Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Orleans Hill Winery from Lodi CA

Submission by Robert Shanahan

Orleans Hill Winery - Lodi, CA

I recently had the privilege of visiting with Donn Berdahl, co-owner of Orleans Hill, an organic and sulfite-free winery based in nearby Lodi, CA.  After working as chief winemaker at Nevada City Winery as well as other California and French establishments, Orleans Hill was founded as a sole proprietorship in 1989 by Tony Norskog.  Driven by very clear goals of producing a high quality product in strict adherence to USDA certified-organic requirements, business was slow to start in the early years, topping out at around 30,000 cases a year in 2003. 

It was in late 2003 that Tony met Donn, and the pair realized they shared a common vision of winemaking, which led to the restructuring of the company as an S-Corporation and Donn signing on as co-owner in March of 2004.  Orleans Hill is rather unique in that its two co-owners are its only full-time employees.  Donn and Tony buy the grapes for their wines from local growers in the Central Valley, and then outsource most of the processes of production, leaving only the core of the business, the choosing and the fermenting of the grapes to be controlled directly by themselves. 

The crushing operation is overseen by the founders at a third-party facility, and then mobile bottling units are hired for the bottling and packaging process.  Distributors are then used, in partnerships with the bottling company, to move the product to other facilities off-site for storage before shipping to the wholesalers and then on to the retailers.  This allows the business itself to run extremely lean, and through careful financial planning and reinvestment of the majority of the retained earnings, the pair have been able to maintain 100% control of the company without seeking any external financing.

Since Donn joined the operation in 2004, the complimentary skill sets have allowed Orleans Hill to ramp up to just over 160,000 cases a year in 2010, with distribution through nationwide stores such as Trader Joe's, and placement in 43 states; with more on the way.  By maintaining no-nonsense, clear communication with its suppliers, contractors, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, Orleans Hill is able to facilitate this largely outsourced operation with the utmost level of quality control. 

Orleans Hill is most famously the maker of "Our Daily Red", but also makes a Trader Joe's exclusive wine called "WELL REaD" under the Heartswork Winery brand, and a full line of wines under the Orleans Hill Winery brand including: Lodi Zinfandel, Lodi Syrah, Santa Maria Merlot, Cote Zero, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Alexandria.  With demand picking up at increasing speeds, it remains to be seen if this model can be sustained forever, but for now, Tony and Donn are extremely happy with their business, their family lives, and the great wine they have been able to share with millions of Americans to date. 

Check out the shelves of your local store for Tony and Donn's hard work, and check out their website for more information on their products! 


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