Published 16 August 2012
One morning, I stumbled across a tweet talking about @lagramiere’s mobile wine tasting truck raising funds on Kickstarter. I’d heard something about Kickstarter, but thought it was an online venture capitalist site for business people. Before I knew it I was backing all kinds of weird and wonderful ideas, including the renovation of an ex-cattle truck into a mobile wine tasting venue!
The premise of Kickstarter is similar to Dragon’s Den: you pitch an idea of a “creative project”, state what funding you want and, if people offer the full funding within the designated time, you walk away with the money to fulfil your dream; otherwise, you get nothing. But, unlike a traditional VC business, investors don’t get shares in the project in return for their funds; they are offered rewards (such as a signed photograph, or a T-shirt).
Before you get too excited about raising money for that holiday of a lifetime, there are some limitations as to what Kickstarter considers an acceptable “project”. As Kickstarter says, “A project is something finite with a clear beginning and end. Someone can be held accountable to the framework of a project – a project was either completed or it wasn’t – and there are definable expectations that everyone can agree to.” So, that rules out charities, ongoing businesses and fundraising for that dream holiday.
What it does allow is some wonderfully hair-brained schemes. Such as buying an old 1979 Citroen Type H (aka a “Tube”) and turning it into a mobile wine tasting truck to drive around the south of France in order to promote your wines. And that is exactly what Amy Lillard wanted $7,500 to do.
So they went to Kickstarter.com. They took some pictures of the van and made a short video (in which Amy confesses to already staring the make-over), then loaded these on to the site with an explanation of their plans. Their page, La Gramière’s mobile wine tasting truck, is still visible on Kickstarter.
It was a great idea and one I jumped in to fund – albeit with only $20. But the online wine community rallied round and by the deadline on 31 July 2012 the project had surpassed its target and raised $8,206 from 92 individuals.
“One thing that I think is important to mention when considering a Kickstarter project is that most of the funding will come from people you know or that are your ‘social network’”, Amy recently told me. “Kickstarter mentions this in their preliminary information, and it is absolutely true. 95% of my funding came from people I know personally or who follow me on FB or Twitter. That said, it was so amazingly gratifying and at the same time humbling to receive support from people who have followed the evolution of our winery over the years, from friends and family, or even from people that I have never even met, but that follow us on Facebook, Twitter or my blog. It’s also important to remember that the amount you give isn’t what counts, whether it’s $10 or $500, it is still so exciting to get that vote of confidence from your followers!”
So, congratulations to Amy. I hope to be leaning up against the Tube in the not too distant future with a glass of their Grenache in my hand, soaking up the southern sun – unfortunately, I can’t raise the money to get there through Kickstarter
If you want to know more about Amy, and her crazy idea, below is an interview I did with her (please note that this was done before the project was fully funded):
David: Where are you from?
D: Why did you move to France?
A: It’s a long story! Ever since university I’ve been coming to France, starting with leading bike tours, then working in the vineyards in Burgundy. This lead to me working the harvest in Napa and the Willamette Valley in Oregon. After that I moved to San Francisco where I got a job working for Kermit Lynch, which eventually lead me back to France.
D: What made you buy a vineyard?
A: My husband Matt Kling and I moved to Paris with his job in 2001, then down here to St Quentin la Poterie in 2002. A friend of ours told us about some vineyards that were for sale in 2004, and we rather naively decided to go for it. So we spent from December 2004 to September 2005, learning how to prune the vines and farm the vineyards. We also converted a small space in the back of our house into the winery. We bought all used equipment, concrete tanks, a basket press, pump, etc. The tanks were delivered the evening before we started picking the grapes.
D: Do you have additional jobs, or live off vineyard?
A: My husband still works for Cisco Systems, I am virtually full-time on the vineyards (I also write for a French wine guide on the wines of the southern Rhone). We only have 5 hectares in production (two more to be planted next year), we borrowed money to buy the vines, so there’s no way we could live off of it. In fact, every extra cent we have goes to buying the next piece of farm equipment or winemaking equipment that we need. There’s an old saying in France: “In order to make a small fortune in wine, you have to start with a large one.” Well we didn’t have either! So we’re still struggling to make ends meet, even after 7 years.
D: Why Grenache?
A: We’re in the southern Rhône, 80% of the vines here are Grenache, we were lucky enough to be able to buy 40-60 year old vines. It’s the grape that is the best suited to the climate and I love what you can do with it.
D: So, give us a brief summary of the mobile tasting van idea.
A: Well, we’ve used most of the space in our house to make and store the wine, so we don’t have a proper tasting room. We thought why not use the food truck idea and create a mobile wine tasting truck. We’re already using it at local markets and wine fairs, but we’d like to install a kitchen in it and do evenings in the vineyard. Most of the time we’ll do the cooking and make tapas that pair well with our wines and then have the wines for sale at the end of the evening. We’d also like to invite local and international chefs to come cook! These would be more elaborate events and we’d even invite some of our other winemaker friends to come pour their wines to mix it up a bit.
D: Who thought up the van idea?
A: It was actually Matt’s idea, and much to his chagrin, I ran with it!
D: Have you given the van a name? If not, why don’t you run a competition after you get funding?
A: Not officially! I was thinking of naming it Vincent after St Vincent the patron saint of winemakers. To make it more fun we’d call him Vinny (playing on the French word for wine – vin). But we’re still open for suggestions! We’re going to call the evenings in the vineyard ‘La Gramière en Plein Air’.
D: Can people come and visit you and the van?
A: Absolutely. That’s the whole point!
D: What about a road trip around France (or the UK) in your van to promote your wines? How romantic is that?
A: We’ve definitely thought of that, we’ll just need to have plenty of time because the truck’s maximum speed is about 70km/hr! It’s something I would love to do though, maybe next year!