Cathy Michael Honig55 MINUTES

A new podcast series from Doug Shafer about the people behind the food and wine you love.

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Doug Shafer and Michael Honig

In the 1980s Michael Honig took over the family’s Napa Valley vineyard property and started Honig Winery, focusing on Sauvignon Blanc. While making Sauvignon Blanc is popular today, 20 or 30 years ago it was a steep uphill climb. He’s seen it all and tells great stories about making it in the wine business. Enjoy!

For more visit: HonigWine.com


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FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

Doug Shafer:
Hi, everybody, Doug Shafer, another episode of The Taste, excited today. I have a good buddy of mine on who I have not seen much lately and we need to see each other more, Michael Honig from Honig Vineyards and Winery is here today. Michael, welcome.

Michael Honig:
Thank you, Doug, happy to be here.

Doug Shafer:
Thanks for coming. Before we get started, I have to tell you a story.

Michael Honig:
Okay.

Doug Shafer:
So. I've been doing this a long time. Making wine, selling wine, on the road.

Michael Honig:
(Laughs) shocking.

Doug Shafer:
My fath ... Shocking. My father taught me to be a road warrior.

Michael Honig:
Yes.

Doug Shafer:
So I'd be out there. And I'm in Dallas, and then the next day I'm in Miami, and the next day I'm in Columbus, Ohio. And what started to happen about 20 years ago is like, I'd be somewhere and I'd be in the car with some rep and they'd say, "Well, Michael Honig was just in last week." And then I'd go to the next city and say, "Well, Michael Honig is coming in tomorrow." I was like, "Who is this guy Michael Honig?"

Michael Honig:
(Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
I heard ... Listen, buddy, I heard this for years.

Michael Honig:
Uh-huh.

Doug Shafer:
I kept saying, "Who is this guy?" 'Cause ... And you remember the Butch Cassidy movies?

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Like who is that guy? I started thinking, "Who is this guy? Because he's doing what I'm doing and he's doing it, he's doing more of it. He's gonna, you know, jump up and bite me in the tail ..."

Michael Honig:
(Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
And his wines are gonna be all over the place and I'll be, I'll be swimming second.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So I heard about you, and so it took ... I didn't meet you forever.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And I don't know when we first met. Do you know?

Michael Honig:
No. Well, we got to know each other more with the board, uh, for the vineyards.

Doug Shafer:
And then the beer on the vineyards board for years, which was fun.

Michael Honig:
Yeah. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Honig:
It was fun.

Doug Shafer:
Oh well, but ...

Michael Honig:
No, uh, yeah, that's interesting, uh ...

Doug Shafer:
But man, I tell you, I was worried. I said, "Who is this guy?"

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
You know your reputation was like you know bigger than the reality, so

Michael Honig:
A hell of a lot bigger. (Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs) But I had to share that with you.

Michael Honig:
You know it's funny, I'm going to share a story with ... when I first met you we started talking because I remember I think he's said "oh Michael you know I know you travel a lot" and I said "Doug you travel a lot too" I remember asking you because you know I always looked up Shafer is such an iconic brand. It's what I want to be when I grow up. I said "Doug, you know I know why I travel" because I remember when you first started ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
How there's all this backed up inventory, never feeling successful, but why do you travel? You guys think this is iconic brand you're you're known by everyone and you said, "Michael, the reason I do it is because I don't want to end up not being known, and you have to keep telling the story because there's new buyers, new consumers every day."

Doug Shafer:
You gotta do it.

Michael Honig:
And I think you and I both realized the value of having to keep telling the story with us where you are in the world.

Doug Shafer:
Always, well when I run into you you know we're both like you know ...

Michael Honig:
Where you been? (Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
Where you been?

Michael Honig:
Where you going?

Doug Shafer:
Where you been where you going? (Laughs) I said ...

Michael Honig:
Hopefully.

Doug Shafer:
Vegas tomorrow it was New York last week and but you get it and I get it and a lot of other folks get it and it's not just the wine business, you know ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
You've gotta keep your name out there.

Michael Honig:
Keep your foot on your on the accelerator, so.

Doug Shafer:
So I'm traveling forever. It's already in the cards. Alright well talk to me about Honig, so apparently your roots go way back in this valley, I didn't realize how far back, your grandfather bought land here, is that where it starts?

Michael Honig:
My grandfather, yeah, my grandfather Louis bought our property at the 70 acres near Rutherford in the early 60's, but why he bought it was because my great grandfather had started an advertising agency in San Francisco back at the turn of the century.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
And over the 50 or 60 years it grew to become a large you know international agency, but they had some wineries in the 50's and 60's one of the campaigns was the little wine maker ads for Italian Swiss Colony.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs)

Michael Honig:
And my grandfather got really interested in wine through those ad campaigns and he knew some people that were involved here locally. Cam Baker's father in law, Larry Sillery and a few other people ...

Doug Shafer:
Larkmead okay Cam Baker

Michael Honig:
Said to these, yeah exactly yeah, I said to these people like look I want to get a wine business.

Doug Shafer:
So your grandfather was working for his father.

Michael Honig:
Well his father passed away, his dad

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
He'd taken over the ad agency.

Doug Shafer:
Okay so he's done ads.

Michael Honig:
It's called Honig Cooper Herrington and later was merged Foote, Cone, and Belding became a big firm, but my grandfather got so interested in wine through these ad campaigns, he said I want to get into the wine business, I want to come up here. They'd come up here on the weekends, I mean this was back in the 50's and you know a San Francisco family coming to the Napa Valley to you know to go to the uh to the uh Rutherford, what was the uh the dance halls.

Doug Shafer:
The Rutherford Grange

Michael Honig:
The Grange. Thank you, that's what I was trying to remember, The Grange.

Doug Shafer:
And there was one up by ...

Michael Honig:
And they had the firm center up there north of Larkmead.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah up of Larkmead Lane right by Larkmead lane.

Michael Honig:
Yeah ...

Doug Shafer:
By Tucker Farm Center.

Michael Honig:
Tucker Farm Center. They do the dances and come up on weekends and he just fell in love with the whole culture and the idea. So bought the property and uh ...

Doug Shafer:
In the 50's ...

Michael Honig:
He passed away ...

Doug Shafer:
In the 50's ...

Michael Honig:
He was trying to campaign in the 50's, the 60's was when he bought the land.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
And uh our property was originally owned by the Wagner family, so you know Chuck you remember ...

Doug Shafer:
Chuck from camp.

Michael Honig:
His grandparents owned it ...

Doug Shafer:
From Caymus ...

Michael Honig:
From Caymus ...

Doug Shafer:
So he bought it from Chuck's grandparents.

Michael Honig:
Chuck's father.

Doug Shafer:
Chuck's ... okay Charlie?

Michael Honig:
Charlie.

Doug Shafer:
Charlie Wagner, Caymus.

Michael Honig:
Yeah so it was ...

Doug Shafer:
I didn't know that.

Michael Honig:
It was a great old property, and before my grandfather passed away in the mid ‘70s my family continued to sell grapes to other folks and in 1980 my mother and father and aunt and uncle decided to memorialize my grandfathers dream and that's the first finish it we started making under the Honig label.

Doug Shafer:
1980?

