We had the good fortune of connecting with Heather Daenitz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Heather, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Craft & Cluster was born out of both a desire to be creative and to help wine brands with their marketing.
I was working for a vineyard management company from 2017-early 2019 and they asked me to start a social media account to help educate the community on what exactly a vineyard management company even does. I decided, if I was going to do social media, I was going to do it right. So I picked up my camera, which I hadn’t touched in about ten years, and started taking it with me on my daily rounds in the vineyards.
I would capture photos of what our crews were up to and then create captions that were full of valuable information. After a while, I started getting requests from some of the wineries we worked with to help them with their social media and requests from my winemaker friends to photograph them for reputable wine publications.
It was about late 2018 when I started to realize that I was having more fun doing the social media and the photography than I was doing vineyard work and thought that if I was getting so many requests for social media and photography help, then this could potentially be a viable business opportunity.
I have over ten years of experience working in various parts of the wine industry (in tasting rooms, cellars, vineyards, etc), so I not only know how to be safe when I’m out photographing, but I also know the real stories behind how wine gets from grape to glass. I wanted to help small wine brands tell those stories!
I just celebrated my three year anniversary of this business–it’s going really well!
What should our readers know about your business?
I have carved out a very specific niche for myself as a photographer and marketer serving small wine brands; though there are a few other photographers and marketers who serve wine brands, very rarely do they do both, and even more rarely do they have previous, long-term experience even *working* in the wine industry.
I spent ten years working in the wine industry before I started this business, so I am able to offer both empathy and authority to my clients in a way that not many other photographers or marketers can.
I also choose to work with small wine brands that focus on social equity and inclusion and environmental sustainability. My clients often have women, BIPOC, and/or LGBTQ+ folks making their wine or running the brand and every one of them values responsible farming and production practices.
When I first started this business, I said ‘yes’ to just about everyone, which ended up working against me on the few occasions a client and I didn’t “vibe.” I’ve since worked diligently to ensure I’m more selective on who I work with and have built a good reputation for recommending other photographers or marketers who might be a better fit for the brands I’m unable to take on for whatever reason.
I would say the hardest thing about running this business is finding a balance between work and life. When you love what you do so much, the lines between professional work and private life get blurred really easily. I’ve had to learn to set boundaries and often struggle to respect those boundaries I’ve set for myself because all I want to do is help these brands! I’m working on it every day and I’ll probably be working on it for the rest of my life but I’m okay with that.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love this question! The Santa Ynez Valley is a rich and diverse place that has something for everyone. Bear with me, this list is long and in-depth (you did say a week, right?!)
-Hotel Ynez in Santa Ynez
-The Alamo in Los Alamos
-The Skyview in Los Alamos
-The Landsby in Solvang
Restaurants not to miss:
-Bob’s Well Bread in Ballard or Los Alamos
-Lefty’s Coffee in Los Olivos
-Plenty on Bell in Los Alamos
-Lucky Hen Larder in Santa Ynez
-Peasant’s Feast in Solvang
-Bell’s in Los Alamos
-Industrial Eats in Buellton
-Bell’s in Los Alamos
-Nella in Los Olivos
-SYKitchen in Santa Ynez
-Pico in Los Alamos
-Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos
-Nella in Los Olivos
-Vaquero Bar in Solvang
-SY Kitchen in Santa Ynez
-Babi’s Beer Emporium in Los Alamos
-Firestone Walker Brewing Co in Buellton
-Community Craft in Los Olivos
Wine Tasting & Wine Bars:
-Los Olivos (Story of Soil, Dreamcoat, Solminer, Stolpman So Fresh, Carhartt, and Dragonette)
-Santa Ynez & Solvang (Brave & Maiden Estate, Two Wolves Wine, Grassini, and Alma Rosa)
-Sta Rita Hills (Peake Ranch Wines, The Hilt, and Spear Vineyards)
-Los Alamos (Casa Dumetz, A Tribute to Grace, Bodega Los Alamos, and Pico)
-Lompoc (Camins 2 Dreams, Ampelos Cellars, and Flying Goat Cellars)
-Foxen Canyon Trail/Santa Maria Valley (Foxen Vineyard & Winery, Riverbench, Zaca Mesa, Presqu’ile , and Cambria)
Hikes & Recreation:
-Gaviota Wind Caves
-Nojoqui Falls Park
-Lake Cachuma (Hiking, Camping, Disc Golfing)
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?
The Women in Wine of the Central Coast have been integral in my success. When I had the opportunity to leave my full-time job to start Craft & Cluster, I leaned very heavily on the connections I had made here on the Central Coast. In Santa Barbara Wine Country, we have more women winemakers per capita than any other wine region (nearly double the national average of 10%), and this community is incredibly supportive.
Additionally, fellow wine photographers George Rose and Adam Decker were patient and forthcoming mentors in my early days of this business–offering not only practical tips on how to improve my photography but also on how to even run a photography business.
And everything I needed to learn about marketing, I learned from Donald Miller’s books: Building a StoryBrand and Marketing Made Simple. I’m a big fan!
Other: Podcast: www.craftandcluster.com/podcast
All images are owned and copyrighted to me, Heather Daenitz of Craft & Cluster, LLC