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Balancing Innovation & Tradition in Winemaking

Apr 26, 2022

Wine tends to be very romanticized and winemakers think, ‘money should be no option, we have to make the best product.’ And we do have to make the best product, but it’s a business at the same time. So we have to look at the bottom line and connect that to the rest of the business.”

That message comes from Ethan Brown, the passionate and knowledgeable head winemaker at Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, North Carolina (which happens to be the very first winery our CEO and host, Josh McKinney, ever visited). Ethan has been in the world of wine since he was 9 years old, working in his family’s vineyard. In his role now, he jokes that he wears 30 different hats, but it’s not that far from the truth.

At Shelton, he plays a significant role in making the wine, but he’s also involved in marketing and branding (Shelton Vineyards, for instance, recently re-designed its labels to take its brand to the next level), collaborating with partners like NC State University, and diversifying the tasting menu at Shelton Vineyards to keep a variety of options on the menu, including a new venture into sparkling rosé.

But he’s also passionate about the potential for the wine industry outside the more well-known wine centers of California and Washington. And he believes increasing North Carolina’s reputation requires thinking outside the box and forging a path that differs from California’s wine regions.

“There is wine made in every state and there’s large grape and wine industries in quite a few states — there are really ten major ones that are growing,” he says. “We have to look at ourselves in the big picture and see what can we do that other regions can’t do.”

In this episode of Craftlab, Ethan recounts his journey to his current role and how he’s innovating to serve a diverse and ever-evolving base of customers.


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