Michael Honig:
1980. Doug: So Michael, born in, born in San Francisco. Michael: Yeah, we were born and raised in San Francisco and, um ... But, it was great because we ... You know, we had the city lifestyle and then we'd come up on weekends and summers to this, this property- Doug: To- Michael: My grandfather was ... Doug: -your granddad's place. Michael: Wa- Had bought in, in the Valley and it was wonderful because, you know, going from a city kid to being able to go in the country ... I remember when I was 13, my dad, uh, let me buy this old 1964 Chevy 2. Doug: You were 13? Michael: 13. I was a big kid. (laughs) And it had, it had three on the tree. It was ... Doug: Three on the tree! Michael: Three on the tree, and I ... You know, I, I bought it. We bought up, up here, my younger brother and I, Steven and I, would ... We'd, we'd take the ... We took the trunk off and made a rumble seat- Doug: (laughs) Michael: -and we did all this crazy stuff. We'd drive it around the property and we'd go crazy and I remember, uh, you know, we'd shoot guns and we had ... Uh, just crazy ... I mean, I'm ... (laughs) I remember Juan Zago, who's since passed away, but like, like, the gentleman that worked for you, he worked for our family for- Doug: Right. Michael: -40 years and Juan, I remember, uh, a couple of years, uh, after I started working at the winery, he'd always looked at me and, and later on, he'd start laughing. He says, "I can't believe you're the one that's running this place. Doug: (laughs) Michael: You are the biggest F-up of all. You would come up here, you'd take the, uh, Massey Ferguson tractor, drive it in the river, leave it running, and take off and go back s- Home. (laughs) And I remember that! I remember taking the, the, the F250 Ford and d- Diving it into ... In a ditch and it had, you know- Doug: Yeah. Michael: -one wil- Wheel off the back, one wheel- Doug: Yeah. Michael: -buried in the dirt and just not knowing what to do and I just ... Doug: You just went home. Michael: Must've left it. (laughs) Doug: Nice. Michael: So ... Yeah, so that was a, that wa- Those were great times and, you know, having the, the ... To be able to learn to shoot a gun and ... You know, again, you couldn't do those things in the city. Doug: No. Michael: So, you had this great ... This di- This ... Kinda this, this half of my life was in the city, half of my life was in the country, but what that did is it ... And I think probably mo- One of the reasons I really wanted to, to leave for college was to, to try to keep that legacy in, in the family because, you know, we have this wonderful property. It was my grandfather's idea to buy it, but I knew if it got sold, we'd just lose that wonderful connection we had to the whole family and not have- Doug: Neat. Michael: -that opportunity to, to get together with everyone, so ... Doug: Because, yeah, it's been in the family a long time. Michael: Yeah, it's a long time now, yeah. Doug: Long time. Michael: Yeah, so ...

Doug Shafer:
1980 so you had 70 acres of vineyard.

Michael Honig:
Approximately... yeah approximately.

Doug Shafer:
Roughly, and selling grapes for all those years, so 80 to memorialize your grandfather, that was where it started. It was sauvignon blanc?

Michael Honig:
Yeah, what an amazing idea 40 years later, making sauvignon blanc.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs)

Michael Honig:
What a dumb idea in 1980 to make sauvignon blanc. (Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
I was going to ask you about that.

Michael Honig:
You could tell they were not in the wine business, they well they had this idea well let's focus on something and let's do something that no one else is doing which was sauvignon blanc ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
They didn't realize that there was a very valid reason no one else was making just sauvignon blanc because it wasn't selling.

Doug Shafer:
Oh.

Michael Honig:
And even Mr. Mondavi rebranded it to Fume Blanc because he saw there was no interest in the variety as complicated to say Sauvignon Blanc, so they made a couple of vintages and after three years they realized they made a really bad decision.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
They had three vintages backed up in a warehouse, uh they weren't selling any of it. They had hired a gentleman to make the wine and to sell the wine that they had made. That was failing miserably, and I was a 21 year old college student and my dad approached me, this was actually after having a meeting with Mr. Mondavi the summer of ‘83 and my dad was lamenting about the challenges and they couldn't sell the wine and all the problems their having and Mr. Mondavi's response was, "well, Bill if you can't get a family member involved, you should really just get out of the wine business. You know, keep the property, you know it's a beautiful property, you sell grapes, you're never going to be successful"

Doug Shafer:
So that's what Mondavi told your dad ...

Michael Honig:
Told my dad ...

Doug Shafer:
Bill who was not, he was ...

Michael Honig:
He was, he had, he was running the schools for California, he'd been a teacher he'd been an attorney, my dad was very ...

Doug Shafer:
State Superintendent of schools ...

Michael Honig:
State Superintendent right.

Doug Shafer:
Well known.

Michael Honig:
So he wasn't involved in the wine business so he had gone to Mr. Mondavi for some advice and his response was "yeah get a family member involved or get out" and ...

Doug Shafer:
Interesting.

Michael Honig:
And I was a junior in college and I was doing so well in my scholastic career, my dad approached me and said "well Michael, you're failing school-"

Doug Shafer:
No you weren't, where were you in college?

Michael Honig:
Wherever I could ski.

Doug Shafer:
Ohhh that's right.

Michael Honig:
I was a great skier terrible scholastic. Terrible student.

Doug Shafer:
I find that hard to believe.

Michael Honig:
But uh no he asked if I would be interested in leaving school, and I said sure, I didn't know anything about the wine business, I didn't even drink wine, you know I was 21, I certainly drank a lot of things that I probably shouldn't mention on this ...

Doug Shafer:
Oh, beer, liquor ...

Michael Honig:
Well beer yeah yeah, but it was ...

Doug Shafer:
Beer, vodka, Bourbon ...

Michael Honig:
It was alcohol but bottles with no labels on it, you know cause it was college it was punch that you blend with Everclear.

Doug Shafer:
Oh man, Michael ...

Michael Honig:
It was really disgusting stuff ...

Doug Shafer:
Oh Michael your brain cells, I worry about them ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah it was tough, yeah I'm surprised I can still talk after 35 years.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs)

Michael Honig:
Um but no it was great it was I remember I actually talked to my dad I said, "Dad I don't know anything about the wine business, we're in Napa, these people, I don't understand the industry."

