The business: Cannonball Wine (the name will be changing to Cannonball Winery), based in Healdsburg, Calif., is a five-person virtual winemaker. Rather than owning vineyards and processing facilities, the company contracts with various larger companies that provide grapes (mostly from Sonoma and Mendocino counties), as well as fermentation, aging, finishing, bottling and warehousing services, all to Cannonball’s specifications. Founded four years ago with financing from the partners and their families and friends, as well as a Small Business Administration loan, the company is now shipping 35,000 cases of its Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot a year to wine stores and wholesalers.
The owners: Dennis Hill started the company with Greg Ahn, a wine-industry marketing executive, and Yoav Gilat, who heads up sales. Mr. Hill, who has some 35 years of winemaking experience, was the top winemaker at Blackstone Winery, a pioneer of the virtual winery business model in the early 1990s. Now the model is an increasingly popular one, said Mr. Hill, and many vineyards and processing facilities all over Northern California are reorienting themselves to servicing virtual wineries. “It’s a much smarter way to do it,” he said. “We can focus our time and capital on overseeing production, building a brand and selling — instead of on real estate and other expensive assets.”
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