Seven Springs Winery In Missouri Grows Strategically
Just because a winery is new or small does not mean its business model is simple. Consider Seven Springs Winery which has been in business only three and one half years and sells 13,000 gallons a year. Owner Mike Bleile is already growing grapes for two of Missouri’s most prominent wineries, running an on premise gourmet deli and working with an internationally known winemaker at another Missouri winery who makes the wines for his own tasting room. (And, in addition, Bleile continues to work part-time as a real estate appraiser.)
Bleile got the inspiration for Seven Springs from his grandfather who made homemade wine. After a friend challenged Bleile to pursue his dream of opening a winery, he bought 160 acres in the Lake of the Ozarks area in central Missouri for his winery and vineyard. The property, a former cow pasture, was overrun with thorn bushes and had to be completely cleared. Twenty tons of turkey manure were then spread on the 11 acre vineyard to increase the phosphate level and build organic matter.
In 2006, Vignoles vines were planted followed by Norton two years later. The Seven Springs harvest his year was 20 tons and Bleile said his goal is to harvest 30 tons in a couple of years when the Norton is ready. All the Vignoles fruit is sold to Les Bourgeois and Robller wineries in Missouri. Les Bourgeois, the third largest winery in the state, was so happy with the grapes they received this year, that Bleile said they have contracted to buy fruit for another five years.
Les Bourgeois loaned Bleile their mechanical picking equipment this year and helped with the harvest which was completed in seven hours. “We harvested all night under big lights to get the grapes at their sweetest,” Bleile said. Night harvesting is technique that Bleile says he will continue.
Seven Springs does not sell wine made from its own grapes. Rather, Crown Valley Winery in St. Genevieve, Missouri makes all Seven Springs’ wine from a combination of grapes from Missouri and other regions. Daniel Alcorso, winemaker at Crown Valley, oversees the production of Seven Springs wine. Alcorso is an Australia native with winemaking experience at Casella (Yellow Tail) in Australia and Kendall Jackson in California. He is known for wines that stress varietal character.
Crown Valley produces 10 wines for Seven Springs. The wines are sold only in the winery’s tasting room which was inspired by the tasting rooms at Augusta Winery in Missouri and Blue Sky Winery in Southern Illinois. Winemaker Alcorso communicates regularly with Bleile during the winemaking process to ensure the wines have the attributes his clients prefer. The most popular wine at Seven Springs is Seven’s Red Heaven, a blend of Chambourcin and Norton.
Bleile said that he would eventually like to make wine at Seven Springs but any expansion would require more capital. The space for winemaking is already built and Bleile has purchased some stainless tanks in anticipation of producing wine on premise, but that goal is probably years away. Bleile thinks building wholesale distribution will be essential in order to bring his winemaking in-house.
$90,000 has been invested in Seven Springs so far and the winery has positive cash flow. Making money now builds funds for future growth, Bleile said. Despite his success, Bleile said local banks are reluctant to lend to wineries. If he could borrow $100,000, he said the funds would be used to build a larger reception center for events like banquets and wedding receptions.
Weddings are the biggest single segment of his business, but Bleile said big weddings can be a mixed blessing. “Sometimes the weddings are so big that other customers cannot get in the facility, ” Bleile lamented. This year Seven Springs will expand its patio space and add a new fountain seating area that will allow for more capacity at peak hours. Future expansion plans also include guest cabins.
Two new wineries have opened in the Lake of the Ozarks region, a popular tourist destination, during the last six months. That brings that total number of wineries in the area to six. Bleile believes that the increased number of tasting rooms is a benefit to all the wineries, their customers and the local economy. Bleile said preliminary discussions are underway to form a wine trail for the Lake of the Ozarks. He believes combining resources for a coordinated marketing effort should result in increased business for all area wineries.
The main source of satisfaction for Bleile is seeing his customers enjoying Missouri wine themselves at Seven Springs. “I felt there was no place like ours around Lake of the Ozarks to enjoy a glass of wine and conversation. When I decided to open a winery, I let my imagination build the place.”