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And I said, "I'm gonna not do very well." And my dad’s response, I love my dad’s response to this day, he said "Michael, it can't get much worse." So with that boat of confidence, I left college ... Doug: So, you're living in the city, but you're running the winery. Michael: Right. Doug: So, you were commuting, but also selling wine, but ... Michael: Yep. Doug: So, what was going on at the winery? Or ... Yeah. Michael: Well, the winery at the time ... So, we had this old tractor barn, this old metal building that we put up in the early '70s that we skinned and made it the winery. So, I had ... You know, it had dirt floor. We, we, we put on concrete in the floor. We had a little pad on the back and, uh, when I hired James, we, uh ... (laughs) We had this old meat locker which became his office. Doug: A meat locker? Michael: Meat locker, literally a meat locker that was for meat and we- Doug: There was a sa- Michael: -put a little door on it. Doug: (laughs) Michael: Actually, no. It had the original door. You just couldn't lock it, otherwise you'd get locked in. You ha- You know, you couldn't get out. Doug: (laughs) Michael: Um, so that became his office. We had ... Uh, our filing system was a box and it said 'miscellaneous'. Everything was thrown in there. Uh, I remember James ... This so funny. When he first started, he goes ... He's y- He goes, "Honig. Honig must mean ... Is German for 'broken'." Because everything was broken. Doug: (laughs) Yeah, everything's broken. Michael: And actually, his other funny line was, "Honig: no dying before it's time." Because he didn't have any money. I was, you know, I was trying to run it out of a shoestring. I had all these guys in my office on a Friday wanting to get paid and me and family said, "Look, this is the money you got. This is all ... Figure it out." And, um ... So, yeah, the ... It was, it ... (laughs) It was a tough, tough existence, but it was, uh ... You know, when ... Uh, it was just, it was just nothing. We were just bare ... Very, very bare bones- Doug: Well ... Michael: -and, uh, it's changed a little bit since then, but uh, we still, uh ... It's funny because my new team s- Members who can't understand why I still like to stay at the Red Roof Inn, but you know, it's like ... Doug: (laughs) Michael: You know, when y- I, I always equate it to someone who's gone through the De- The Depression. It doesn't matter what you've accumulated since then, how much money or, or things you have, you still remember those days when you had nothing and you were hungry- Doug: Right. Michael: -and I think that's my challenge is I remember what it was like 35 years ago when we didn't have anything and no one knew the brand and it was ... I always struggled every day to get it, uh, to pay our bills, uh, and now our new team member says, "Well, Michael, people know our brand. We have this nice facility. Doug: Right. Michael: People come and they drink it around the world." I go, "Yeah, but it's hard for me for- Remember what it was like and, and get the old memories of my, my system." Doug: I'm, I'm with you on that one. Michael: Well, yeah. Doug: I mean, I've been doing this 30 years and- Michael: Yeah. Doug: -I can tell you, the, the '80s, for me personally, it ... When I was a winemaker here, just starting out, were really rough- Michael: Yeah. Doug: -and, you know, good wines ... Well, okay wines, bad wines. Okay wines, bad wines. Re-bottling a couple of wines. You know, brettanomyces, just one thing after another. It was incredibly tough and we weren't that cute. No one knew us. Michael: Right. Doug: You know, the whole ... Just like you. Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Doug: And if you asked me to ... My career here at Shafer, what do I remember the most? I don't remember the last five years, the, the 2000s, or the '90s, but boy, I can tell you happened in the '80s. (laughs) Michael: No, those memories, they, they- Doug: Yeah. Michael: -they don't, they don't ever die. Doug: Well, they shape you. Michael: Well, they do. Doug: They shape you. Michael: Yeah, and it's, uh ... And it ... It's good, it's good perspective and it's ... I try to always remind our newer team members, "Look, it, it wasn't always like this. Doug: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Michael: You know, it's ... People didn't always know our brand. People didn't always say, 'oh, what great wines these were' because, yeah, some of our wines were terrible in the '80s." I mean, st- (laughs) In hindsight. Doug: Yeah. Michael: Uh, at the time, they ... "Oh, they seem good. We like them and ..." Doug: Right. Michael: But, uh, you, you think back and you're like, "Really? We put that in the bottle?" But ... Doug: (laughs) Michael: But, it all worked out, so ...

Michael Honig:
I started going to restaurants and stores in the Bay area and uh taking my little one bottle of wine, which we only have Sauvignon Blanc at the time, and go to these stores and restaurants and say, "look" well after they started laughing at me they say, "wait you're in Rutherford, you're by Caymus and Quintessa and BV and all these great winery's and you're serving Sauvignon Blanc?" And they would just crack up they thought it was the funniest thing in the world ...

Doug Shafer:
Oh man.

Michael Honig:
So after I would get them to stop laughing and I uh my picture was originally like look, "you're only going to have a few Sauvignon Blanc's on your storage shelves or on your wine list, doesn't it make sense to put on someone who's only focusing on that one varietal?"

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
So it started to resonate and the next day I would go home and deliver whatever I had sold and go home at lunch and put a suit on and just did that for years and built up a business from that.

Doug Shafer:
Okay so this is, when did you start the winery, in what year?

Michael Honig:
‘83.

Doug Shafer:
By the way, ‘83 here me.

Michael Honig:
Yeah so another similarity.

Doug Shafer:
And there you go and um so were you living up here?

Michael Honig:
No I was living in San Francisco.

Doug Shafer:
But you had someone here, someone was here making the wine, growing the grapes ...

Michael Honig:
So what I did after a few years, it took a while to extricate the other individual from the winery, and I hired a gentleman named James Hall.

Doug Shafer:
James Hall.

Michael Honig:
Who had been an assistant winemaker at Forest Springs.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael Honig:
I hired James and I said, "James, look you're going to make the wine and I'm going to go sell it" and that was a great relationship we had for many years.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Honig:
And I started, as I said, in the Bay area and then I branched off into Southern California and then we got the California market going and then I started going to national sales route and getting the brand going in that area. Later in the late ‘80s I started adding Cabernet because I saw the value ...

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Honig:
In in having both Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet saw a new one and uh branched off to now we're in every state and in 25 other countries or so.

Doug Shafer:
Phew wow, James Hall, who is still the wine maker at Patz and Hall ...

Michael Honig:
Yup yup.

Doug Shafer:
Because he was with you for what, 7 or 8 years?

Michael Honig:
He worked with us for 10 years ...

Doug Shafer:
10 years.

Michael Honig:
10 years but then we continued making because Patz and Hall was also founded at Honig as one of our clients.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
So when James and his partner Donald Pats wanted to found their brand, they came to me because at the time I was doing a lot of custom crush for other winery's as way to generate revenue for the winery, and James said "look we want to start our own brand." And I'm like "well that's great." And he says "uh do you think that's okay?" And I said, "Yeah as long you're not competing" he said, "oh no we want to do Pinot Noir and Chardonnay."

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And I said that's great so we had a wonderful relationship, James is a great individual, so he made our wine exclusively for 10 years and as his brand got larger, I approached Kristen Bel Air to become our wine maker, and that was 21 years ago, so I've worked with two wine makers in 35 plus years.

Doug Shafer:
So Christian started with you in 06 ...

Michael Honig:
Well ‘87.

Doug Shafer:
‘87.Um.

Michael Honig:
I'm sorry, I said ‘87. ‘97.

Doug Shafer:
‘97. Got it.

Michael Honig:
‘97. Excuse me.

Doug Shafer:
Okay, well here's another thing we have in common, so before I came to Shafer, I was the assistant wine maker at Lake Spring Winery, remember Lake Spring?

Michael Honig:
Oh, um Randy ...

Doug Shafer:
Randy Mason.

Michael Honig:
Randy Mason. Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Randy Mason taught me how to run a cellar. You know, the most organized logistical savvy guy I've ever ...

Michael Honig:
Sure.

Doug Shafer:
I will ever know. Um I was with him for 2 or 3 years as assistant and that's when dad told me ton asked me to come over here, when I said no and then he had to talk me into it, but uh who replaced me with Randy Mason was Kristen ...

Michael Honig:
Kristen, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Kristen, your wine maker.

Michael Honig:
She went to Lake Spring and then she went to Turnbull and then we hired her from Turnbull.

Doug Shafer:
That's great.

Michael Honig:
Small little world.

Doug Shafer:
Eh, I love it. So I've got to going back to 63 and Sauvignon Blanc, one of my dear buddies at that time was Bob Pepi.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And they were doing the same thing. They were focusing on Sauvignon Blanc.

Michael Honig:
Yeah, where's Pepi today?

Doug Shafer:
It's tough.

Michael Honig:
Yeah it was tough ...

Doug Shafer:
It was a tough ...

Michael Honig:
It was a tough ...

Doug Shafer:
I remember because he was a pal and I realized how tough it was for him and he said, "well we've decided to focus on this but I don't know" and they were knee deep in it ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And it was really really rough.

Michael Honig:
Yeah, no, I mean you look now 40 years later and it sounds like what geniuses there's Sauvignon Blancs everywhere ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
But it wasn't until well, I think a couple of things happened with Sauvignon Blanc, one is Chardonnay got more expensive, the wine community in the United States started experimenting ...

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Michael Honig:
At one point, Gallo was doing advertising for Sauvignon Blanc, this 20 plus years ago because they had a lot on the market, but then really I think New Zealand and the introduction of those wines really got people thinking about ...

Doug Shafer:
Got people think about ...

Michael Honig:
Sauvignon Blanc because it's its own category and then it just kind of shot up and you know now it's great we're well known for in that category, but it's still uh it's still uh so many people still want Chardonnay anyways.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah that's your bread and butter, but boy ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Well congratulations on sticking with it and making it work. Eesh boy.

