This is a follow up story for Wolf Spirit Distillery. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Umberto Luchini, and I am the Founder & Proprietor of Wolf Spirit Distillery.
Wolf Spirit Distillery aims to share the best of independent premium spirits. Guided by instinct and fueled by passion, our team is driven to disrupt the industry with new ideas, innovative products, and authentic stories. We do this to inspire richer life experiences and, above all, a greater thirst for what’s real. We craft Blood x Sweat x Tears vodka – from grain to glass -- at our distillery in Eugene, OR; import Tom of Finland Organic Vodka, which is distilled at Lignell & Piispanen Distillery in Kuopio, Finland; and have recently launched Puncher’s Chance, a 100% Kentucky Straight Bourbon. We only launched Puncher’s Chance in mid-August, and as of this writing – mid-October have reached 90% of our $700,000 revenue goal for 2020.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
In 2017 I created the Blood x Sweat x Tears brand, while our master distiller, Ben Green, created the vodka. The first challenge was to create the perfect vodka that we all enjoyed.
It is very important to follow your passion, because only that will carry you through the pain and uncertainty that, I promise you, lie ahead.
We first went to market in 2018, but I quickly realized that while I was great at marketing, I was not great at sales! By the end of that year, we had a warehouse full of vodka that we were not moving. It got to the point where it was sinking or swim and I had to make a decision: I could drop all the hard work we had put into the brand up to this point or find the right team.
Of course, I hired the team! Larry Margolis became a brand partner, in charge of operations and distribution; Bradd Levitan became a brand partner, who serves as CEO with particular purview over the off-premise; and Stuart McGuire became another partner, with responsibility for the on-premise. By the end of 2019, we had sold 5,000 cases across 23 states – doubling revenue over the previous year -- and gone from sitting on a warehouse of vodka to struggling to keep up with demand.
I was hungry to do more. I wanted to create another brand that represented our ideals of putting in the work and fighting for what we believe in: in particular the American fighting spirit. Kentucky Bourbon is the pre-eminent American spirit, so of course, we chose that as the juice. The positioning was inspired by great boxers like Mike Tyson: as we’ve seen, a split second can change the outcome of not just a boxing match, but any fight. Puncher’s Chance is for the underdog: no matter how dire the situation, he or she will pick themselves back up. They are the ones who persevere long enough to eventually land that one punch that matters.
Puncher’s chance is a marriage of 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old Kentucky Straight bourbons. It leads with caramel, spicy, slightly sweet, and creamy vanilla notes, then the palate shows complex oaky sweetness alongside orange, dark chocolate, leather, and baking spices. The finish is long with sweet maple and sugar notes. The famous MMA announcer Bruce Buffer (“It's time!”) is a huge fan. It is 90-proof and costs $34.99/bottle; some top liquor stores in Kentucky and California are also selling individual “private barrels” at cask strength.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Like everyone else, we faced a lot of uncertainty this year. COVID forced us to become comfortable with taking business life step by step, and day by day, rather than according to the 18-month planning calendars that are common in our industry.
My team and I were thankfully safe, and working like crazy, so we’re committed to using our resources to help those less fortunate or at higher risk. Like many distilleries, we began creating hand sanitizer for our community; we paid special attention to grocery workers, who don’t always get the accolades but were on the front lines daily.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Looking ahead, I keep my focus on short and long-term goals for the business, as well as short- and long-term goals for myself. The short game for both the business and myself is to maintain focus, keep motivation strong, and of course survive: as often said of entrepreneurial ventures, this is a marathon, not a sprint. For the business, our goal is to establish a portfolio of brands that are the envy of the industry. Each will be a craft in nature, national in distribution, authentic in its story, profitable, and – ultimately – alluring to investors. The big picture aim is to become one of the top premium craft vodkas available in the market, rooted in the Pacific Northwest and available nationwide, as well as a leading bourbon in the industry.
Personally, the goal is to enjoy every minute of this extraordinary entrepreneurial journey that I started more than three years ago. Along the way, I want to provide consumers with meaningful stories and enjoy some outstanding products. We are still in the early stages of our Puncher’s Chance launch, but we aim to increase distribution to more states as the new year comes around.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Since I have been focusing on Kentucky bourbon and creating Puncher’s Chance this past year I have been very interested in bourbon books. A few that were very interesting and helpful reads are: “BOURBON, STRAIGHT” by Chuck Cowdery, AMERICAN WHISKEY, BOURBON & RYE by Clay Risen, BOURBON EMPIRE by Reid Mitenbuler and KENTUCKY BOURBON BARONS by Chester Zoelle.
I have also been reading a bunch of industry and trade material related to bourbon and barrel aging.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
It is very important to follow your passion, because only that will carry you through the pain and uncertainty that, I promise you, lie ahead. I left a corporate position for the desire to wake up in the morning knowing I could control what could be controlled. It is also important to take reasoned risks, and once a decision is made, to never look back. It is better to regret failure than to regret not trying.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” Believe in yourself! I follow those words every day. To succeed you must surround yourself with very competent people in the fields you are not comfortable with. Also, remember to focus and take action; leave stargazing to the corporate suits!
Next, manage your energy, not your time. You have plenty of time to do things but be sure you’re focused and energized. To do that, you must take care of your personal wellbeing: rest, work out, enjoy personal passions that distract you.
Spend wisely and carefully: treat your finances as if you had an IRS inspector looking over your shoulder.
Lastly, have a sip of Puncher’s Chance on the ice at the end!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Unfortunately, we are not looking to hire new employees for the rest of the year. But as soon as 2021 starts we will most likely open new positions during Q1.
Where can we go to learn more?
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