When Jeffrey Maltzman won the 2012 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge and the popular-vote People’s Choice Award, his concept for Blend Craft Wines was straightforward: Allow cruise passengers to become winemakers by blending their own meritage onboard at a “Winemaker Experience.”
His background in cruising — he spent his early 20s as an onboard program director — and experience as a maritime lawyer and small-winery owner convinced the Challenge judges that his fledgling Coral Gables business had legs.
They were right: His signature Winemaker Experience has since been offered aboard five different ships from two different cruise companies, among them the Miami-based MSC Divina.
But it’s what happened on land that surprised him and his business partner-wife, Anamarie. In order to offer seminars, tastings and blending sessions on board, the Maltzmans first had to obtain a federal winery license for their hobbyist winery. That led them to expand; today the couple has two wineries in California and is planning a third in Colorado.
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“I think in the back of my mind I thought we'd have a thriving cruise ship business with winemaking as a hobby. I never dreamed our land-based wine operations could grow to this level,” Malzman said.
Though originally he bought grapes grown by others, three years ago Malzman invested in land so he could control the seed-to-bottle process.
Today his California wineries have grown from making a hundred cases per year to almost 2,000. And it’s not just any wine: His Navigator Captain’s Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon won the Best in Class & Gold Medal in the 2016 Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition. Other wines also have been recognized with awards.
Today, the cruise business accounts for 10-20 percent of his total revenues. The land-based business generates the rest.
“Winning the Business Plan Challenge was absolutely central to our success,” he said. “When we first pitched to cruise lines, nobody had ever done this before. Our victory in the Business Plan Challenge and the People's Choice Award demonstrated to cruise lines that this would be a popular activity onboard.”