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Racking Up Experience

Father’s effort to help daughter gain business experience leads to a new winery in Elizabethtown

By Kevin O. Stinnett

Waters Edge Winery & Bistro is a family-owned establishment that opened this fall in Elizabethtown. Here, owner Charlie Watkins, who is retired from the Army, shares how he got into the business and how the winemaking process works.

Tell us how you got in the wine business.
It started when Tiana, my youngest daughter, graduated from college with her accounting degree.  She soon found out how hard it was to find employment because she did not have experience, and no one wanted to take a chance on her. I started to investigate what I could do to help her become successful. I contacted a friend that I conducted business with back in 2004 and talked to her about what business opportunities were out there.  A couple of days later, she called and asked me what I thought about a winery. I knew there was nothing like that here E-town or anywhere close to the city. I started putting feelers out in the community, and everyone I spoke to thought it was a good idea. So, from there we just took off with the idea and I contacted Ken Lineberger, the president of Waters Edge Winery franchise in California. I felt great about the conversations we had, so we made plans to buy into the franchise. I started this in February 2019, found my contractor, and we got the ball rolling. And here we are, Waters Edge Winery and Bistro of E-Town.

According to your website, it looks like you get grapes shipped in?
That is correct. Most wineries have their own vineyard. Vineyards are something we do not have, so we get the juice shipped to us here and once received, we start the winemaking process. The franchise owner can have suppliers all around the United States that they have already conducted business with, so Ohio is the hub. They get the grape juice from all over the world–France, Italy, Germany, California–and they get it processed there. We get it shipped to us, and that is when we add our ingredients to start fermentation of the wine inside our processing plant.

How long does the fermentation process typically take?
When you first start, it is a process of 15 days. You must check it every day to ensure that air and light does not enter the mix.  After maintaining that process, you rack it. That means you transfer the product from one tank to another; this process leaves all the sediment in the other tank. Once you get a nice clean tank, you start to add the remainder of the ingredients to the mixture. That lasts for another six or seven days. Once completed, you remove the wine from that tank, and it goes through a filter. Once filtered, you transfer it to the bottling tank.  Only then is the process finished and the product can be bottled for sale to the public.

Is there a certain winemaking style you are using?
Yes, we took a two-week course online and after that, we traveled to California and completed hands-on training in the process of how to make the wine from raw materials to how to bottle the wine. It is a process that all the franchisees learn about, so when we make it ourselves, it will be the same consistency from each one of us.

Once we get started, customers can create their own flavor of wine.  If the wine is a seller, then we can send the ingredients to the franchise and they can pass it along to other franchisees.  That is the exciting part: The franchise is giving us a little bit of freedom to be able to create something that we can own, that we can say we made here in E-Town. I have not initiated that process yet, but my daughter and I will create something special for E-Town once I do.

Can the consumer create a specific wine they want?
Yes, they can decide what they want and we can create it for them. We have dry wines, and if someone liked that wine but really wanted it to be sweet, we could create some ingredients to add to the wine to make it sweet. We can specialize labeling too. We do all labeling in house. If someone wants a unique label, they send us a copy of it, and we can create that label and place it on their bottles. This part is great for holiday gifts.

If I wanted to do my own wine, it looks like it makes about 25-27 bottles and takes about five to seven weeks?
That is correct for the white wine; you can be enjoying it in about four to eight weeks. The red wine takes nine to 18 months to age.

Is this something new? I have yet to see a winery that will let you make your own wine.
Yes, that is the unique thing about this franchise. They give you the freedom to create something that you can call your own and still be a part of the franchise and be able to share that with the other owners and share it with the community.

If you make a hit wine and share it, do you get proceeds, or does it all go to the franchisee? How does that work?
We get the proceeds from all the wine we sell. That is what we do as a franchise family. We share ideas. We benefit by communicating with the other owners, and they can share it with their guests.

Is the bistro part of the franchise also?
Yes, we had one franchisee that started with just selling the wine, and she missed out on revenue by not adding the bistro. When she added the bistro, she started making a profit.

What kind of input do you have on the menu? Or does the franchise set it?
Ken gives us free rein on the menu and who to hire. We have a full restaurant staff hired and managed by me.

Do you purchase through the franchise, or do you source locally?
It is locally sourced. The franchise has set up suppliers and other vendors to get the freshest and best price for the ingredients that we need to be successful.

Do you suggest certain wines with your entrees, or how do you pair your food with your wine?
You go by what ingredients you put in your food. For example, the pork slider has a sweet, tangy sauce, so you want to try to balance a sweet wine with that sweetness. You can also use a dry wine. Our most popular is called the Big Daddy Red, which is a blend. That goes great with the pork slider.

Do you have a favorite wine?
Yes, my favorite one is the Almond Sparkling. I am a semi-sweet wine drinker, so when I tasted the Almond Sparkling, I fell in love with it. That wine is shipped in from California. I recommend it to everyone.

Jake Kratzenberg is chief operating officer of The Lane Report, Inc.
He can be reached at [email protected].