You can be sure that as the ball dropped on 2012, Jeffrey Maltzman was toasting to a very good year.
His company, Blend Craft Wines, you may remember, offered a wine-making experience for cruise ships. The company took the concept well beyond simple tastings, allowing the passenger to become the winemaker and even take home a custom blend. The business plan took first place in the Community Track and garnered the most votes in the People’s Pick video contest to earn the title of Challenge Champion.
When we left off with the Coral Gables startup last May, it was running a beta program on one cruise ship on MSC. Now Blend Craft Wines is on three ships — the MSC Opera, Lirica and Poesia — and has started discussions with other cruise lines. The other big development: Its trademarked Winemaker Experience is now a permanent shoreside activity available in Napa Valley and will be offered in Summit, Colo. this summer, said Maltzman, who is also a maritime attorney and a winemaker .
Maltzman has also taken the Winemaker Experience to resorts and restaurants as events and charity fund-raisers. “One of the highlights of our first year was being invited to lead the Winemaker Experience for VIP prize winners attending the 2012 Napa Valley Film Festival,” said Maltzman.
During the first year the company also:
• Operated for several months in Europe and learned important lessons on how to market the program to a European clientele. A challenge during the company’s first year was finding experienced multi-lingual winemakers to work onboard European-based cruises, with quality French and Italian wines to replace its usual California vintages.
• Discovered that the logistics of running four different programs onboard each ship were quite challenging so “we streamlined our operation to focus on the Winemaker Experience, which was by far our largest revenue stream.”
• Refined the optimal pricing structure, which varies by ship, for its programs.
• Launched a line of premium Napa wines that are available onboard cruise ships and at select restaurants.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Maltzman said the company could have sunk.
“The custom crush company we used to make our wines went out of business without notice in the middle of the year. This forced us to find a new source of wine on short notice and also potentially could have bankrupt the company due to the large inventory of wine we had purchased but never received. Fortunately, we had paid using our company’s corporate American Express card and the American Express’ Small Business Unit ultimately backed us and reversed all charges – saving us from a potentially catastrophic loss.”
Going forward, Blend Craft Wines plans to expand to two additional cruise lines during 2013 and broaden the shoreside program as well.
All in all, “we had a very good year,” said Maltzman. “The custom crush company caused us a lot of anxiety but we came through the experience stronger and better.”
Agape Marine Ventures
Barbara Wooden’s dream is to develop an aquaculture company that would hatch, grow, process and distribute fish in an environmentally sound manner because overfishing is a serious threat to the planet. In her vision, Agape Marine Ventures would help supply the protein needed to feed the world’s hungry and satisfy U.S. consumers who are demanding healthier, eco-friendly foods.