Michael Honig:
Yeah well that's what happens when you're not very smart, you do something for a long time hoping it works. (Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
So um I had a questions, what happened with, oh I've got one for you, we have another thing in common, we have a lot in common.

Michael Honig:
Jesus, what, why haven't we done this earlier?

Doug Shafer:
So, because we are too busy being on boards, boards and traveling.

Michael Honig:
And traveling.

Doug Shafer:
Um, in 1989 I hooked up with a guy named Amigo Bob.

Michael Honig:
Oh my God yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And you did too.

Michael Honig:
Yes.

Doug Shafer:
I just found out a couple of days ago.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So I haven't talked much about Amigo Bob on our podcast, but um tell me about Amigo Bob.

Michael Honig:
I remember when we first started working with Amigo Bob, this guy shows up ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Birkenstocks, long hair, a hat, with no last name and I'm like "your first name is Amigo and your last name is Bob?" I couldn't really figure it out which doesn't even matter, but we started talking and just like wow this guy is cool this guy gets it, he's fun. Not only is he a great farmer but he understood what we were trying to do as a brand and not only what we did with the grapes and what the product was going, but how that related to what we were gonna do in terms of turning it into wine ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And the quality we needed to be successful. And he just had such inventive ideas I mean one of the things, one of the reasons I still remember what was so valuable about Amigo Bob, I mean he had great ideas about to farm organically and like ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
The sustainably, but one of the things he did, we had a problem uh uh sharp shooter issue at the time, one of our a quarter of our property borders the Napa River. At the time everyone was taking out every plant on the river to create this moonscape to get rid of all the invasive species to get rid of all the insects ...

Doug Shafer:
Cause that's where ...

Michael Honig:
That's what you do ...

Doug Shafer:
That's where they're hanging out ...

Michael Honig:
That's where they're coming out ...

Doug Shafer:
Right, right.

Michael Honig:
So that was kind of the model, so all of our neighbors were creating this moonscape around their properties because they thought we'll get rid of every plant get rid of every bug, we won't have a problem with the sharp shooter.

Doug Shafer:
All the host plants they call them, right ...

Michael Honig:
He came in with the 180 degree difference he said, "Michael, we are going to plant more plants. We're gonna put water, we're gonna water the river." And I'm like, "why?" And he goes, "think about the bug. The bug is this opportunistic it's got this lush area in the river that dries out in the late spring and early summer, right next door to it has this lush vineyard. It just says, "wow my plants are drying up, there's a nice vineyard over there, I'm gonna move into the vineyard."

Doug Shafer:
I'm just gonna (laughs)

Michael Honig:
And take the bacteria you know on the mouth of the sharp shooter and transfer it into the vines. He said, "let's do this, let's create an area that the bug doesn't want to leave." So we did, we put in microemitters, we put in new plants, we got rid of all of the invasive species the blueberry and the blackberry and the things that were hosts for the PD and created this environment where the bug didn't want to leave and then on the border, we planted, not planted we put in a bunch of bluebird boxes, a bunch of insect-eating species of birds and then we had bat boxes. The idea to kind of create a barrier so that the bug wanted to migrate, but had this this army of birds that would try to feed on him.

Doug Shafer:
Got it.

Michael Honig:
And it was incredible, it was the opposite of what everyone else was doing, they thought, our neighbors said we were crazy, "wait, you're trying to create a habitat for the bug?" But when you think about it intellectually ...

Doug Shafer:
It works.

Michael Honig:
That's a great idea, it really worked and that's what, that's what Amigo Bob did for us. One of the things he did for us.

Doug Shafer:
Well he was, I remember did uh did John Williams introduce you to him?

Michael Honig:
Yeah John ... uh yeah.

Doug Shafer:
It was over at Sinskis with Rob Sinski myself and we met this guy, he looked like a dead head. Well he is a dead head.

Michael Honig:
He is a dead head (Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
And I went to a concert with him once and um uh same deal and he got me into the cover crop thing and uh this was back when we used to disc our vineyards so there was no weed out there, but the organic component of the soils were just totally depleted ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
So growing cover crops, but I and then you managed to cover crop through the growing season, you'd mow it, but you'd never really disc it in again, so it gets to look trashy which is, the goal was to have this organic material breaking down you know the goal was to have it feel like the forest floor ...

Michael Honig:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
Like spongy, but I remember when we first started doing it, we were learning and we let the cover crop go too long before we mowed it, so the mower got busted and jammed up and Alfonzo who has been with us forever, my vineyard guy, would come to me on Mondays, after going to somebodies baptism of fiesta on the weekend, and all his buddies who were all neighbors ...

Michael Honig:
Sure.

Doug Shafer:
Everybody was driving around because at the time our vineyard looked really trashy unlike these beautiful, well-manicured disced, nothing-but-dirt. And he said, "Douglas I have a big problem. My buddies are giving me a hard time they think I'm not working anymore."

Michael Honig:
Right (Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
That I'm letting the vineyard go to heck. And um so it was it was a learning curve for all of us, and um his whole idea of the biocontrol was great and the cover crop we had the uh the good bugs the ladybugs eating them ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Eating the other stuff that we still have to spray for so.

Michael Honig:
Well it's all about the balance, and that's what I think he taught is that you have to you be aware and he was onto something you're gonna lose some vines to PD or whatever the situation is ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
That's just human nature, that's just farming. And it doesn't have to be purely clean. Actually we found out it wasn't the best. You wanted some organic matter, you wanted the cover crop, you wanted the bugs, the good bugs that eat the bad bugs. And uh I just, to this day I always think of them, especially when I walk through the property and look at "Wow that's what we did with Amigo Bob, that's what we did with Amigo Bob" It's it's crazy that it's been a huge, successful vineyard for us.

Doug Shafer:
Well you know, Lion King. Circle of Life, there you go ...

Michael Honig:
The circle of life.

Doug Shafer:
But uh and also, more similarities we got, you got a solar ray. Solar power.

Michael Honig:
I have two different solar rays.

Doug Shafer:
Two different ones.

Michael Honig:
Yeah two different systems, one went on 13 years ago and one we put in 3 years ago.

Doug Shafer:
Fantastic, we're doing the same. You've got hawks and owls, and we do that too.

Michael Honig:
Hawks, owls, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Then you've got a couple of things I don't I don't do, you've got you keep bees. You make honey ...

Michael Honig:
We have bees, yeah. Uh we do, we uh my last name, Honig, means honey in German, so it's been our little symbol our moniker for years. Having the little iconic queen bee in our logo um ...

Doug Shafer:
Look at that, he's got a logo shirt on and it's got the H I didn't realize the middle of the H was a honey bee, look at you, I never knew that.

Michael Honig:
Yeah so we have bees and uh yeah all kind of, what else do I yeah a multitude of things we've done.

Doug Shafer:
You've got something I don't have, that I want to talk to you about this. You've got the dogs. Or a dog, a sniffer dog.

Michael Honig:
Oh a sniffer dog, yeah.

Doug Shafer:
A sniffer dog. What's a sniffer dog?

Michael Honig:
Well okay it's uh yeah 10, 11 years ago we had a problem with the mealy bug.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And we found that you know there's challenges of mealy bug, vine mealy bug, uh what we found though is that the bug has a very specific pheromone, smell.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
And um we went to a group, we helped fund a project uh where we got some dogs from an organization that trains for uh uh quadriplegic and paraplegic individuals, service dogs ...

