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How Cristie Kerr hits long drives in the wine business
Oct 21, 2019
The following is a part of Numbers Games, an original Chase Ink series in which pro athlete entrepreneurs offer insights on leadership, accounting and business ownership.
Pro golfer Cristie Kerr's small business venture was born out of passion, not profits. In the late 1990s, a young Kerr traveled to Napa Valley for an invitation-only women's tournament, where she developed a love for wine and friends within the wine community. "Little did I know that the contacts I made back then would give me the opportunity to make my own wine decades later," Kerr says.
But first, there was golf to play—lots of it. Kerr has racked up 20 wins on the LPGA Tour, including multiple major championships, and has repeatedly nabbed the top spot on the Women's World Golf Rankings. Despite the demands of her athletic schedule, she yearned to make wine. That dream finally became a reality in 2009, with help from acclaimed winemakers and a CPA with deep knowledge of the wine business.
During a talk sponsored by Chase Ink at 2019 AICPA Engage, one of the largest events devoted to accounting and finance in North America, Kerr shared insights from her entrepreneurial journey.
How has your professional golf career helped you as a business owner?
I pay a lot of attention to detail and I'm very meticulous, which definitely helps in the wine business. Also, being in pro sports for a long time, I know how to ride the ups and downs of a career. The wine business is no different! It seems like a very glamorous profession and lifestyle but it's very hard work and very capital intensive.
Speaking of capital, how did you get started making wine?
I always knew I wanted to make wine, but for years I didn't think it was going to happen. Then in 2008, I met with Suzanne Pride Bryan from Pride Mountain Vineyards and we really hit it off. We agreed that for the first 10 years of our partnership, we would donate all the profits of our wine, Curvature, towards breast cancer research. In 2012, I was able to launch my second brand, Kerr Cellars, which produces small-batch, handcrafted wines from some of the top California vineyards.
Now that you've been the wine business for over a decade, is there anything you wish you'd known when you started?
I didn't realize how much I had to learn. We've been lucky and successful, but there were many mistakes along the way. For example, we should have done a long-term business plan way earlier than we did, in order to fully understand our cost of goods. That's my advice for any new business owner—make sure you do all the research into that business. It will set you up for success a lot faster.
Has being an entrepreneur changed how you view success?
It has. I always had success as a golfer. Golfing is all about the result, and everyone can see what you do on a weekly basis. Growing a wine business has taken blood, sweat and tears; it's not a skill set I was born with. Now, seeing our wine scores, it really validates what we're doing. It's recreated success for me all over again.
"Our CPA discovered that there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in deductions that we hadn't taken over the years."
What role has your CPA played in your success?
Some of the best advice I've gotten was to find a CPA who specialized in the wine business. There are so many ins and outs, and you need to set everything up the correct way to get all the deductions. When we found our CPA, we discovered that there were hundreds of thousands of dollars that we hadn't taken in deductions over the years. That's important stuff!
What are the critical characteristics you look for in hiring a CPA?
When you have a good accountant, you feel a sense of comfort. They should have intricate knowledge of your field, an adequate staff to support your business, and they should be able to tell you what you can do better in order to maximize profits.
What support do you get from other women, both in athletics and wine?
I see this as the dawn of the age of the woman right now; women are becoming more powerful in every industry. It's critical for women to network with each other, because we have strength in numbers when we stand together. For us, both our winemakers are women, and women run our events and head our marketing and communications. Women have great perspectives on business. We're very hard working and very passionate about what we do, the same way we are in our own homes.
And now for a really important question. What's your favorite type of wine?
I like them all! But if I have to pick one, I'll go with pinot noir.