the wine
in British Columbia, dribbling a little into Alberta.
Laughing Stock, on the other hand, has made
a deliberate effort to sell its wines as far afield as Ontario. As a result, some of the wines get
into the hands of the national wine press and get reviewed nationally. As well,
the wines get into the hands of corporate customers.
Because of their background in business,
David and Cynthia seek out corporate purchasers who use the wines as corporate
gifts. The Laughing Stock bottles are tailored to that market. Ticker tape and
stock symbols wrap around every bottle of Portfolio, as an example.
“When somebody gets a bottle of Portfolio,
or a two bottle set in a box with the corporate logo on it, they are pretty
impressed, even if they don’t drink wine,” David suggests. “A corporate gift
should reflect your value system. It should reflect what you think of the
person you are giving this gift to. It is not just schwag.”
Here is a heads up for those lucky enough
to get either of the current Laughing Stock releases this holiday – or
enterprising enough to buy them on your own.
Stock Portfolio 2010 ($42 for 1,675 cases). This is
42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit
Verdot. (The remaining 1% got lost on the spreadsheet.)It begins with an exuberant brambly aroma of currants and blackberries mingling with cloves and spice. Generous on the palate, with long ripe tannins,the wine has flavours of black cherry,
black currant, vanilla, mocha and spice. This is a complex and satisfying wine
that is drinking well now but will age to greater complexity over the next five
Stock Chardonnay 2011 ($26 for 314 cases). This
wine was fermented and aged seven months in 500-litre oak puncheons, double the
size of standard wine barrels. This means the oak is very subtly in the
background, delivering a delicate toasty note on the finish but not submerging
the lively fruit. The wine begins with buttery tangerine aromas and delivers
flavours of tangerine and peach; the winery’s own tasting notes speak of lemon
meringue. The fresh, elegant finish lingers. 90.