365WineTrade Technology Talks: Episode 6 with Lisa Kaplan from House of Smith

June 24, 2022 365WineTrade by Western Computer

 

Today's segment of Through the Grapevine we discuss the growing popularity of canned cocktails and seltzers as the summer beverage of choice. We are also joined by Lisa Kaplan of House of Smith. Lisa gives a little bit of background on the history of House of Smith, as well as the convenience of recently converting their legacy to the cloud. 

 

To learn more about 365WineTrade, visit us at www.365winetrade.com/podcast

 

Full Transcript:

Tony Castellano:

Hello, and thank you for joining the 365WineTrade Technology Talks Powered by Western Computer. I'm your host, Tony Castellano. And in just a few moments, I'll be bringing on our guest for today, Lisa Kaplan with House of Smith Winery in Walla Walla, in Seattle, Washington. But before I do that, I did want to introduce my new co-host for our 365WineTrade Technology Talks, Jackie O'Brien coming to us from Tampa, Florida. Jackie, how are you doing today?

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Hey Tony. Doing great. Thanks so much for having me.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, it's great to have you. I know you're talking to customers on the street every day, talking about wine and spirits. It's great to have you on board and get your perspective. For those of you joining us for the first time, there are many podcasts out there about wine and the making of wine, but we wanted to take a little different focus and talk about the business of wine, and the technology that is moving the wine and spirits industry. In a few moments, I'll be bringing on Lisa Kaplan. But we do have a new segment of the show where we talk about some of the latest headlines that are coming through the wine and spirits industry from local and national writers. We call it Through the Grapevine. So Jackie, I know we read through a lot of different articles and there's a lot of great things written about the wine and spirits industry, but what are a couple articles that caught your eye?

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

I would say one that really stuck out to me recently, I was reading this morning was about canned cocktails and boulder seltzers, and how they are set to dominate this summer. And this one really hit home because I have to say recently my summer drink of choice is a canned mojito. So I was laughing that I'm not the only one who's feeling this way.

 

Tony Castellano:

That is funny that you said mojitos, because just taking a vacation recently and that was the drink of choice. Sitting on the beach. And very light, very enjoyable. So I'll have to check out that pre-canned version.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Yeah. Bacardi makes it, and Cutwater makes one too. And it's just so easy and refreshing, and down here in Florida, it is hot so to have a nice cold drink really helps. But some of the numbers in this article were pretty shocking to me in regards to how much they're taking over the market space. So the ready to drink cocktails, whether it's vodka soda, or Moscow mule, or mojito, what have you. That beverage category actually grew 53% last year and is expected to grow another 30% over the next three years. So interesting to see how the wine industry is going to deal with that.

 

Tony Castellano:

No doubt. And I am seeing it as I go to the markets, more space for those RTDs, ready to drink beverages. They're taking space away from somebody. So definitely seeing that uptick in that market. Thanks for sharing that one. And then of course, a little more west coast guys. So I was watching the Napa County crop value. The value of those crops has jumped over 60% in 2021. It's nice to see them rebound from the wildfires they had back in earlier years, that was a good metric, and also that sales are up. Seeing a lot of value in the Napa county and Sonoma county and these other areas. And it's a great segue because we're going to learn a little bit more about the Washington Valley Walla Walla Washington. I'd like to introduce our guest for today, Lisa Kaplan with House of Smith. Lisa, welcome to the show.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah. It's great to have you. My understanding you're the director of finance up there for House of Smith, but you also reside on the East Coast of the US. Is that right?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

That is correct. I'm based just outside of Boston.

 

Tony Castellano:

Oh, very good. Well, it's great to have you. So Lisa, your brand and your company is just so eclectic. The first time I went on the website, I was just amazed. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the company?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

Sure. I think I will start with the company because it's far more exciting than I am. Charles Smith owner winemaker, he started making wine in 1999 was his first vintage. He started with a single vineyard shiraz under the K Vintner's label, and he sold it out of his Astro van driving around the state of Washington and got a really great following. Fast forward several years, and he launched a brand called House Wine, which he sold a few years after that. And then he started the iconic Charles Smith Wines, which were Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Boom Boom Syrah, Velvet Devil. He sold those in 2016 and that's when we rebranded ourselves as House of Smith. Since we no longer own the Charles Smith Wines made it a little challenging to use his name, but we came full circle with House of Smith.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

And under our current umbrella, our brands include Substance Cabernet, which is a delicious everyday drinking Washington State Cabernet. We just recently launched Golden West Pinot Noir. Charles has been a lover of Pinot Noir and nobody was growing it in Washington State. And he realized looking at the climate, the soil, the comparisons to burgundy were phenomenal. So we found this beautiful property in the center of the state, and we are now the proud owners of the largest Pinot Noir plantings in the State of Washington. We're on our third vintage, the 2020 Golden West. You can find out in the market now, and really years ahead of anyone else who thought about planting Pinot Noir in this state.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

