Emily and Stephan Schindler have invested everything they own in Winemonger, a company that imports, distributes and retails Austrian wines. "When we started, all we knew was that we both loved wine," Schindler says. Everything else, she says, they learned the hard way.
They both met as students at the American Film Institute, but they bonded over the bottles of wine they shared each evening at dinner. Emily, the daughter of a wine-loving Stanford University professor, has been swirling, sniffing and sipping wine as long as she can remember. And Stephan, whose family owns a tiny vineyard in Vienna, loves the wines of his homeland.
When Stephan wanted to introduce his favorite Austrian wines to Emily, however, they were nowhere to be found in Los Angeles. One afternoon in the couple's Hollywood backyard they had a moment of clarity: Emily would stop rewriting other people's mediocre movie scripts and Stephan would extract himself from a job producing "Star Mania," the Austrian version of "American Idol." Instead, they would import Austrian wine and sell it on the Internet.
Purple teeth, red tape!
It took a year to organize the paperwork, which entailed much more than an import license. There were the wholesale license, off-site retail license, label approvals and customs compliance to obtain, and they had to build an Internet site, not to mention learn the logistics of shipping and exporting wine from Austria. Buying trips to Austria were rare treats.
Winemonger's first shipment landed at the port of Oakland in October 2004. Thanks in part to delays at customs and more paperwork snarls, the first Internet sale -- four bottles to a California customer -- wasn't made until June 20, 2005.
"We kept getting little things wrong," Emily says. "And getting wines from California to other states turns out to be as complicated as importing them in the first place."
As they worked through the layers of state and federal bureaucracy, Emily says, "people kept saying, 'You can't do that.' Well, turns out you can." But since they were combining so many different businesses into one entity run by just two people, no one person had the answers they needed, she says.
It's been worth it. "Our vintners have become good friends & the adventure of finding the wines, knowing we've picked great ones, I love that part."