Doug Shafer:
Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Michael Honig:
We asked if we could use some of their dogs for this proposal of finding the bug in the vineyard. Because about 80% of a dogs brain is devoted to scent.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And because the mealy bug had a very specific smell, we thought if we could train the dogs to key in on the scent, the same way we do with drugs or bombs ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Or other material that we could create a project that could actually try to find the bug in the vineyard so after about a year and a half, two years of training we could run the dogs through the property and when they came upon the smell, they would stop and bark and announce, and we would go out with magnifying glasses and shovels and dig up the few vines that were in that area and figure out which vines are infected, eradicate those few vines before the bug devastated the whole property. So it was a really cool project, great project, love it beautiful dogs.

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Michael Honig:
Um so it was successful, so um and about a year ago we had the idea or I had the idea actually at the time to see if we could not only bring the project back into the forefront, but also I have a daughter, I have four children, my eldest daughter, Sophia is a type one diabetic and they found that type one diabetic kids when they start going low with their sugars going low with their really uh uh concerned because they could go into cardiac arrest.

Doug Shafer:
Correct.

Michael Honig:
But they also found that those kids secrete some type of aroma and they've been using dogs to kind of help the kids, wake them up when they're going low at night time, so I thought let's do this, let's create a project, we're going to buy a dog and we are training her and the dog’s name is Honey and let's train her to 1. Help Sophia when she goes low, so we are going to have that's going to be the initial training and once that training is completed, we are going to train it to find the mealy bug again, so we are going to have a dual scent detection dog.

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs)

Michael Honig:
I know it's another crazy project that I, yeah why not. Why not?

Doug Shafer:
Is it working?

Michael Honig:
So far it's working really well, actually well it's gotten more complicated because it turns out we bought a little dog named Honey near Redding and we have a trainer who is incredible and done a great job. Turns out the dog we bought has proven to be the Michael Jordan of scent detection for kids and diabetics, so we were so impressed with the dog that we decided to do something a little different so the woman we had hired to become the trainer actually got a job training dogs for an organization that's using these dogs for kids all over the U.S. that can't afford to have diabetic dogs, so Sophia agreed to donate Honey to this organization and Honey just had 8 puppies so the idea is we're going to create all of these new puppies that are going to be able to donate to kids like Sophia that can't afford to have dogs themselves ...

Doug Shafer:
Oh Michael this is really cool.

Michael Honig:
A whole different ply, I'm going off on a tangent.

Doug Shafer:
No.

Michael Honig:
It became a whole bunch of different projects, you know excuse me so we are going to get one of the little puppies for Sophia, so that was her her what she agreed to do that she would take a new puppy just so she could have one of the dogs.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And Honey now has become is living in New Orleans and is now hopefully ...

Doug Shafer:
Making babies ...

Michael Honig:
Going to have 4 or 5 litters.

Doug Shafer:
Litters.

Michael Honig:
That we can create 30 or 40 dogs that are going to be able to go all over the country to help kids that can't afford them and help them when they go low with their sugars.

Doug Shafer:
Oh man.

Michael Honig:
It's a cool project, it's a lot of fun.

Doug Shafer:
So in the middle of the night if she's going low and she's asleep, the dog ...

Michael Honig:
The dog wakes her up.

Doug Shafer:
Wakes her up.

Michael Honig:
Exactly. So she so yeah and not to get too far into my personal business or my families challenges but type one diabetics is a real problem especially for the kids and when they're awake, it's easier to monitor but when they're asleep it's really hard and they don't know when to wake up and when they go to low that's when they can go into cardiac arrest and you know and die so you know being able to have uh being able to have these dogs going out into the world helping kids is really a great.

Doug Shafer:
You know this is really cool, I'm sorry. Congratulations, how cool.

Michael Honig:
Thanks.

Doug Shafer:
And uh because the other thing I did I was involved with is your team Bike and Beyond, we did that last spring.

Michael Honig:
That was great.

Doug Shafer:
That was cool, tell us all about that again.

Michael Honig:
So we gotten more, again we all have our charities we support, my family is always very civic minded and philanthropic, because of our daughter and her situation with type one diabetics that's became a big initiative of ours. Last year there was a group of about 40 riders uh all but one had type one diabetics and the one that didn't was a mom because her daughter wanted to ride and she was too young to ride on her own. And they started in New York City and they rode across the country over a 70 day period and the idea was to kind of tell people about diabetes. Most people when they think of diabetes and what you see on TV is type 2, which is easily, not easily, um you can maintain with diet and some drugs, but type one diabetics have lost their pancreas, so it's autoimmune, they don't produce insulin, where type 2 diabetics don't process their insulin they are producing, so you need insulin to live. So Sophia and type one diabetics are really struggled because they have a challenge with not having a pancreas and eating pumps and insulin and all the time and they're um very dependent on their technology.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
So they had riders that rode from New York to San Francisco, the idea to introduce people to type 1 diabetes, talk about it.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Great recognition for it, so we got involved in the charity and the day before they had gotten to San Francisco, the day before it was the end of the ride they came to the Napa Valley, so we thought well let's have a big party for them. So we hosted them at the winery, we got Mike Thompson, you know our Congressman involved, he actually went out and rode, we actually got our sheriff John Robertson to give a couple of squad cars so when they came across the Napa County line they got recognized with the you know Mike Thompson riding with them with police car escort ...

Doug Shafer:
Police cars, right right.

Michael Honig:
And these they were so happy, they'd been riding all the time they got really nice attention and acknowledgment when they entered certain cities, but they never got this type of welcome. And then the next, that night we bought them the wine, we had a big party for them.

Doug Shafer:
You had a big party with a lot of great food and good music ...

Michael Honig:
Good food, good music, and then ...

Doug Shafer:
Matt and I were there pouring wine ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah you were pouring wine, we had food and it was fun and the next day because the organization, one of the founders is Nick Jonas, who is an actor and a musician, flew up from LA and did a lunch in at the house to welcome them to the Valley and it was just a really special occasion and you know we all give to various charities, but just seeing someone and having a connection because of our family member it was just that much more special ...

Doug Shafer:
That's ...

Michael Honig:
You know you and I give a lot to various charities, because last year we want to support the community ...

Doug Shafer:
Yeah but that was pretty cool because of your connection with Sophia.

Michael Honig:
Yeah the connection so uh yeah so that was our charity event last year.

Doug Shafer:
That was great. Team bike and beyond, I'm definitely going to ...

Michael Honig:
My wife was all, yeah put it all together and it was amazing how much effort she put into it.

Doug Shafer:
Hey Stephanie, your beautiful bride, how did you guys meet? I've never heard that story (laughs)

Michael Honig:
Yeah well Stephanie was from Buenos Ares she grew up in Argentina. But when she went to college she came to the United States and went to university in Florida and got in the wine business and was working for LVMH or Clean Co at the time in New York and uh we got to know each other through tastings and seeing each other...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
But she was married and I had been married um and about 11, 12 years ago, we were in Manhattan at a tasting and I was pouring and the young lady who works for me came up to the table and said, "Hey guess what Stephanie is here" and I'm like oh that's great, you know she's married. And she says no no she's divorced now, she's getting a divorce and I'm like oh really wow okay so I walked over to her table and started chatting her up...

Doug Shafer:
Look at you.

Michael Honig:
Said oh yeah I had always thought she was beautiful and not only exterior, but her interior she's just a lovely, lovely person and uh I said hey I'm in town next tomorrow uh do you want to go for a walk and she kind of looked at me like a walk you know ...

Doug Shafer:
A walk that's a good line.

Michael Honig:
How are we gonna walk?

Doug Shafer:
That's a good line.

Michael Honig:
Very you know casual not ...

Doug Shafer:
I've never heard that.