So we're excited about this new project. Vino is our everyday drinking Italian varietals, K vintners, which is where Charles originally hung his hat still making amazing single vineyard, predominantly Rhone varietals. So shiraz, little bit of grenache. He does some blends with shiraz and Cabernet. Charles believes that great wine should be available to everyone to drink. So we try to make wines that are beautifully made. Really let the vineyards speak for themselves. All native fermentation, whole cluster or whole berry, depending on the varietal, very limited intervention by the winemakers.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

We just have gorgeous vineyards in great parts of the state that we sell for really affordable prices. Charles is believe it or not the largest independent Washington State winery owner. So it's really been exciting to work for him, and watch the company evolve and grow. I've been with the company now since 2013 on and off. I took a little hiatus to travel around the world, and very happily after being gone for 18 months, offered a position to come back. So in my new role, I've been back with the company since 2018. I was in sales for a very long time, and migrated to the director of finance just about two years ago.

 

Tony Castellano:

That is an amazing story from the owner also to your stories Lisa. And he is such a trend setter. As you said, you guys are the head of the curve with the planting of these grapes. Is that the culture just starting with something new and evolving? It just seems that way, the way I talk to all the staff.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

So Charles used to manage rock bands in Denmark. He is fascinating, eclectic, brilliant, just iconic. He has this amazing artistic bend, always been a lover of wine, and he could not be happier to have finally turned his passion into his vocation. He loves that he can wake up every day and be part of the wine business. He has this mass of long curly gray hair. If you've ever seen a photo of him, people liken him to Sammy Hagar often. So he's definitely recognizable, you will never forget meeting him. He is a larger than life person and really just so insightful.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

As I said, it's just been amazing to be part of the company and see it evolve and grow from something as simple as when he started with house wine, it was a really not great vintage in Washington state. So some of the smaller wineries that were known for very expensive estate bottled wines realized that they couldn't charge a premium for a vintage that just wasn't awesome. So Charles had this brilliant idea. Nobody had ever trademarked house wine, and yet everybody needs a house wine. So he was able to grab up some grapes from great vineyard sites. That again, just in an off vintage and repackage it in that house wine label, and amazing that no one had ever thought of that beforehand.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, that is visionary. And I love to meet people like that because they are the trendsetters. Sometimes they're the oddballs, but they make things happen. And your brand really shows true from the first time I went to the websites. I think you guys do a great job there. So everybody has a funny story usually or a cool story how they got into the wine and spirits industry. Is that for you too?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

Yes and no. For me it was a natural progression. I had been in the restaurant business for all of my adult working life. However, the very start of getting into the restaurant business, I was studying applied math with economic applications, which is as boring as it sounds. And one day just walked out the door and decided to go to France to go to cooking school instead.

 

Tony Castellano:

Wow.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

So I was in the restaurant business both back of the house in the kitchen and then managing restaurants, working as a sommelier and you hit a point in your restaurant career that the hours take a toll. And I realized all of the people that were selling me wine seemed to have a slightly better quality of life, and work life balance. So it was a really easy progression for me to leave the restaurant business, and start working in wine distribution. So I took a job as a wine sales person and started selling to the restaurants that I used to work at.

 

Tony Castellano:

Well, that tells me a lot because I have to admit we've worked together on some projects and you always knew what was going on from all sides of the business. So that makes a lot more sense. Tony Castellano here 365WineTrade Technology Talks. I'm here with Jacklyn O'Brien, and also our guest for today Lisa Kaplan with House of Smith. Jackie, I know you had some questions regarding some of the technology and requirements that Lisa was facing today.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Yeah. Absolutely. Lisa, I would love to know just a little bit more. So what are some of the top features, or requirements that your staff has been asking for in some of your recent technology solutions?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

We were in a unique position when I moved into my current role in that we had been on legacy systems, none of our systems talked to each other. The reporting was all done manually. Everything was a struggle. So when I found myself moving from sales into the role of finance director, I always feel like my job is to make everybody's lives easier, so that was my quest. How can I make all of the back of the house reporting streamlined, easy to access, easy to understand? It was a major overhaul. We decided to completely rip the bandaid off and we migrated our wine making platform, our direct to consumer platform, and the beating heart of the organization and move into business central with the 365WineTrade. And what we've been able to do is integrate all of the pieces. So now everything feeds into the 365WineTrade.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

There is one source of truth. We're not duplicating any of our efforts. The accounting team is thrilled to pieces. I used to have to manually calculate marketing spends for our sales team. I would manually calculate how much they had spent on their T&E to give them updates. I was doing this once a month at a maximum, just to try to give them a little bit of visualization and transparency. This has replaced all of that. We now have information that you can with a click of a button, actually see what's going on and it's been phenomenal.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

