Building a Successful Winery: The Strategic Importance of Financial Management

A winery is built on the sweat of its vineyard workers, the skill of its winemakers, the connections of its sales force and the patience of its owners. It also needs to be organized for success, including having a good bookkeeper and accountant to pay attention to details. Support staff like these make sure the salespeople have good data, the tasting room payroll is in order, the tax provider gets the correct information, the 1099s go out on time, the cost of wine is accurate, and the inventory is reconciled monthly to make sure no wine goes missing.

Setting the Books Straight for Growth

James and Sophie Gray co-founded Sophie James Wine Company to make the best use of their 5-acre organic vineyard on top of Sonoma Mountain. The couple soon began experiencing a variety of issues with their accounting firm.

“When our wine company was a few years old, we needed to begin exploring financing options in order to support our growth. We needed to level up our financial reporting so we were ‘bank-ready.’”

When the Grays began looking for new support for their financial reporting, they wanted an expert who understood the wine industry. The company that best met this criteria was Protea Financial. After talking with owner Zane Stevens and some of Protea’s winery clients, they signed on. Three years later, they remain delighted with the “detail-oriented and highly organized team” who have proven to be “high-functioning problem-solvers, not salespeople.”

Like the Grays’ mountaintop venture, Protea Financial has grown significantly in the ten years since Zane Stevens founded it with the help of a part-time bookkeeper. Sophie James is one of over 150 wineries now outsourcing accounting and bookkeeping to Protea Financial. Most of these wineries produce 10,000 cases or less, and Zane recognizes the critical role he and his now 40-person team play in helping them succeed.

Streamlining Bookkeeping with True Expertise

Jenny Schultz and Scott Schultz, started Jolie-Laide Winery in 2010. Today, they make a collection of unique natural wine varietals and have opened a new winery in Sonoma.

“We switched CPAs in 2019,” says Schultz, “and part of that switch was getting true expertise to streamline our bookkeeping.”

Their CPA, Moss Adams, recommended Protea, and Jenny explains, “After talking with Zane, it was an easy decision to go with Protea. They are very thorough in their attention to detail, are a pleasure to work with, and have gone above and beyond. They really are a dream team to work with and have taken so much off my plate. I am forever grateful for Zane and his team.”

Jenny adds that while Protea having a support team in South Africa might be a worry for some people, it wasn’t for them. They have turned out to be very responsive, and Jolie-Laide receives a monthly inventory reconciliation every month without ever having to check on the status. The Protea team also went the extra mile to put together a three-year financial forecast when they were applying for a loan.

“I am originally from South Africa and have been utilizing accounting talent in there since we started the business in 2014,” says Zane. “There is no language barrier since English is widely spoken, and we can take advantage of the time difference. It also allows us to keep the price more competitive than most firms. When we walk onto a project, we assign a team. It includes a US-based account manager who is the winery’s day-to-day communication point and at least two people in South Africa, a bookkeeper and senior accountant.”

Zane Stevens

Gaining Peace of Mind

Winderlea Vineyard and Winery co-founder Bill Sweat agrees that the South African staff has been outstanding, “working fast with efficiency, attention to detail and the soft skills needed in this business.“

Sweat and his wife harvested and made 6,200 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from his Dundee, Oregon vineyard this year. He came to work with Protea after realizing that he wanted to focus on growing grapes and making wine instead of accounting tasks. Unfortunately, he had a run of bad luck when his first bookkeeper moved to Washington, DC, and the next two had life crises that left him with late reports and missed deadlines.

Sweat learned the hard way: “In bookkeeping, working with a sole practitioner can be a single point of failure. Any emergency in their lives means there is nobody to do your books. Finding the right firm is critical to running a successful wine business.”

Luckily, someone he trusted recommended Protea, which now does his bookkeeping, giving him the confidence that comes from knowing the books are always accurate and current.

Partnering for Prosperity

Partnering with Protea Financial gives winery owners dependable bookkeeping support, from paying bills to collecting funds from customers, updating general ledgers, computing costs and issuing 1099s and monthly reports.

Zane explains, “We are unique in serving many of our wineries as the key point of communication with their tax providers, CPAs, insurance companies and bankers. We understand the winery language and also speak the financial language, so we’re a buffer that takes the pressure off our clients and lets them focus on what they love and do best — growing grapes and making and selling wine.”