Michael Honig:
No intimidation there, a walk she said yeah let's meet at the Central Park in the morning so she shows up and she's kind of got these goofy Puma shoes on which are big in South America.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Like and she's got this kind of work out outfit but not really and she's like she shows up and we start walking and we start talking and turns out we really hit it off so we started kind of dating and I she'd have in Minnesota because that is another trip and we'd meet at the winery and it turned out that she had given up her apartment and she was getting divorced and she was going to go back home. She was going to start a wine business in Argentina and she had a branch, she had already made some Torrantes from Sancta. Shed already given up her apartment, we were having this great time dating and I'm like hey I live on property, why don't you move to Napa? You know, you'd already given up your apartment, if it doesn't work out you can always leave, you know we'll just try it we're having a good time.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Honig:
So she said okay and about a week later I get a call from her and I'm on a trip and I'm in a rental car and she me and says "Michael" she's upset she's hysterical and I'm going "What's wrong Steph" well I just found out I'm pregnant. I'm like well, I guess you're coming to Napa. So I laugh about marrying the Argentinean fertility Goddess ...

Doug Shafer:
Yes.

Michael Honig:
Because in 10 years we've had four kids.

Doug Shafer:
You guys are very productive.

Michael Honig:
We were very productive, yes. More than I should be so yes she's been great she joined the winery, she's taken over our um um our um export marketing and our um PR and it's been wonderful and not only as a life partner but as a business partner.

Doug Shafer:
She's great, I've had the pleasure of being on a couple of different committees with her with the Vintners and it's just a kick ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah no she's good energy.

Doug Shafer:
I go months without seeing her and then I'm in some meeting and she's there and it's great. It's really nice. It's like Stephanie, Doug, it's just like a real genuine I love that. It's nice.

Michael Honig:
Yeah she has yeah she really connects with people and and she's really sincere and she has this really uh she's a great mom, she's just very loving I don't know if it's cultural or how she was raised.

Doug Shafer:
(laughs)

Michael Honig:
So yeah she's a lot of fun.

Doug Shafer:
Good good good. Circling back to Honig and history ...

Michael Honig:
Back to Honig.

Doug Shafer:
Back to Honig and history, I mean you know um I'm kind of curious because I know we were um late 80's 90's because you got 50 60 acres of grapes phylloxera hit you guys, like all of us.

Michael Honig:
Yeah yeah I had a big replanting, yeah basically started in the late 80's and that was another thing that Amigo Bob helped us with, you know at the time everyone was taking everything out initially and was just and we figured out no we could have a 10 year plan we though that there was a way to to get the vines that were succumbing to phylloxera to survive a little longer ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And we were able to put it into practice and yeah basically from the late 80's to the late 90's we replanted the whole property and now ...

Doug Shafer:
Wait you're but you're able to do it in stages and not have to ...

Michael Honig:
Just in stages basically about 10% a year which wasn't exactly the same ...

Doug Shafer:
Yeah but that's nice compared to having to take everything out ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah it was beautiful, we couldn't afford to take everything out and it uh we really I think Sauvignon Blanc was a little bit more forgiving.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Michael Honig:
Um it seemed it certainly succumbed and some of our property wasn't as impacted as other parts of the vineyard.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Um, so yeah now um we have some 25 year old vines yeah we have old vines again.

Doug Shafer:
You got how many so how many cases are you guys now?

Michael Honig:
Oh that's ...

Doug Shafer:
20 cases?

Michael Honig:
That's like asking a woman how much she weighs.

Doug Shafer:
Oh really? You don't have to tell me that, don't tell me that.

Michael Honig:
No I I say we are a medium sized winery.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, okay.

Michael Honig:
Well I feel like we are talking to people in the industry, but often times I find people that say how many cases you make? And I say, well I make 50 cases oh my god you're huge, you don't have a context.

Doug Shafer:
I know it's not a context.

Michael Honig:
You don't have a relevant.

Doug Shafer:
Well we'll put it this way, are you still selling fruit or do you use your own fruit?

Michael Honig:
No no, we buy a lot of grapes.

Doug Shafer:
Got it, got it.

Michael Honig:
No as I said we are about, from a Napa perspective, we are a little larger, but you know in the context of the world, we are a medium sized winery.

Doug Shafer:
That's mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet?

Michael Honig:
Yeah about 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc and 1/3 Cab. Our models are still to them something I started years ago, you know we don't sell to certain big merchants you know like Costco isn't someone we want to work with, we sell a lot to restaurants, we sell about 65% of on premise and we really want to create a brand, you know we don't do discounting, we don't do PA's or SP's or DP's or whatever the acronyms are. Discounts are whatever.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah R2D2's.

Michael Honig:
Well I don't even know what they're called, the idea is that we want to create relevance, you know it's the same way as having Shafer, you know you want to sell today but you also want to be relevant in 20 and 30 years.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And by creating a brand that has a certain floor and that's what the price is and if people don't want to work with it that's fine, um because there's a lot of brands that I see that just um yo yo back and forth with their pricing and no one really knows what their prices are and I think that you know you don't create a sustainable brand that way. So our model has been focus, don't get too big, uh but big enough that we can supply to restaurant groups we work with ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
But not have to be everywhere.

Doug Shafer:
I'm with you, I'm the same way and it's just um and the importance of distribution and you know selling the wines to the right places.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Which is you know part of your brand and your image and everything you want to do.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
That's important.

Michael Honig:
Yeah the next generation wants to become Kendall Jackson and ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Blow it up let them do it.

Doug Shafer:
Speaking of generation, so family business, um is it just you? Or do you have other family members ...

Michael Honig:
No it's just um no I'm the um the managing member of our LLC, but no we have uh I have four other family members.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
Stephanie, my cousin Regina, her oldest son Rafa runs our wine club ...

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
And then um my brother Stephen, we still sell directly in California, so now we have four team members and Stephen, my middle brother, is one of our sales reps in California and does some national accounts as well.

Doug Shafer:
I've never met Stephen.

Michael Honig:
Yeah he's great ...

Doug Shafer:
Good.

Michael Honig:
Yeah he runs San Francisco and uh he uh he's doing a little bit more national business, he had uh young children and now they're getting older ones in college, so he never really wanted to travel much, but I'm hoping as his kids get even a little older that he will take on some new responsibilities and maybe help with regional and national sales, but uh he has uh I don't know how many, a few hundred accounts he calls on in California and does a great job.

Doug Shafer:
Nice.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Good having family members involved, it's fun isn't it?

Michael Honig:
Yeah, it's great you know we were successful because we've always looked at the model as we're a family business but we're a business first, and I you know I fired my other brother before, actually I fired him twice um but with a vacuum ...

Doug Shafer:
That's tough ...

Michael Honig:
It is, but again, it is tough, but I think what you have to be and what everyone has to realize is you can't bring in things that happened when we were 10 to the business and I have a model too. I'll give you an example the other day I went to the tasting room and I needed a hat you know an 8 dollar hat and I tell the gentleman behind the counter I said "oh ring up the hat" and he's like "Michael it's a hat, don't you want me to just write it off to promotion or something?" And I go, no you charge me. If any of my other family members walk in here and wants something for free, charge them double. And but again because we're a family business, I want the team members that aren't family, that are extended family that work for us, to realize that the families don't get anything for free because I want everyone to realize that it's you know it comes from the top, it starts from the top ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
That we respect our business, we want, it is a business, family members don't get a free ride and uh and treated as such and I think everyone has the same uh motivation to be successful because the realize that if family are just coming here and just screwing around.

Doug Shafer:
Good for you, not easy to do...

Michael Honig:
No, but I've had the backing of my dad and my aunt and uncle and the board um but no it it it's really important and I've seen so many family businesses fail um and I'm happy you if it works it works really well.

Doug Shafer:
You mentioned something that's similar here, I worked with my dad for 35 years, you know fresh from the very beginning, um yeah it's a family owned business yes a family owns it and family members are running it, but he said from the very beginning you know he said Doug family is family and business is business and you keep them separate ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
Which sounds kind of hardcore, but if it's going to work long term and there's some tough decisions that come along the way...

