Wow! It’s difficult to believe that five years has passed since we began this adventure with Arizona Vines & Wines. Just like any other new business venture, there have been ups and downs along the way, and we’ve come out stronger on the other side because of them. I can truly say that when we printed the first issue of the publication we definitely did not envision the direction it would take us.
As most of you know, Josh runs a real estate brokerage, Moffitt Real Estate. He focuses on vineyard and winery real estate, primarily in the Willcox region, as shown in his ads on the back page of every issue. In 2006, Josh and I were both real estate agents riding the ebbing tide of Arizona real estate; I focused on new home sales and Josh was stepping into investment real estate. The first property he bought was across from Dos Cabezas Wineworks, which shortly thereafter became Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. When he saw the vineyard he realized the incredible marketing potential and his curiosity was intrigued about Arizona’s wine industry.
When he came home and told me about his discovery, we both were surprised that there were vineyards in Arizona. We weren’t big wine drinkers but a glass of wine with dinner at a nice restaurant was definitely not unheard of. I thought it would be fun to learn more about this off-the-wall concept of wine being grown in Arizona. I set off to the internet to learn. What did I find? Cue crickets chirping. Not much. And what I did find was mostly out-of-date or inaccurate.
When the market turned, I decided to leave real estate but was unsure of which direction to head. Josh was determined to stay in real estate but needed to change his focus away from investors and toward the end-user. Josh had an idea to make a magazine that we could distribute at the tasting rooms. Where better to reach someone who wanted to get into the wine industry?
The First Issue
The so-called 2008 issue was really a brochure, all eight pages of it. We used Microsoft Publisher to create it, used a lot of stock photography, included articles about Josh’s real estate business and the expanding wine industry, and compiled a list of wineries. We listed each winery with their logo and a short descriptive paragraph. Because we were new, most of the wineries were hesitant to offer us their logos so we pulled what could off the internet (which I now know is a big no-no) and did our best to create a descriptive blurb. It was split between north and south. No ads except Josh’s ad on the back. The 2008 Issue – 10,000 copies. We figured we were done for the year. Now I was back to the drawing board about what I should do for a career.
Two months later, the tasting rooms were beginning to call us. They were out of brochures and needed more. We realized that it was pretty expensive to print, especially if we had to do so four times a year (or more). I started to see a glimmer of what my next path would be… start a real magazine! I was falling in love with the Arizona wine industry and really wanted to do my best to represent these people I’d grown so fond of. I bought the Adobe Creative Suite, a Canon Rebel camera, an upgraded computer and went to work.
A Real Magazine
I truly knew nothing about the magazine industry but thought, “How hard could it be?” I went to Lynda.com and trained myself on the software. I created a binder with mock example pages to show what I envisioned this publication would look like and then hit the ground running to sell some advertising. We hit the wineries, wine bars, wine stores, real estate agents and wine country businesses. I’m honestly surprised by how well we did. I have to especially thank Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, Coronado Vineyards and Pillsbury Wine Company for being the first wineries to advertise with us in that first issue. In the next issue, we also added Javelina Leap, Village of Elgin, Sonoita Vineyards, Callaghan Vineyards and Studio Vino. I knew we’d be alright at that point! We weren’t the only ones who saw the vision of what this publication could become and what we could accomplish. All I knew was that we had to do it together.
Our first real magazine issue had four articles and our first wine tour sections with maps. Without any pictures of our own of Arizona vineyards we used (obvious) stock photography for the cover. That was the last time we would do that! It was 32 pages and we printed 10,000 copies. We did it!
Helping to Grow an Industry
What once was just a marketing venture for Josh’s real estate business soon became a business on its own and a passion for me… part of something bigger.
In 2009, I was hired as the first executive director for the Arizona Wine Growers Association. I respectfully resigned a couple of years later as the role outgrew my available time commitment, but take great pride in everything we accomplished during those two years.
As the wine industry grew, our publication grew. There were 21 wineries listed in the first issue in 2008. Now in our Quick Reference Guide we list 56 wineries! We’ve grown to 100 pages and print over 22,000 copies a quarter. It’s been quite a wild ride but very fulfilling.
Learning Along the Way
We grew slowly, learned some lessons the hard way and, I believe, have gotten better and better. For the most part, I think that not having any background or expectation was a good thing. We didn’t have rules or parameters. We did what we thought was right; if we operated with integrity, then we would be fine. We were committed to creating a quality product with thoughtfully produced content.
I had no idea what I was getting into and how broad the scope of what I had to learn would become. Not only did I have to learn how to use the vital software to produce the magazine (InDesign and Photoshop), I had to learn how to design. I had to learn all about print production, and luckily I had some very patient printers along the way. Beyond the obvious, there was bookkeeping, ad sales, managing subscriptions, social media, creating and then recreating and managing a website, newsletters, distribution… the list goes on. And keep in mind, this was a mom-and-pop business (and pop was out selling real estate most of the time)!
We learned that a buck saved on printing is not always worth it. One horrible experience had me literally saying “Stop the presses!” with tears in my eyes. Luckily we’ve chosen more wisely since!
And I learned that 5000 100-page magazines weigh a whole lot more than 5000 32-page magazines. While delivering the Fall 2012 issue, I had a near blow-out on I-10. Luckily I was near Tucson and the dealership… a brand new set of tires later I was back on the road. (Yes, we still hand-deliver to the wine regions, believe it or not.) The next time, the load was lessened and trips doubled up.
With a Little Help From Our Friends
Although Josh and I have done a lot of the work ourselves, we definitely haven’t gotten here alone. Without the support of the Arizona wine industry, we wouldn’t be here at all. Thank you to all the wineries that have helped us along the way and treated us like family! The ultimate praise that I receive is when a winery expresses to me that our publication has been instrumental in helping to elevate the industry. Being a small publication with a very limited budget, we’ve greatly appreciated all the talented volunteer contributors we’ve had over the years. And without the readers, whether they picked up our publication one time or they have religiously read it every quarter, we wouldn’t have an audience. I’m very proud of the fact that people keep our magazines around as a resource to look at again and again!
As the industry grows, I’d like to think that we’ll continue to grow alongside of it. I’d like to see us get better and more efficient, and build a team to create some synergy. My passion for wine, and Arizona wine specifically, has grown exponentially, as well as my appreciation for those who grow and make it. We’ve met many special and interesting people along the way, had many fun and tasty experiences and plan to continue on our quest to be educated about our niche. I find myself giddy with excitement to see what will happen next year, or the next. Where will we be in a decade? I am confident that our path is upward… upward and onward! (and that an Arizona wine will break the elusive 90 point Wine Spectator barrier!)
Article & Photo By Rhonni Moffitt
Originally Published in Arizona Vines and Wines Spring 2013 Issue