There are people in the Wine Industry that don’t own vineyards or make wine, yet their impact on our business is indisputable. They are the people behind our winery associations, our media and our trade and they’re making a difference. “People” was created to acknowledge their role and celebrate their successes.
Writer: Jim Brumm
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Vineyard and Winery Management Magazine publisher Robert Merletti brings experience, knowledge, and integrity to the industry he loves.
Merletti grew up in the wine producing Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. His stepfather, Bill Moffett, was a grape grower who started the publication (under a different name) in 1974 to help highlight the region and bring information and news about grape growing and the wine industry to others in the business.
After high school Merletti attended the Rochester Institute of Technology, earning a degree in business management. He wanted to join the family publishing business but he was initially discouraged by his parents. “They told me to get a real job,” he said, laughing.
For a while he entertained the idea of going to law school, but ended up working as a broker on Wall Street, and later in the banking industry. Eventually his parents did offer him a job with the magazine and in 1995 he packed up his belongings and moved to Sonoma County, California to begin “two years of isolation,” working alone in a small office selling ads and growing the business. As time went by he was able to hire an assistant and move into larger offices. He became the magazine’s sales manager and eventually purchased the business from his folks.
Under his leadership the business thrived and expanded. Today Vineyard and Winery Management occupies 4300 square feet of office space in Santa Rosa, CA and has a staff of 15. It has become the leading wine trade magazine in North America, with an estimated readership of 25,000, many of whom are CEOs, wine business owners, and presidents. It is, as their Web site puts it, “a publication designed specifically for today’s serious wine business professional.” The magazine is available digitally as well, and is optimized for PCs, smart phones, and tablets. Each issue offers information on a myriad wine business issues and news from some of the best writers in the industry.
“We’re a niche publication,” said Merletti. “We’re not just providing paper; we’re providing content that people can rely on. With thirty years in the business we can inform them about what’s important with articles written by writers who are screened and don’t have an agenda.”
Merletti takes pride in his publication’s editorial integrity. “What sets us apart is the fact that we’re the only independent wine magazine in North America. We’re a second-generation family-owned business and we’re committed to keeping the bar high. Everything we do has our name attached to it.”
Over the years Merletti has been in a position to have his finger on the pulse of the wine industry in all its manifestations. This has given him a unique perspective of the industry as a whole, and allowed him to understand and better serve both winery owners and growers.
With Merletti at the helm, Vineyard and Winery Management has expanded to become more than just a publisher. The company is now the largest owner of wine competitions in the country, including the Grand Harvest Awards, West Coast Wine Competition, International Eastern Wine Competition, International Women’s Wine Competition, NextGen Wine Competition, and the U.S. National Wine Competition. Again, this is an arena in which he feels strongly that integrity is the watchword.
“When people receive a medal at one of our competitions they know it’s the real deal,” he said. “There’s no corporate façade to hide behind.”
Vineyard and Winery Management has also become the owner of several of the largest wine industry trade shows in the nation including Wineries Unlimited, The Midwest Grape and Wine conference, and Winery DIY. In addition the company is the publisher of Winedex©, the most comprehensive wine industry directory and buyer’s guide available anywhere.
Merletti is soft-spoken yet passionate when he speaks about the evolution of the wine industry he has witnessed through the years. His insights shed light on the changes the industry is experiencing.
“The industry is realizing that the ‘field of dreams’ mentality has changed,” he said. “The old idea of thinking that if you are an artisan winemaker people will hear about you and automatically come buy your wine is over. Today it’s about understanding your demographic, and not trying to be everything to everyone.”
Merletti pointed out that most wineries are running on a steep learning curve, that the world of technology is racing ahead of the old business model. Trying to stay current and relevant in a world where young people communicate instantly through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can be difficult but it’s very necessary.
Vineyard and Winery Management is experiencing growing pains—in a good way. They are once again poised to outgrow their offices. The company’s continued success underscores Merletti’s determinism and dedication to the industry he loves. As readership of the magazine grows along with attendance and participation at their trade shows, conferences, and wine competitions, Merletti will continue to be a positive influence on the wine industry for years to come.
“The best part of my job,” said Merletti, “is being able to work with our great team. Their energy is beyond positive. When I have people tell me that they’re better off for reading our magazine or attending our conferences, I know we’re making an impact and providing a valuable service to the wine industry.”