Michael Honig:
Yup.

Doug Shafer:
You had to fire your brother a couple of times and um, we've got one that we use here and my whole staff helps me because sometimes there's tough decisions and I've said this enough that they've heard it and they'll remind me of this you know you've got a tough decision but what's the best thing for the business.

Michael Honig:
Right.

Doug Shafer:
And you know when you say that, the answer is obvious and the bummer is sometimes the obvious answer is like really going to be a tough call.

Michael Honig:
Yeah it is.

Doug Shafer:
And it's tough and you and I both had to do it.

Michael Honig:
Yeah ...

Doug Shafer:
You know we aren't ...

Michael Honig:
And that's why we're successful, because you know you see family businesses that don't operate that way and they let family challenges dictate how they're operated and they don't work it's not I I laugh and I call our business it's a benevolent dictatorship ...

Doug Shafer:
Hmmm.

Michael Honig:
And it has to operate that way, you know you can't run businesses by committee and it's I don't think it works.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Honig:
So ultimately someone has to make the call, and if you're perceived as a jerk because you made a call and that's you're family, so be it, but if you think that's the best thing for the business, that's what's going to make it survive, so.

Doug Shafer:
I don't think anyone is ever going to think you're a jerk. But let me know when that happens ...

Michael Honig:
I'm sure they do... you haven't talked to Stephanie recently.

Doug Shafer:
Oh come on stop, so um things have been rolling, it's going well, what um what are some of the biggest changes you've seen? Just in this whole business in the Valley?

Michael Honig:
Um well... the change maybe it's happened. I see it more often where it happened where... the challenge in our industry I think is that with a little bit of money and some grapes, anyone can make wine.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
That's not the barrier to success or entry, it's really about the success of the brand is can you sell it or not? Um we have a lot of our neighbors that that are here. It's a lifestyle brand and that valid that's not a criticism. You have that has become more prominent I think where people are using the Napa Valley as a second or third home location and they have small brands and they're great neighbors and they certainly are valid, but I find that the the... there's less and less commercial um brands that I see going forward. The other challenge that I see and I think this is going to be a tough thing for a lot of families, I don't know if you or I will face that soon, but um the um the succession plans. You know, a lot of the matriarchs or patriarchs in the family businesses are getting old or retired, their kids and either not interested or or not competent to run the businesses ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Because they're very complicated the way the winery's you know farmer were manufacturers or marketers, it's difficult business and the asset have become so large I think a lot of kids or grandkids say screw it my parents got on a plane every day, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to sell it and then go live on an island somewhere.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Michael Honig:
And we are already starting to see that with some brands and I think that there's going to be a lot of brands in the next 15 years 10 years that change ownership become more corporate structure or part of a bigger company so I think that's been a challenge that I've seen in the market where it used to be a lot more family businesses, there's still a lot of family businesses, but now they're under umbrellas.

Doug Shafer:
Exactly.

Michael Honig:
And big marketing companies.

Doug Shafer:
Well, I've got a view point on that. What's wrong, let's say... one of us, you or me because we are in similar situations, and you know our kids aren't interested. Um, what's wrong with hiring, and the business is doing well, it's profitable, it generates income to the owners, you know which is nice to be an owner ...

Michael Honig:
Sure.

Doug Shafer:
So the owning family, they hire a general manager. President, he's not a family member, but he's really good.

Michael Honig:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Doug Shafer:
To run the business and to keep it going on and the owners are basically ...

Michael Honig:
Sure.

Doug Shafer:
They're not involved in the business but they still own the company, why not?

Michael Honig:
Well I think it makes perfect sense ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
I mean there's a lot of other tangibles that come with having a vineyard and a winery property in Napa. I mean living on the property, being here on the weekends, coming up as a family, uh you know uh summer property to relax and enjoy.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
I just think people see dollar signs and that you know these businesses become expensive ...

Doug Shafer:
That's true.

Michael Honig:
And I should say valuable. Uh but our goal is is to well we set it up is to get the fourth and fifth generation involved and ...

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Michael Honig:
And my hope is that you know the next 20 25 years one of them of them will want to take it over ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And see that there's a lot of value and the other thing I remember is it's good to benefit is the way my family benefits from my hard work right now and I'm okay with it ...

Doug Shafer:
Good.

Michael Honig:
I'm happy and I have a uh cousin Josh who I love him to death, he's great, and he retired, you know he's mid 40's and you know he retired 15 years ago because of my hard work and he always says, "Michael, thanks for working so hard I get to retire."

Doug Shafer:
No (Laughs)

Michael Honig:
And I'm like I have I think it's great, I love it. Josh go to Mexico, hang out, do whatever you want, I'm happy because I love what I do and if you get to benefit from my hard work and the family that is working the business's hard work, so be it.

Doug Shafer:
Well I think he should buy you dinner a couple of times a year.

Michael Honig:
Well he's great no he's great ... you know I think it's funny that some people say oh my god you're working so hard yet all these other people are benefiting from it. Well that's the structure we have, it's just it's a family business, that's okay. There's going to be some family members involved, some that aren't. And you just have to be okay with that and I love Josh, he's a great kid well not a kid now, he's an adult.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Honig:
If he wants to retire and live off of my hard work and the hard work of the people that are involved in the business, go for it.

Doug Shafer:
Alright, give me his number so I can call him up, I need a couple of donations for some of my fundraising ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah that's right ...

Doug Shafer:
See if he can um contribute. Uh well good news, what's in the future of Honig, what's going on, anything new happening?

Michael Honig:
You know what, it's funny, new new is to focus on quality, you know I think so many of our peers I should say reinvent themselves by now we throw this against the wall and now we do Rose and now we do Chardonnay now we do a different Appellation, you know I think that's one way to market your brand, um but my contention is we don't need to reinvent ourselves by making new items, let's just focus on quality and us press opportunities or the fun post cards we do ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Or the amount of hard work we put into the market to be different, but not do it by now we throw something else against the wall. And I think I'm using the analogy of uh of a shotgun versus a bullet.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Michael Honig:
And most people have this very broad spectrum of let's do everything and be all things to all people, my idea is no you focus, we do Sauvignon Blanc and Cab as long as I'm alive, actually the other day someone said when are you going to do a whole new Chardonnay and my quick response is well when you see a whole new Chardonnay, you'll know that I'm dead.

Doug Shafer:
I get that with Pinot Noir...

Michael Honig:
Yeah it's like ...

Doug Shafer:
Yeah ...

Michael Honig:
It's like no this is what we do ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
We're known for something and you think from not only strategically does it really make sense from a production side, being able to focus, but from a marketing standpoint, especially now this MTV Generation everyone is 140 characters or less ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
It's all quick information, no one reads anymore, no one pays attention, if you can have a message that's clear and precise and and breaks through that clutter, that has huge value.

Doug Shafer:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Michael Honig:
So our sales reps with our distributors they know Honig is two things, Shafer is this. You know it's not oh I think they do this oh yeah and they also have that you know and the distributors don’t want more information, they don't want more items from a producer ...

Doug Shafer:
No they've got enough.

Michael Honig:
And now we can we can try to own two categories versus and being deep versus being very um ... shallow in a lot of other categories.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Honig:
So yeah people say when are you getting new? Nothing. Being who we are, being better at what we're doing and focuses on that and saying it's okay that we don't have a Rosé, you know I'm fine with that.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah, me too

Michael Honig:
(laughs)

Doug Shafer:
(Laughs) ... you know or you know you make a barrel just to the side just for your own home brew but um many examples of that I remember dad came back one time he was at some tasting he was pouring next to Art Finklestein at uh who used to be White Hall Lane.

