Flying Leap Vineyards, Inc.

Three former military pilots in Elgin, Arizona took the proverbial “flying leap” together and founded Flying Leap Vineyards, Inc. in 2010. Lifelong best friends with diverse backgrounds in the wine and farming industries the three entered the Arizona wine business with a goal of developing a new brand based on local, self-sourced viticulture and high quality, small-batch winemaking. Flying Leap Vineyards is an Arizona domestic farm winery based in Santa Cruz County. The company specializes in customer and community service, and has extensive experience in operating wine tasting, fine art and retail sales operations across the region. This committed team are now local family farmers, talented winemakers and passionate wine merchants who grow a select portfolio of both red and white wine grapes in two vineyards, and they produce their fine wines at their estate winery in Elgin, Arizona. Perhaps the most outgoing of the group, Mark Beres, President and CEO, likes talk about the desert climate and how grape vines are particularly well suited for it. “It’s surprising that such great grapes and wines come from the desert and it’s a blast to see the surprise in people’s eyes when we say ‘yup, wine from Arizona.’”A self-avowed “numbers guy” who works full time as a rocket scientist at Raytheon, Mark knows to the liter how much water he expects to use this year, what his production costs will be and how he will price his products. The wine business is very capital intensive and while the three found investors among friends initially, it wasn’t long before they needed more. A new well costing over half a million dollars was needed to accommodate initial crops. Determined not to buy water at twice that amount from a neighbor, the team sought help. They found Karen Burns of the Tucson Small Business Development Center (SBDC). A thirty-year veteran of the banking industry in Tucson, Karen helped with everything from a business plan to budgets, and profit and loss statements to borrowing. Water flowed, growth and acquisitions followed. Karen remains the groups’ counselor today and sees them on a monthly basis. The teams’ first vineyard was planted in April 2011. The first block encompassed slightly more than 10 irrigated acres of exclusive French, Italian and Spanish certified grapevines on a 20-acre parcel in the Kansas Settlement south of Willcox. Additional acreage was planted in 2012, completing the company’s first 20-acre farm. In 2013, Flying Leap acquired the Canelo Hills Vineyard and Winery in Elgin, which added another 6.5 acres of mature vineyard acreage and gave the company an established foothold along Arizona’s famous Sonoita/Elgin wine trail in the state’s only official American Viticultural Area. With the acquisition Flying Leap commenced estate winemaking in 2013, producing nearly 1500 cases from its initial combined harvests. Theirs is a growing business and as military pilots are apt to be, the three are ambitious, disciplined and looking ahead. An additional 8.5 acres are planned for 2015, with expected initial production in 2017. While Flying Leap is a small, local producer, production is expected to double by 2019 to about 3000 cases. Most consumers imagine a winery that has distributors which sells its wine in stores. Not so with Flying Leap. As part of its effort to grow organically, Flying Leap Vineyards owns and operates four tasting rooms and three fine art galleries, which are located at the winery, in Tucson and surrounding in towns. As the businesses’ agricultural footprint has grown, so has its products presence in local and regional markets. Flying Leap’s award-winning wines are sold regionally in specialty retailers and are finding their way into the hands of major wine retailers. Beres commends Karen Burns and the rest of the SBDC team for being instrumental to Flying Leap Vineyards in teaching them how to develop a comprehensive strategy for requesting bank financing. “Karen showed us how to access the various sources of financing that were available and how to communicate our needs to those entities.” Mark adds: “Most people entering into the business world are generally familiar with traditional lending, such as car loans and mortgages. But commercial lending is an entirely different world with unique requirements and specifications.” “The SBDC and Karen Burns in particular were instrumental in teaching us how to navigate these new waters. She helped us prepare bank loans requests, which were key in us successfully securing the necessary capital to fully develop our Block 1 vineyard.” “Our business is fundamentally an agricultural enterprise and Burn’s extensive background in commercial agricultural lending was invaluable to Flying Leap Vineyards in shaping the business plan to include specific elements of particular interest to commercial agricultural lenders. The SBDC has been an important part of Flying Leap Vineyard’s growth and development, and we are indeed truly fortunate to have them as a resource,” concludes Beres.

Company Name: 
Flying Leap Vineyards, Inc.
Location: 
Elgin, Az.