Nervous Sonoma County vintners on collapse of Silicon Valley Bank: ‘We’re not out of the woods yet’
Some Sonoma County vintners and growers with ties to Silicon Valley Bank said they’re “not out of the woods yet” after the collapse of the bank last week.
They say they’re pleased the FDIC covered the deposits across the board, but they’re still uncertain how their money market accounts, lines of credit and other loans will be affected by the failure of the second largest bank in U.S. history.
The Press Democrat talked to several in the industry. Here’s what they had to say.
“We’re not 100% through this,” said Matt Licklider, of Lioco, a boutique winery with a tasting room on the Healdsburg Square. “Until I can access the reserves in our money market account I won’t feel 100% secure. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
While Licklider preferred not to disclose the amount of the money market account, the co-vintner said “that number represents a big portion of our reserves.”
In a state of shock last week, Licklider said he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to make payroll or pay his bills when his checking account at the bank was frozen late March 8. He explained their accounts payable and accounts receivable for all three businesses – the tasting room, the website and the wine club – all stream through their merchant checking account at the bank.
“It felt like an obstacle was put before us just like fires, the floods, the drought and the pandemic,” Licklider said. “That’s what it has been like for 10 years. Every year there’s been a new obstacle.”
Right now, Licklider is grappling with a shrinking wine club.
“The Bay Area tech sector represents 40% of our wine club,” he said. “A portion of that 40% has recently canceled; a lot more than normal.”
Talking with distributors across the country, Licklider said he told them recently that making wine in California is now “fraught with risk, not unlike the tech industry.”
This wasn’t always the case, he said.
“Once California was the land of milk and honey for making wine,” Licklider said. “But now it’s one of the most volatile places in the world to make wine.”
The co-vintner, who founded his brand in 2005, said he believes they’ll be able to weather this or any financial storm.
“Just like the other obstacles we’ve had for the past 10 years, we’ve been battle tested,” he said. “I don’t think this (bank collapse) will thwart tech or winery start-ups. Especially in California, the entrepreneurial mind is resilient.”
Gina Martinelli, co-owner of a Santa Rosa vineyard
While Martinelli was less jittery than she was last week, she remains concerned that a vineyard loan that she and her husband George have with Silicon Valley Bank could change its terms.
The couple purchased the 13-acre property planted to chardonnay grapes in 2010. Martinelli said they’ve wanted to sell the vineyard since 2018 but the prepayment penalties at close to $200,000 prevented them.
Martinelli preferred not to disclose the terms of the loan.
“It’s scary when a bank goes out of business,” Martinelli said. “That’s not supposed to happen. You trust these entities and you wonder how did something like this happen.”
Adam Lee, founder of Windsor’s Clarice Wine Co.
Lee has had ties with Silicon Valley Bank since 1997 when he was co-vintner of Santa Rosa’s Siduri Wine Co. The vintner of Windsor’s Clarice Wine Co., founded in 2017, continues to have a $100,000 line of credit, as well as merchant accounts with the bank today.
While he’s not worried for himself, Lee said he knows the Sonoma County wine industry will continue to be riddled with anxiety until all aspects of the bank’s fate are resolved.
“I know at least 50 or 60 wineries in Sonoma County who have some tie or relationship with Silicon Valley Bank,” he said.
Lee said he remains grateful for the bank and how it helped him grow Siduri, which he and co-vintner Dianna Lee sold to Jackson Family Wines in 2015.
“At least a dozen times people from the Santa Rosa office of Silicon Valley Bank came over with a harvest lunch,” he said, “and helped us sort through grapes.”
Lee said he hopes some iteration of Rob McMillan’s State of the Wine Industry Report will survive.
McMillan, who headed the wine division of Silicon Valley Bank, is the analyst who has written the annual report for decades. The report is one many in the wine industry have relied upon to make strategic decisions at their wineries.
“There’s a lot of valuable information in the report,” Lee said. “It shows the winery owners the future direction of the industry and losing that would be a big loss.”
On his LinkedIn page, McMillan said he’s uncertain of the report’s future since it relied on data complied by the bank and had about 35 people who contributed to it.
Lee said the uncertain fate of the report and bank is a setback that will make it harder for younger people to find financing. But he said he’s confident people will find a way to succeed.
“This (bank collapse) will delay people from getting started and delay people from growing, but I don’t think it will wipe out a generation of millennial startups in the wine business,” Lee said. “Winemakers are resilient and will find a way to persevere.”
Megan Glaab, co-founder of Forestville’s Ryme Cellars
Glaab, 40, is a millennial who doesn’t have ties to Silicon Valley Bank. She and husband Ryan Glaab founded Ryme Cellars in 2007 without the help of loans or investors.
“In the early days we bootstrapped it,” Glaab said. “We were young and basically worked multiple jobs.”
Today, the couple produces roughly 4,000 cases of wine a year.
The vintner said she’s paying close attention to the news of Silicon Valley Bank because she knows 10-plus fellow vintners who have a relationship with the bank.
Lending money in the wine industry, Glaab said, requires a deep understanding of how wineries operate.
For example, she said she and her husband built an inventory of wines for four years, beginning in 2007, before they sold a single bottle in 2011.
“I’m curious how this (bank failure) will affect the wine industry’s growth moving forward,” she said.
You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at 707-521-5310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.