That's awesome Lisa, and I'd love to hear the way you worded that. We just went ahead and ripped the bandaid off, and more and more, I think companies are going to realize that really is the way to go. And how much time have you gotten back in your day to day just from implementing some of the technology that's out there?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

I have threatened my husband that I might have worked myself out of a job by the end of all of this. But honestly, Tony and I discussed this a few weeks ago. I'd say I'm saving a minimum of two hours a week on just the reporting for me alone. Let alone, what we had had in the past was, and I'm using air quotes, "an ERP system" in air quotes. And we had QuickBooks. So anytime the accounting team needed to accomplish something, it would go into one system into the ERP, and then they'd also have to manually put it into QuickBooks. Now it is a one stop shop. So the amount of time that the accounting team is saving as well, I can't even speak to, but it's got to be eight hours a week I'd say across the team.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Well even just the time you're saving. And me and Tony always like to take the time that our customers are saving and turn it into something fun. So if you're saving two hours a week, you're essentially saving a day a month, which is 12 days a year of extra vacation time as me and Tony would put it.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

I love it.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

That's awesome. So, Lisa, my last question is what are some of the trends you're seeing in the marketplace now that is affecting your business processes?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

There are a lot of trends in the wine industry. You see more cans, you see packaging trying to get more sustainable, reducing carbon footprint. However, as Tony pointed out, Charles is a visionary. So at the end of the day, Charles is always looking to make the best wine he can make, and try not to get sucked into the noise that's out there. But we have lightened the glass on our Substance Cabernet to reduce our carbon footprint there.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

We are considering putting some wine into keg for some of the on premise requests for that. Shipping costs obviously, as everyone knows, have gone through the roof, so anywhere we can lighten up our packages a little bit. So not only is it reducing the carbon footprint, but it will also lead to more profitability down the line. But that for us really is on the fringe. Wine is going to always be our primary focus, making sure we are making the best wine we can make.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah. Amazing stuff Lisa. And if you can stick around with us, we're just going to take a quick commercial break. We'll be back in just a moment.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

This edition of 365WineTrade Technology Talks is brought to you by 365WineTrade by Western Computer. 365WineTrade is the ultimate cloud solution for wine and spirits distributors. Built specifically for your industry, it supports embedded multi-state compliance, inventory and 3PL management, a three tier compliant pricing engine, purchase consolidation, direct imports, and more to help you run as smoothly as the wine you enjoy. 365WineTrade takes advantage of the Microsoft cloud Azure environment so you can be assured your company's data is safe. To learn more about 365WineTrade, please visit www.365winetrade.com/techtalks. That's T-E-C-H-T-A-L-K-S. And now back to you Tony.

 

Tony Castellano:

And we're back. 365WineTrade Technology Talks. This is your host, Tony Castellano. I'm here with Jacklyn O'Brien and we're having a great conversation with Lisa Kaplan from House of Smith. So Lisa, I know you're kind of East Coast, Massachusetts person. You probably get out to Washington a lot, but when you do like to get away, do you like to go back to Paris where you started with your cooking or where's your favorite place to vacation?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

Oh, that is a sad question Tony. My husband and I planned to go to Paris a few weeks ago and we had to cancel our trip at the last minute. I'm long overdue for a trip to Paris. We love to travel. As I mentioned, we spent 18 months traveling around the world back in 2017 and 2018. So I like to always find someplace new, a little bit off the beaten path. It's been a little tough with COVID, so we've spent a little bit more time closer to home doing some camping. We are big cyclists, hikers, skiers. I'm a runner, but my husband won't join me in that so that I get to do on my own. And I do still love to cook even though I don't do it professionally anymore.

 

Tony Castellano:

That's great. So tell us, if you're going to make a dish for your friends coming over for a nice evening, what is a dish that you would make for them that you would feel would really bring out your flavor and your food? Something you'd really like to make?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

Oh, it depends on the season right now. My garden is getting ready to pop. Going to have tomatoes and zucchini soon. So this time of year I have a tendency to stick towards entree salads, but I always have that little French classical bend in the back of my mind. So I do like to make my own stocks and sauces. And I'm a big pasta fan I must admit, even though that takes me out of France.

