Conrad Johnson of AWI Wines, LLC followed his dreams and shares with us how he developed an award-winning wine production company.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Jay Curry: And we’re back. Hello Texas. Welcome to Texas Business Radio. Oh we’re going to have some fun on this one. We’re going to be talking about wines and as of course as you know Matt’s not the wine guy so I’m Jay Curry here to host our segment on wine. Folks if you believe dreams come true, you’re gonna love this segment. It’s a situation where Conrad has taken an idea, a dream, a passion and made it real and has won awards. Done a spectacular job making wine. So we’re gonna get into that, but before we get into it, let me remind everybody, texasbusinessradio.com. That’s all you need to know, texasbusinessradio.com. It’s all there, all of our guests, all of our sponsors, profiles on George, Matt and myself. Everything’s there. Texasbusinessradio.com And we have our famous 24 hour hotline. That’s 844-814-8144 don’t write it down, you can go to texasbusinessradio it’s right there for you, but you can call 24 hours. That’s right Matt has the famous red line right there by his bed. He’ll get the answers for you, we’ll get the people on and we will get your answers on the air. Now if you want to Twitter us #tbr as in Texas Business Radio. #tbr that’s all you need to know. Let’s get into this because this is going to be fun. I have in the studio with me Conrad Johnson, managing member of AWI Wines. Conrad thank you for joining us.
Conrad Johnson: Thank you.
Jay Curry: So what the heck is AWI Wines?
Conrad Johnson: Well AWI Wines is an idea that I had years ago when I was down in Argentina. I found an opportunity to invest in a small vineyard in a larger development and make wine, super premium wines in Argentina and bring them up here. At first we were following more of a Blue Bell type model, drink all we can and finally we decided we should sell the rest. That we couldn’t drink enough of the wine that our grapes were producing so in 2014 we created a commercialization venture to try to sell the rest of our wines. And in 2017 we created AWI Winery of Texas which provided us with the venue to be able to market our wines.
Conrad Johnson: Ali is simply a wild idea is basically the dream that I had and years ago back in 2008 when I first got into this for the venture. I tried to pitch it to my friends and so far I’ve had a lot of success and a lot of fun doing it.
Jay Curry: I love that strategy, Ali means wild idea. And you got a wild idea, you had a passion for this and you went off and you did it. So you started when?
Conrad Johnson: 2008.
Jay Curry: 2008 and I understand you actually went down there and planted the…
Conrad Johnson: I was actually the, well in 2007 I had to go out to Mendoza to do a due diligence for another client. I just happened to be in Argentina so I popped over there, found the concept, thought about it quite a bit, researched it. In 2008 a friend of mine, actually went down and we actually planted the first acre of Merlot.
Jay Curry: Is it fair to say this is Texas wine made in Argentina?
Conrad Johnson: No these are Argentine wines.
Jay Curry: Pure Argentine, sold by a Texas company, but they are the same quality grapes and the whole environment and soil that Argentina’s famous for.
Conrad Johnson: Yes it’s a unique, our vines are in the Uco Valley, which is southern Mendoza, it’s high altitude, it was a up and coming region back in 2008. Now it’s one of the hottest regions in Argentina, producing award winning wines and we’ve been very successful with our grapes.
Jay Curry: So we don’t have a lot of time and this is such a great story. Tell me how you maneuvered being drink-all-you-can, now you’re actually selling the wine. Are you selling that through Book Club? Are you selling it through Specs or Total Wines or restaurants? How can someone find it?
Conrad Johnson: Right now we are selling our wine mainly direct to consumers. We have a website, awiwines.com which everybody can buy our wines from and we’ve had some good success there. We also are branching out to talk to a lot of restaurants and are penetrating those. The sales cycle is a bit longer trying to get into those. There’s a lot of competition. Everybody wants to get on those wine lists.
Conrad Johnson: So we continue to do that. I just retired a few weeks ago from a long stint in the corporate world and now I’m enjoying this getting out there. But we will probably be mainly a direct-to-consumer. We’ll be launching a wine club when we launch our 2015 wines in a couple months.
