We had the good fortune of connecting with Ginny Graham-Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ginny, how did you come up with the idea for your business?
When my husband quit his job after nearly 30 years in the wine business, I knew I had to be part of the solution! I’d been a stay-at-home mum for 15 years, but it was time to look for work! I was sitting on the soccer sidelines watching our youngest son play soccer and I was telling anyone who would listen that I was looking for a job. One of my girlfriends said, “Ginny, you’re British and you’ve been drinking gin for decades, you need to meet my winemaker friends who are distilling gin in Sonoma County! Match made in heaven, they hired me to be brand ambassador for their small batch, winemaker-crafted gin distilled from grapes and grain. After nine months we’d had great success – the gin was very well received and I became fondly known as Ginny with the gin! However, I received a fateful phone call explaining that the winemakers could no longer fund the fledgling brand. I was devastated. We needed the paycheck, but more importantly, I didn’t want to give up on the gin! Many sleepless nights later, I asked our teenage boys to help me put together a power point presentation. They taught me enough to be dangerous and walked away. I made my pitch to my husband and our two dear friends, Amy and Jeff Kloes, (who had also become enamoured of the gin). Said friends were in, but we needed skin in the game. My husband said, “Hell, NO!” Thwarted again! Having coffee later that week with a girlfriend, I recounted the story and shared my disappointment. “Show me the presentation,” she said. I did and she offered to lend me our portion of the investment – just like that!
We rebranded to the eponymous Ginny’s Gin, packaged it in a wine bottle to honor its vineyard provenance and winemaker recipe and on the back label I pay homage in a name cloud to all those friends and family members who helped make it happen – “It takes a village to raise a gin!” Double entendre. My three sisters are included because they named me. When my mum gave birth in her forties to yet another girl, she gave the job of naming me to my three sisters who were all flying the nest. Winning name was Virginia, but they’ve always called me Ginny. It seems fate was literally calling my name!
Prior to the pandemic, we had secured distribution with RNDC and got the thumbs up from such mainstream accounts as BevMo, Whole Foods, Total Wine and More, Raley’s and Pavilions. However, with the mandated shut-down of bars and restaurants and my ability to activate new off-premise accounts taken away, I needed an optimistic pivot. A business idea I had hatched at 3am while awoken by another menopause induced night sweat: estregin – liquid sanity, ladies! Welcome estregin to our gin portfolio. Cheers!
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Hailing from Gloucestershire, England, after graduating in Business from Oxford Brookes University, I spent 10 of my early adult years chasing adventure on four continents and five seas. In 1995 I settled down to a life in the Napa Valley and spent nearly a decade running Vine Cliff Winery alongside my vintner husband, Rob Sweeney. My most important role came next: raising our two energetic boys.
Fate forced me to start a business in my 50s and I couldn’t be more happy about that. Our sons have watched me go from mum to mature entrepreneur overnight, lol! I believe they have been inspired to attend Business School as a result. It hasn’t been easy juggling maternal responsibilities with the rigorous demands of a start-up, but don’t they say children learn what they live? There are so many lessons I’ve learned, but the pandemic had several silver linings. I approach business the way I approach life – with passion and daring, but I was working too much. I needed to find more balance. The pandemic slowed things down and although, for a while, it put the brakes on our growing account list for Ginny’s Gin, it spurred the early release of sister brand, estregin, which is perfectly poised to take advantage of the resulting increase in grocery store alcohol sales. estregin targets a 45+ female tribe which happens to be the healthiest and wealthiest generation in history! As a demographic they are largely overlooked by brands. estregin will help take the edge off the change – while we don’t purport that our smooth, approachable gin will eliminate the effects of menopause, we do promise that estregin cocktails shared with girlfriends will bring a smile, break the ice and alleviate embarrassment while opening up conversations surrounding menopause. If estregin is the goddesses gift-giving gin, Ginny’s Gin is the serious gin lover’s gin. They work in tandem.
Another lesson I have learned while running a fledgling business, is that you always have to think on your feet, remain flexible, take risks and continue to find that silver lining even in the face of adversity. I would attribute much of our success to date to the punishing statistics I’ve racked up – thousands of cocktails poured at fundraisers annually, sometimes 1,600 miles driven on sales calls each month, four onsite tastings/demos per week and numerous distributor rep ride-withs every year! I do it all with passion and pure commitment – as the saying goes, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Amy and Jeff Kloes for believing in the gin and believing in my ability to get the job done. Without their support, both financial and emotional, we wouldn’t have got this far!
Instagram: @ginnysgin @estre_gin
Linkedin: Ginny Graham-Smith
Facebook: Ginny’s Gin Estregin
Ned Bonzi Hailey Phillips