I love wine. A lot. BUT…I know very little about it. I just know I like it dry! SAV BLANC OVER HERE, PLEASE!! Anywhooo…
WINE LIFE WITH KIM BUSCH
- When we bought the ranch next to Folded Hills, we discovered that there had been a pre-prohibition vineyard on the property, and the family had made wine in the basement of the farmhouse – which is now our estate tasting room. We also had 15 acres of organic row crops and wanted to add another organic crop. Grapes seemed like a great choice.
- I was a model for 17 years. Post career, with a small daughter, and having always been interested in fashion, I owned a couture boutique with my mom in St. Louis. Andy ran Grant’s Farm, the first Busch Gardens started by his father. He managed 700,000 tourists a year and thousands of animals, many exotic animals including elephants, camels, zebra, buffalo, Clydesdales. This is why Folded Hills has so many cool animals, and probably why we can welcome so many guests without batting an eye.
- I think the most surprising thing is how easily the brand identity came to us. When you are passionate about something, when you inhabit a lifestyle, you can easily share it with others. Our friends had been loving the Folded Hills lifestyle for years before we started the wine business. We knew that we wanted to share the message of cleaner wines, eating and farming organically and locally, preserving the land for agriculture, disconnecting from devices and spending time in nature. All we had to do was work with a great graphic designer to bring the brand to life. Yes, we didn’t know much about wine, but by hiring the best winemaker we could be free to create the messaging around the brand. We have lived this brand every day, long before there was a “brand”. I guess that is true authenticity. The other important factor, which was both the best thing that has happened to us and the worst, is that because we knew little about wine, we had no industry constraints about what we could and couldn’t do with the brand. We just did us. I wish I had a nickel for every time we were told by a wine industry expert, “You can’t do that!”. Well, why not? So we did. I think disrupting a bit, not carrying what people think or looking over our shoulders at what the other guys are doing has made our message stand out.
- How much time do you have??? Ha! I would say that going through the process of permitting our two tasting rooms in Santa Barbara has been the most frustrating. It’s hard to make sense of some of the county regulations. On the other hand, the tough restrictions in Santa Barbara County have helped to curtail over development to keep our community beautiful. There have been a number of other challenges. Hiring…Folded Hills has very high standards and the labor market is tight. But we don’t rush anything. So many times we have been desperate for another warm body, but we take our time. We hire for fit, for culture. We can teach wine, we can’t teach personality. Our interview process is very labor intensive. Two phone conversations, two in-person meetings with other team members. Then, if we decide to take the interview to the next step, we have an “initiation by fire”. This entails the recruit working side by side with me and the team for an event. You learn a lot about a person when you are in the trenches together. When it comes to our company culture, my team is more important to me than any customer. THEY are our number one customer. They learn this early on, and they look out for each other. If our team is happy then our guests are happy. Our guests LOVE our team members, we hear raves all the time.
- Interesting that you ask that. Just recently this has become a real issue, both physically and mentally. I have gone non-stop for the last 2 plus years. Seven day weeks, 12 – 16 hour days. We opened two tasting rooms within three months which is insane. In the first 210 days of opening the tasting rooms we did 105 events – and that was before we had an events director. It was crazy. Just lately I have come back to self care. Meditation…yoga…pilates….
walking and hiking with friends…saying NO. When we launched I said yes to everything! Now I say no to 80% of the things that come our way. For a brand, saying no to the wrong opportunities can be more important than saying yes to the right ones. I feel 70% better now that I have been focusing on myself. I think balance is a challenge that we all face. Right now we have a great team in the right roles, but that took time. I am not sure if balance was possible before. During start up mode something has to give.
- That’s a great question. I remind myself of the joy that our guests feel when they connect with our beautiful space, taste the wines, and feed the animals. I bring to mind a particularly joyful experience, like a teenage girl in a wheelchair who beamed when she was able to hold a newborn baby pig, or the sweet couple who got engaged at Folded Hills last week. People come to us to disconnect. We have a saying, “Weak Wifi, strong connections”. I try to follow our own advice. I also try to practice the mantra of saying no because saying yes is what comes naturally to me. If I am depleted, I go to meditation and then the mantra is OM!
- We grow organically following the biodynamic calendar. We make Rhône wines, Grenache, Syrah, and Rhône whites. When we started, we had no idea what Rhône wines were. Of course we had heard of the region in France, but as varietals? No idea. When we planted, experts said to plant what we love to drink. I loved Pinot Noir but we were too hot of a climate for pinot. Andy loved beer, so no help there. Now I much prefer a Grenache or a blend, to a cab or pinot. We‘ve been so surprised and delighted by the awards we have received. When we hired our winemaker Angela Osborne, a wonderful earth mama from New Zealand, she said, “if you are chasing points I am not your winemaker.” We didn’t even know what points were. Since then we have received Wine and Spirits one of the top roses of the year two times! We were named The CA Winery to Watch in 2018, and have received high points and accolades from top wine critics like Robert Parker, Antonio Galloni, Wine Enthusiast, etc.
- We want guests to feel like they have walked into our home, which they have. We create raves. Customer service is a job, hospitality is how you make people feel. We want to wow them every single time. It seems to be working. Andy and I have over-delivered our entire lives. We have carried that over into our business.
- The Farmstead is the heart and soul of the Folded Hills brand. We sell our organic produce from our 15 acres of row crops farmed by local organic farming legend, Tom Shepherd. We make our own delicious baked goods, and guests meet, greet and feed our animals. I love to pick up a baby pig and let a child bathe her. Just this weekend at the Farmstead my 3 year old grand-daughter Lilly gave a lovely pink pedicure to her favorite baby pig, named Peppa. Everyone loves the Farmstead.
- The New California wine movement is a style of wine making that makes wine more approachable, more drinkable, more easily paired with foods. We are getting away from the big extracted Cabernets that overpower lighter and healthier fare. Our wines are lower in alcohol, lighter in body. They are so easy to drink and enjoy with or without food. These wines express the terroir – the dirt, the temperature, the aspect to the sun, the fog coming off the ocean. You will really taste time and place. Each vintage is different from the year before. Winemakers like Angela Osborne are rewriting the playbook. They want to truly appreciate the land, the grape varietals and let them tell their own story vintage by vintage.
- It absolutely is more difficult to make wine from organic grapes. The wine starts in the vineyard. The grapes must be the best from the start, and that takes a lot of labor. We don’t use commercial additives to make up for lesser quality grapes. We farm the grapes right from the beginning. We follow the biodynamic calendar when planting, watering, harvesting and bottling. A hands-off approach is an old world style of wine making. Did you know that winemakers are allowed to use 76 commercial additives in a bottle of wine? We use zero. We are allowed 350 parts per million of sulfite, we add just a pinch, less than 20, and usually less than 10ppm. Angela foot treads the grapes. We use only the native yeast that is present on the grapes from our vineyards. None of this would be possible in a large production.
- Our wines have zero residual sugar. Residual sugar is leftover sugar after fermentation is complete. The yeast eats the sugar during fermentation to create alcohol. It is possible to stop fermentation before all the sugar has been used up. We allow the natural fermentation to complete the process, resulting in bone dry wines with no leftover sugar, and less than one gram of carbohydrates. Some wines add sugar to increase the alcohol content. Folded Hills wines are naturally lower in alcohol. With no commercial additives, only a pinch of sulfur, and estate grown organically following the biodynamic calendar, Folded Hills wines really are a healthier way to drink.