Like many good ideas, David Waldman and Marian Leitner’s new company began around the dinner table, when the couple realized they were paying more for the wine bottle than they were for the wine it held.
Some might have been content to let this observation go. But Waldman and Leitner’s mutual entrepreneurial drive – they met at a social enterprise pitch competition in Washington, D.C. – and respective experience in winemaking and marketing led them to create their own solution.
In 2014, while Waldman was a first-year student in the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, the husband-wife team started Archer Roose, a boxed wine company featuring custom wines made by small, family-run wineries in South America.
Each wine Archer Roose sells would typically retail at about $15 to $20 per bottle. The box container allows them to sell the equivalent of four bottles – roughly an $80 value – for $30. Additionally, the boxed wine stays fresh for up to six weeks after opening, allowing customers to maximize the value of their purchase.
Among the roughly 30 boxed wine companies competing in the U.S. market, Archer Roose has a unique distinction, Leitner said.
“We are different in that we are one of the few companies that custom-produces its wine, instead of using excess wine from other labels,” she said.
To raise customer’s awareness of their wines’ value, Leitner and Waldman have partnered with arts organizations in New York, Washington and Boston, pairing Archer Roose wines with events ranging from pop-up operas to folk art exhibitions. The partnership lowers event costs and helps Leitner and Waldman tie Archer Roose – named for two adventurers the founders admire, Edith Wharton’s Newland Archer and Theodore Roosevelt – to the spirit of adventure they hope will define their brand.
“We don’t just want to create your everyday drinking wine, but also empower our customers to be explorers and sophisticates who are going out and challenging themselves,” Leitner said. “What we have seen happen in craft beer is so exciting, with really fun, artistic expressions of what people can do with that alcohol. We hope that by having fun with the format and feeling comfortable with our brand, people might explore new wines they have not heard of before.”
Creating custom wines required Leitner and Waldman to search the globe for young, talented winemakers willing to take a chance on their concept. Luckily, Waldman was already familiar with the winemaking business; he had owned and operated a winery in Georgia (the country, not the state) before coming to Darden.
That winery, Pheasant’s Tears, uses the traditional Georgian technique of fermenting wine in amphorae, large clay vessels holding the equivalent of about 2,000 bottles of wine. The technique is among the oldest known winemaking methods, dating back over 8,000 years.
“Our mission was to preserve the Georgian culture of winemaking, which was falling by the wayside as people moved into the city, away from country homes,” Waldman said.
Pheasant’s Tears gained an international following – fans included the late Alan Rickman – and it remains a thriving winery today. Though Waldman sold his share prior to enrolling at Darden, the experience inspired his continued commitment to winemakers like Gela Patalishvili, the ninth-generation winemaker he worked with at Pheasant’s Tears.
“I wanted to give Gela the opportunity to make the wine that he had been making for nine generations, in a facility that he deserved and that allowed him to share this wine in Georgia and globally in 20 countries,” Waldman said.
Through Archer Roose, Waldman and Leitner have given South American winemakers similar opportunities. Waldman turned his attention to South America after a Darden class examined the wine economy in Argentina. He and Leitner began researching winemakers and, after Waldman completed his first year at Darden, traveled to Chile to meet Luca Hodgkinson, a young winemaker committed to natural and sustainable winemaking.
“Luca took us around for a week in Chile,” Waldman said. “We found a great cabernet producer that is a 150-year-old winery, a great sauvignon blanc producer, and a great carmenere from a winery run by a distinguished Chilean man.”
Those wineries now create custom blends for Archer Roose and ship them to the U.S. in giant wine bladders holding 17,000 to 24,000 liters. That method, according to Waldman, preserves the quality of the wine by keeping temperatures more stable than they would be in individual bottles. It also saves space; shipping that amount of wine in bottles would require five shipping containers.
Resulting savings allow Archer Roose to preserve quality while reducing prices and donating a portion of proceeds to Root Capital, an organization supporting rural entrepreneurs in countries where Archer Roose sources their wine.
“The biggest problem in rural settings, in my mind, is not that you don’t have incredible entrepreneurs who will work very hard to make money for their families. It is that they don’t have access to capital,” Waldman said. “Root Capital’s mission is to provide capital to rural farmers’ cooperatives and give them technical support to help lift people out of poverty.”
Waldman attended Darden with support from a Batten Entrepreneurial Scholarship, which gave him the resources and financial freedom to grow his fledgling company in an academic environment he said was conducive to entrepreneurship.
“You do 300-plus cases in your first year at Darden, all incredibly challenging snapshots of challenges companies have faced. You have to think about what you would do,” Waldman said. “It forces you to recognize that you can never be certain that you are going to do the right thing, but you can identify the biggest issues that need to be addressed and tackle those as best you can.
“Without Darden and the support of the Batten family in giving me this scholarship, we could not have done this,” he said.