Travel bug gambit launches surprise winery

Amid an economic downturn, Baron Ziegler hatched a business idea he hoped would lead to a vacation.

The year was 2008 and the Great Recession was in full swing. He heard from friends in the wine business that there was a glut of wine in barrels that wasn’t selling. So, with an eye on a Hawaiian vacation, Ziegler and two partners set out to make $10,000, so they could hop on a plane and spend some time in paradise.

A vendor bought the first 200 cases, paid in advance, and almost by accident, Banshee Wines was born.

“Make 10 grand to do a trip was our business plan,” said Ziegler in a Zoom tasting last week, where six Banshee wines all less than $30 were sampled. “We bought Sonoma Coast pinot noir, which was high quality and made 200 cases. We didn’t have a name or label. We knew the wine was great, but didn’t know what to do with it.”

Both affable and gregarious in his personality, Ziegler casually moved between flippant and aw-shucks as he described Banshee’s inception. A Banshee is part of Celtic lore, a wailing spirit heard only at night by someone about to die. It’s also the name of a business partner’s dog. It wasn’t until later he’d find out the spiritual significance.

But, it stuck for a winery name. The dragon-like creature on the label has a gothic feel to it as well. That was inspired by a wooden figurine on a business partner’s desk. They liked it and made it part of the label.

Ziegler laughed and with a sarcastic snicker said, “We had a big marketing contingent come up with that one.”

While there wasn’t a big advertising agency that oversaw the branding, reality hit in 2009. A wine gambit leading to a successful wine label required an adjusted business model.

“It started with opportunity and passion for high quality wine from the Sonoma Coast,” Ziegler said. “In 2009, we had to put our big-boy pants on and learned how to make wine.”

As the business continued to grow, Banshee produced 50,000 cases of wine, 30,000 of which were pinot noir. Ziegler would partner with Foley Family Wines in 2018. With access to Foley’s network of vineyards and distribution channels, Ziegler didn’t have to “do it all himself anymore.”

Even though he struck a tone as a casual wine lover who stumbled into a business because he wanted to go on vacation, Ziegler goes pure wine nerd when it comes to the Sonoma Coast. He held up vineyard soil and got into the specifics of what makes it so special.

“The Sonoma Coast is so awesome geographically,” said Ziegler, who also showed off a petrified seashell he’d found on a vineyard walk. “There are fossils on the sea floor ground into soils on the coast. The Goldridge series is a sandy loam made of decomposed seashells that have fallen to the sea floor over millions of years, they go to [the] ocean floor and are pushed up and today are soil. If you go inland, they don’t exist there though. It’s only within 5 to 7 miles of the coast, what used to be ocean floor, where it can be found.”

Of its 50,000 cases, Banshee is sourced from 26 different vineyards. Ziegler said it’s “given us the ability to find what we want, where we want, and gives us the chance to make the best wine we can every single year.”

Up next for Banshee might be a syrah project that Ziegler long has wanted to roll out. It’s a varietal that has seen success in pockets throughout the state. But, it doesn’t have the name recognition of cabernet or pinot.

“Syrah might be impossible to sell,” Ziegler said. “But, I don’t care. We’ll make amazing syrah and depend on my charm to sell it.”

Maybe a vacation really can serve as motivation.

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.