 

Tony Castellano:

Sure. Sure. Well, obviously I'm Italian, so I'm a pasta guy. But I have to say Lisa, it's amazing to learn more about you because as we've been working on our projects, you had done something that I just found amazing. And I didn't think it would come up on this show, but can you tell me more about dax? What did you learn about dax?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

Oh, I am such a geek. It goes back to those days when I was studying applied math, I walked away from it, but it's always in the back of my brain. I did decide because we've been working Tony with you and with Dan on creating Power BI reports for the sales team. I like to have as much control over our systems, and reporting as possible. So that when something goes wrong, I can fix it. I can help the team learn more about it. So I did take a little crash course in Power BI and there was an intro to dax, which I do need to take another class to really wrap my head around, but definitely sort of Excel on steroids.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah. Well, it's been fun showing you guys the power of Power BI and the Microsoft cloud, and I'm learning something every day, because that's just the journey with data. But it's really been great to see you guys take the time to learn the product on your own, have some great ideas for some visualizations. And as you said, when you can deliver that and somebody can take an afternoon off and go have an happy hour, that's really what we're doing this for. That's enjoyment to us. So kudos to you and your team, Lisa, you guys are doing a great job there.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

We appreciate all of the help that you and your team have given us to get to this point.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah. It makes software fun working with people like you, especially in the wine and spirits industry for sure.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Lisa, I have to ask, how do we learn more about House of Smith?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

Very easily, houseofsmith.com. We have a great website that does have stories about Charles for people who are in the industry. There's also tech sheets about each of our wines. There is our online marketplace, so you can buy directly from us. Also does have some information about our distributor network. We are distributed in all 50 states, as well as an expanding number of international markets. We have a great international sales director, who's been opening up new markets in Asia and Mexico. So a lot of access to our lines, but our website is phenomenal.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Are there any upcoming events that you either want to highlight, or maybe you and Charles plan to attend?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

The team is actually traveling to Aspen Food and Wine as we speak. So Aspen Food and Wine is both a consumer event, but also there's a lot of buyers from the national on-premise chains, as well as retail chains. So the Costco buyers will be there. The team that does all of the wine selections for Darden restaurants will all be there. And Brennon Leighton, who is our director of wine making, actually I think his title is now VP of wine making will be in attendance as well as some of our sales team. Charles is just recovering from some health issues. So he is staying closer to home for the next few months, but we're trying to get him to do more videos for our website. So you can always see him from afar.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

You guys just have such a good story. I'm sure anyone listening in today is excited to hopefully run to you guys in some of the upcoming events. Lisa, we always love to close out our session with it's a fun question and that's going to be, what is your favorite drink?

 

Lisa Kaplan:

I like to call myself an equal opportunity drinker. I did make some fantastic campari spritzes this last weekend. I prefer campari to appall. It's a little less sweet, a little more bitter, then we have a sparkling wine called Popup that is just bright and fresh. So it was perfect in a spritz. But when I am not drinking our wines, which I do quite frequently drink our wines, I lean towards French and Italian wines. Not unsurprisingly.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah. Especially with your love of food. Those seem to be the two hot spots. A lot of customers, either importing or exporting to those regions for sure. And the wine is just so amazing.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

It's actually fascinating to me. I never anticipated that I would work for a domestic winery just because my tastes do run more European. I love the structure and the acidity. That's why I fell in love with Charles' wines. They have amazing balance to them. It is a cooler, longer growing season in Eastern Washington than you find in a lot of parts of California. So it just gives the wines again finese, balance, structure, deliciousness.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah. No doubt. We'd love to have you back on the show at any time again. It's great to be a part of your success.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you very much for having me.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah, my pleasure Lisa, and we'll see you out there in the vineyard. Thank you everybody for joining the 365WineTrade Technology Talks powered by Western Computer. Before we conclude, I did want to take a quick look at the events calendar. Jackie I know people are getting back out there now on premises back. People are traveling, although there's no pilots apparently, but what do you see in coming up are some of the big events?

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

You are spot on Tony. People are back and super excited to be back. Nothing beats that face to face, and getting to meet, and actually have a glass of wine with people in person. So I think two I'm really excited for. The first one is July 26th to the 27th in South San Francisco is the international bulk wine and spirits show. They should have just about 3000 different buyers, and some pretty influential leaders across big supermarket chains, discount operators, wholesalers will be there. So definitely one to keep an eye on. And then the other one coming this fall equally as excited, especially for us tony is the Wine Industry Financial Symposium, which is in Napa, California.

 

Tony Castellano:

Yeah. Absolutely. And trying to help folks with their account schedules and their financial reports. It's good to see them getting out. Yeah, just a lot of great shows coming up the WSWA with a leadership conference coming out in July. So again, great to see people out there and enjoying and toasting again. Again, we want to thank our guests today, Lisa Kaplan from House of Smith, Jackie O'Brien thank you as always.

 

Jacklyn O'Brien:

Thanks Tony for having me.

 

Lisa Kaplan:

And thank you Tony for having me as well.

 

Tony Castellano:

Our pleasure Lisa. And for all of our listeners out there, this is Tony Castellano with the 365WineTrade Technology Talks. Big shout out to Caden and Leonna, and we'll see you next time.

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365WineTrade Technology Talks Episode 6: Saving Time to Make More Wine with House of Smith
365WineTrade Technology Talks Episode 6: Saving Time to Make More Wine with House of Smith

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