Jay Curry: Well tell me about the 2014s. Those were your first real..
Conrad Johnson: 2014 our wines arrived about the same time we received our winery license. One of the first things I did was submit a couple of these wines into the Houston Rodeo Wine Competition. As you know that’s one of the largest wine competitions. We submitted two of our wines, our Gran Corte which is a bordeaux style blend, mainly with 40% malbec and we also submitted our Cabernet Sauvignon.
Conrad Johnson: We were very lucky in our first rodeo. We won a gold medal for our Gran Corte and also as a reserve class champion and our Cabernet Sauvignon was a silver medalist.
Jay Curry: Really? So you just got it, you sent it into the second largest competition in the United States, only two wines and you won a gold and a silver. That’s amazing.
Conrad Johnson: It was a lot of fun. And then also as you can, well not everybody can see it, but we also make a white wines. So I make a Cabernet I made a Sauvignon Blank and I make a Torrontes which is a crisp white wine that is very unique to Argentina and we make a Malbec Rose. So we’ve got quite a portfolio of wines.
Jay Curry: So those folks who are watching this on the video. These two dark bottles, those are your winners and it was the Gran Cortez?
Conrad Johnson: Corte.
Jay Curry: And what was the other one?
Conrad Johnson: Cabernet Sauvignon.
Jay Curry: Just a regular Cabernet Sauvignon? Outstanding. And you make how many different kinds?
Conrad Johnson: I make four red wines, they’re all reserves red wines, that means they’ve been in barrel for about twelve to fourteen months in first, second and third use French oak barrels. So they are very high quality wines. We make them with super premium grapes which is another differentiation that we have.
Jay Curry: That’s a big element of it. But you’re also putting them in toasted French oak barrels, which is first class. And how long do they sit in the barrels? Year?
Conrad Johnson: Twelve to fourteen months and then they’re bottled and we store them in Argentina for another twelve months. So tell everybody, you know I’m not getting my wines for three years, so they’re harvest. For example, my 18 wines, will be delivered in 2021, so by then I usually forget what I did for this harvest. But it’s a long process, but it does add quality all along the way.
Jay Curry: So what this is telling me though is, it’s class. We’re putting out quality, class wine in relatively small numbers. But you’re looking for people and this of course is not your eight dollar bottle of wine, this is really classy wine.
Conrad Johnson: It is a super premium wine. We’re looking for people who are very interested in high quality, consistent wine, a variety of wines. A lot of wine makers tend to make one variety. We’ve got four red wines. We’re looking for people who like their story. We are a, I want to call us not a micro-brewery, but we are a micro-winemaker. We make maybe 500 barrels, no 500 cases of wine a year. Of that we make 500 high quality cases of wine.
Jay Curry: Amazing. So if somebody’s out there and they love wine and they really want to buy unique, quality wine they want to go visit you where, what do they do?
Conrad Johnson: Come to our website. The website is awywines.com. Or also give us a call. You can reach me on my cell phone, can I provide that?
Jay Curry: Sure.
Conrad Johnson: 832-453-6439. We’d love to talk to you about our story. We do even have a small winery on Richmond. It’s really a warehouse with a big air conditioner, but we have tastings from time to time. So if you’re interested in coming by and tasting our wine we’d be glad to arrange something.
Jay Curry: So there you are folks. This has really been fun. Conrad thank you for joining us.
Conrad Johnson: Thank you very much.
Jay Curry: We you folks have to go pay a couple bills. We’re gonna have another great segment coming right up so don’t go anywhere. This is Jay Curry. Stay right where you are.
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Jay W. Curry
Along with hosting “Texas Business Radio”, Jay is a Professional Certified Coach and Master Chair facilitating four Houston-based Vistage peer groups. In addition to being a best selling non-fiction author, the 2015 release of his award winning novel, Nixon and Dovey: the Legend Returns, adds novelist to his title. Jay holds a BS in Mathematics from Oklahoma State and an MS in Computer Science from Kansas State. You can learn more about Jay HERE.