Nathan Carlson is both general manager and winemaker at Center of Effort Wines, which he joined in June 2010. Previously, he managed the winemaking process for several brands in several facilities. He was also responsible for sourcing grapes from Lake County to Santa Barbara.
At Center of Effort Wines, Nathan Carlson became involved with “the beginning of a new winery,” and “owners who were committed to quality and connecting with their customers.” The company also gave him a chance to “develop a deep understanding of one single estate location.” He worked with vines that were planted in 1997, and which followed the standards of the time. Since then, the company had paid extra attention to “soil, aspect and growth patterns.”
In 2012, Center of Effort Wines and Nathan Carlson replanted 8 acres of their vineyard to “very high-density, high quality planting of additional Pinot Noir clonal selections,” which increased the “diversity of fruit” available to the company’s winemaking program.
Since 2016, Nathan Carlson and Center of Effort Wines have begun a “multi-million-dollar wholesale renovation of the winery and grounds.” They redesigned the grounds to host guests and visitors to the winery.
Nathan Carlson takes pride in Center of Effort Wines becoming an “authentic ambassador” for the Edna Valley. From being the only COE employee, he has now become one of its leaders taking it to the next level.
Figure out what you are in this for. You need to have a personal ‘WHY’ that is not tied to other people’s expectations. Nathan Carlson, Center of Effort Wines
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Nathan Carlson: Our Estate-grown winery business is at the heart of Center of Effort, and we consistently produce some of the top wines in our region year after year, utilizing labor-intensive and detailed handmade winemaking techniques. We have total control over all aspects of the winegrowing and wine making.
But behind the scenes, my team also serves several other much larger companies in making their wines on a more commercial scale. By applying the same concepts of quality to our client work, we have supported them in producing very successful wines for larger markets — at the moment, we help our partners to make the best-selling domestic rosé wine at Whole Foods Markets and are the primary wine production facility for the fastest growing Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon in its category. Having a diverse business is a strength for us in the current world that has been punishing to the wine and hospitality industries over the last year.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Nathan Carlson: Figure out what you are in this for. You need to have a personal ‘WHY’ that is not tied to other people’s expectations. We work long hours, whether in wine production, sales, farming, or other aspects of the industry — and often have a busy season like the wine harvest or the end of year sales cycle, which can take you away from your family and other commitments. Make sure to find a way to balance that, to have something to look forward together at the end of harvest, whether travel, a shared project, or other reconnection time. Wine has beautiful traditions and adds so much to friendship and sharing at the table. But alcohol can also be destructive — it is really important to stay in control and model responsible behavior and know when to walk away from it.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Nathan Carlson: It would be impossible to call out just one person. My heart overflows with gratitude when I think of the mentors whom I have had in my life and whom I have learned so much from, and who took chances on me.
One story that comes to mind was when I was working alongside the owner of a small winery — we were doing some miserable work shoveling out a drainage trench that had backed up with foul-smelling fermenting wine waste.
“There is the story of a couple peasants in medieval France who were digging in the muck, working on what would become Notre Dame more than a hundred years later” the winery owner said, leaning on his shovel with a wry smile. “A nobleman rode up and asked them what they were doing. The first replied ‘what does it look like we are doing? We are digging a ditch’ but the second peasant smiled and said ‘Good Sir, I am building a Cathedral!’”
It is all about perspective — controlling your inner narrative and knowing that no matter how minor or unpleasant a task, that it supports and relates to the end result.
A good company is functional. A great company tries to improve on itself.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Nathan Carlson: A good company is functional. It gets the tasks done more or less on time, at more or less the quality level that is needed. It compares itself to its peers and is satisfied measuring success against them.
A great company tries to improve on itself. It asks what can be done better. It incorporates input and feedback from the team. It is willing to admit when it doesn’t succeed and adapts. It measures progress against itself, not others.
Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Nathan Carlson: Look outside of your own discipline and see where ideas can be brought in from outside your own industry.
Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Nathan Carlson: The wine industry can have some violent boom and bust cycles, and we are impacted by weather events, fire, earthquakes, tariffs, drought, disease and pests. In years that we have excess fermentation capacity, we have forged partnerships with growers who have surplus grapes and helped them to find markets for the resulting wines. When the demand swings upward again, we have profited our winery and grower partners by connecting supply with demand. This helps us to operate efficiently and spread our costs and makes us a trusted and valued partner.
Running a successful company means having a team working together to move the company forward. Nathan Carlson
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Nathan Carlson: I feel running a successful company requires a team of talented people working seamlessly behind the scenes together. The name Center of Effort is a sailing term that references the point on the sailboat where everything is in balance to move the vessel forward. Running a successful company means having a team working together to move the company forward. From our production team creating our estate wines, to our hospitality staff working hard to deliver excellent customer service, at Center of Effort we truly believe in the mission of creating sustainable wines and excellent social experiences.
Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Nathan Carlson: Creating a Wow! customer experience is the goal every business leader should have with each interaction. Being successful starts at the top with training and practice. In my experience hiring qualified staff who care about the guests, take pride in their work and providing those employees with training to be able to represent the company well is the first step. Treating each guest with the same level of importance as the next and always being one step ahead of their needs helps create a relationship and trust. Keep detailed notes to be able to continue that relationship beyond their visit by sending them a personal thank you note or offer that would be of interest to them. And as easy as it sounds, always go the extra mile.
I think one mistake that happens when starting a new business is assuming that the knowledge you have from other ventures will always apply to the current one.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Nathan Carlson: Social media is a platform that is here to stay and constantly evolving. My approach to social media is to choose the three top platforms that work with your brand and take your time to do them well. One of the most concerning part of social media is the speed at which information is shared and that other people can post or comment on your information. Monitoring the conversation at all times, responding to comments and keeping information accurate is a great way to keep your customer’s trust.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Nathan Carlson: I think one mistake that happens when starting a new business is assuming that the knowledge you have from other ventures will always apply to the current one. Taking a step back, researching the new industry, speaking to key influencers and putting together a solid business plan will go far in avoiding unnecessary errors.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Nathan Carlson: Further follow us online:
You can find more information about Center of Effort on our website www.COEwine.com or follow us on our social channels.
We look forward to connecting with you online and in person when able.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!