Talking with Peter J. Nielsen at La Pitchoune Winery
Monday, October 30, 2017
When a Nova Scotian opens an Old World winery in the New World
NSBI’s Global Advisors have a reputation for being incredibly accommodating. Peter J. Nielsen confirmed that when he took the time to tell us more about his Sonoma winery, La Pitchoune, in the direct aftermath of California’s deadliest wildfire season — a season that brought the fire line to within about 100 yards of La Pitchoune.
“Pretty much all of the big fires up around Sonoma are under containment. They're not completely out but they're 100% contained, which means they're not going to spread anywhere else, which is great news,” says Nielsen. “We were particularly lucky because we know a lot of people who lost houses, wineries, vineyards. The fire line came to about 100 yards of our winery. So our entire 2016 and 2017 vintage, which had already been harvested, was in the barrel. Very, very lucky.”
Patrons of Bishop’s Cellar echo that gratitude, as Nielsen has made La Pitchoune available in Nova Scotia.
“My heart bleeds for Nova Scotia. My best friends are all there, and they said we need to drink your wine. I'm like, all right, got to bring my wine to Nova Scotia,’ says Nielsen. “I know some of the good people at Bishop's, so they were kind enough to help me bring in the wine. It’s been very successful, and we moved a surprising amount of volume.”
It was that same heart that took Nielsen to Sonoma, meeting his wife and la Pitchoune co-owner, Tracy. Nielsen was living in Nova Scotia and working for NSBI when he met Tracy on a business trip. When the long-distance situation ran its course, they decided to make San Francisco home. At the time, Neilsen worked in consulting and business development in the tech industry — something he continues today with Wheelwell (described by Nielsen as the automotive equivalent of Houzz, which happens to involve his other professional involvement, car racing).
It’s this triple threat of business development, tech experience and entrepreneurial drive that makes Nielsen a multi-discipline Global Advisor. It’s also what makes owning a winery possible. With true Maritime pragmatism, Nielsen is forthright about what it takes to get into the business.
“If you don't have a bank account with at least seven figures in it and you're willing to spend all of it and then a little extra, you shouldn't even be thinking about it,” says Nielsen. “Not only do you need to spend the money, you have to sit on the product you create for about three years until you can start selling. So you need enough operational capital for three to four years with no expectation of any sort of revenue.”
“Not only are you spending a lot of money, but in the Napa Valley/Sonoma area, there are 15,000 wineries. How do you make your mark? You have to choose whether you're going to be a volume winery, which takes even more capital, or you go high-end low production. But then you have to be really savvy in terms of how do you present your product, how you position it, how you market it.”
“You have to be passionate, to the point where you're perhaps maybe a little stupid and foolish, and only then, I think, can you be successful.”
And on that note, Nielsen expresses admiration for the growing Nova Scotia wine sector.
“It's a much more challenging climate to make good wine in, but people are knocking it out of the park when it comes to the whites,” says Nielsen. “It all comes down to the winemaker and picking that right varietal to grow and figure out what's going to work best with the soil.”
At its core, winemaking is about the quality of the grape: a solid reminder that it’s an industry at the mercy of Mother Nature. In light of the California wildfires, Nielsen says people can provide support by being tourists.
“Sonoma is wine and food; a perfect day consists of eating and drinking your way through Sonoma,” says Nielsen. “Sonoma is still very much the farmers' region. Here you're more likely to have your wine poured by the winemaker or the owners of the winery, like in our case. You'll have a more interesting, in-depth experience and actually, perhaps, learn a little bit more while you're drinking some wine.”
On that note, what could be better?
Peter J. Nielsen is one of more than 2,000 proud Nova Scotians, friends, alumni and expats involved in ConnectNS.