Michael Honig:
Sure.

Doug Shafer:
And Art was like God and dad said what and he goes look at this, and he had like basically twelve different varietals and he's like I can't stand this this is crazy no one knows what you're known for.

Michael Honig:
Well I think more of our our purists should take that model and they don't need to be making all this wine, but it's not my business or your business to tell people how to do what they do but it's like fine keep trying to be all things to all people and we will do what we do.

Doug Shafer:
We will just do what we do.

Michael Honig:
Do what we do.

Doug Shafer:
How can people find Honig wine? Is there do you got a website they can go on?

Michael Honig:
Oh yeah uh oh sure Honigwine.com is our ...

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
Is our website very simple and we have like you we have a wonderful tasting room that's by appointment and it's just a few miles up the road. And then uh a lot of the stores and restaurants in the local neighborhood carry the vault.

Doug Shafer:
Good good so where was your last trip when we last gone? Last week, two weeks ago?

Michael Honig:
Oh my god I have the worst time memory, I remember where I'm going I have a hard time remembering where I've been, I was in Arizona last week when I was plane. You know we uh ...

Doug Shafer:
Okay where's next trip?

Michael Honig:
Uh Boston and new york.

Doug Shafer:
Okay.

Michael Honig:
I get to fly on a red eye Tuesday the fourth I'm in Boston for six hours then get on a plane that night and go to New York for a day and a half and do a wine tasting and then New Jersey and fly home ...

Doug Shafer:
There you go.

Michael Honig:
The following week go somewhere else yeah. (Laughs)

Doug Shafer:
Hey I never knew, how much are you involved in harvest? You participate a lot? You involved in the crew?

Michael Honig:
No back in the 80's ...

Doug Shafer:
You did?

Michael Honig:
I was more involved when James was there, no I mean I found out long, well for one Kristen is an incredible wine maker and incredibly talented and she's got a great team um but I think that you've always been more involved with them in the wine making side of it, but what I found is twenty years ago the best use of my time is to be out selling and promoting and marketing.

Doug Shafer:
Yeah.

Michael Honig:
It's hard to replicate what you and I do on a daily basis, you could hire great wine makers, we can hire great COO's we can hire ...

Doug Shafer:
But you're Michael Honig ...

Michael Honig:
But you gotta be the face and the brand ...

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
Your name is on the bottom and I think that you know one of the reasons I spend so much time on the road as I do is I can tell that story and it was really relevant a few years ago I was at a tasting in Texas and these two young men came up to me and they were running really hot wine programs at the time for some fancy restaurants and they were like "Michael" they were all excited oh we love Honig blah blah blah we want to taste your wine I said great great and oh who else should we go to, where all should we go in this room, there's all these great winery's here.

Doug Shafer:
Right.

Michael Honig:
And I looked over and I found the gentleman, he's no longer there was there representing Turn Bowl and I go oh you gotta go try Turnbull and they say really who's Turnbull, we've never heard of that brand. They didn't read Parker, they didn't follow The Spectator, they ran great programs but as of their own knowledge that they gained by being in their role. It really dawned on me all of a sudden, if you don't tell your story all the time, you can't assume that someone is going to know it from some other third party endorsement or validation and I think that's one of the things that becomes very apparent you know again, we've gotta be out there telling the story because there's always new kids, not kids, now they're not kids ...

Doug Shafer:
Yeah they are kids, no ...

Michael Honig:
They're buyers.

Doug Shafer:
And new buyers and we gotta tell the same story ...

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And you and I, maybe we should go together and I can tell your story and you can tell mine, that would break ...

Michael Honig:
That would be more fun ...

Doug Shafer:
That would mix it up for us.

Michael Honig:
But it's hard because you know what it's like because I always equate it to being a Shakespearean actor and you're saying the same things over and over and it's , but you have to say it like it's the first time you ever said the story with reflection and excitement and enthusiasm, that gets hard. Acting is hard.

Doug Shafer:
Well and I want to go to a comedy writer because I like telling jokes and I only got three or four jokes and I keep telling the same ones and I'll never forget I was the Boston Harbor Hotel and uh does an annual thing and I would go every other year so it think it was and I was there and doing the intro and told my silly duck joke the one I got from John Williams and uh I said everybody laughed and I'm sitting back down at my table and the guy sitting next to me was guest said I told that joke three years ago and I was like without missing a beat, you'd be proud of me, without missing a beat, I said you need to get a life if all you do is go to winemaker dinners (laughs) but uh no and once in a while, I'm out of experiences I'll be doing a wine maker dinner and doing the same old silly joke and everyone laughs and all that and all of a sudden I'm out of body and I'm over on the side of the room looking at myself saying you're so full of it.

Michael Honig:
Well that actually how I view it I think of myself as the worst critic in figuring did I say that last time I was here did I say that to the same person, try to change it it, it's hard, everyone thinks oh it's funny and I'm sure you get the same thing, oh you got the easiest job all you do is drink all day and people are like really the last time I had a drink was a while ago I mean I taste a lot of wine we don't ever get to enjoy it or sit down it's always when we are entertaining.

Doug Shafer:
I try hard not to drink on the road because it just wipes you out.

Michael Honig:
I feel bad for the people because this industry can catch up on you pretty quickly and I feel bad when I see people that I know overindulging because that doesn't create success.

Doug Shafer:
Well with traveling it just beats you up with hotels and trying to sleep.

Michael Honig:
Well I used to think a long time ago I used to think oh well to be successful I have to drink with my clients no, that actually doesn't create success at all.

Doug Shafer:
That happened to me in Chicago once, it was one of my first road trips and I was probably 26 or 7 and I was there and you know a couple of days, some dinner and apparently someone, one of the general managers of the distributors talked to a couple of the reps and said we’ll take the kid from California out and show him a good time so here we are at some bar all I remember is we were doing shots of something I've never heard of called Jagermeister.

Michael Honig:
Oh great.

Doug Shafer:
And so it's like oh really and so the next morning when I woke up I said I don't need to do this, but everyone thinks you want to do it, it's crazy.

Michael Honig:
Yeah no I think we've both gotten older and both realized that uh well we are talking about the challenges, but you know what's great about our industry and I was talking to someone earlier today about this if you look from a manufacturing stand point if you look at the American manufacturing industries and what's been successful and what's failed in the past 20, 30 years you know you and I can say we make some of the best wines in the world. We manufacture something from America that can compete on the world stage and to me when I think about what I do on a daily basis, that's what motivates me saying look we're really doing something right. And this is not you and I saying this about our own brands, this is a third party validation endorsement saying no Honig, Shafer, Frogs Leap, Cakebread they make some great, great wines and I think from that standpoint, I am so proud to be a Napa producer because we can stand up and say look we are making some of the best things in the world and uh and uh it's exciting and it's fun and uh it gets me excited to go to work.

Doug Shafer:
Well, we get to grow it, we get to make it.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And then we go out and sell it and you know provide great lives and good jobs for all of your folks and all my folks.

Michael Honig:
Yeah.

Doug Shafer:
And that's really rewarding, it's not super fancy it's not you know I'm not fine winery in other countries and doing that, just kind of doing it right here and it's great, I'm with you.

Michael Honig:
It makes a lot of fun.

Doug Shafer:
Mr. Honig, thanks for being here.

Michael Honig:
Wow Mr. Shafer thank you for having me. (laughs)

Doug Shafer:
Take it easy an I'll see you...

Michael Honig:
Look forward to seeing you in New York ...

Doug Shafer:
I'll see you.

Michael Honig:
And in Chicago ...

Doug Shafer:
See you on the road ...

Michael Honig:
See you on the road. That should be your tag, your sign off. See you on the road.

Doug Shafer:
See you on the road (laughs)