The Harvard Post
An Interview with Leif Holtzman
Two years ago, Wade Holtzman and his son Leif, who both tinkered with brewing beer, decided to make a batch of apple ice wine on a whim.
A trip Wade and wife Margot took to Canada introduced them to the concept of ice wine, which usually uses grapes that have frozen on the vine to produce an intense flavor. Deciding to use a plentiful local crop instead, the Holtzman family started out with one batch of apple ice wine, or Apfel Eis, launched it at a wine show and have not looked back.
Introducing this unique wine to the public has been an exciting process for the Holtzman family, who produces the wine from their basement facility with apple cider from Carlson Orchards.
According to Leif, Wade acts as the “mad scientist,” mom Margot specializes in distribution and sales, and Leif works on marketing and business strategy. Leif spoke with the Post about the family business, Still River Winery, before his recent marriage to Alyssa Meyers. He will head to Stanford’s Business School for his MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship this fall, taking him away from the business, but sharpening his skills to focus full-time on the winery’s projected growth when he returns.
Leif will continue to work on winery business from California.
Still River Winery recently added a Double Gold Medal from the International Eastern Wine Competition to their roster of 44 other accolades.
For information visit stillriverwinery.com.
Q When did you all start this?
A The idea came in summer 2008. My parents had gone up to Quebec for a vacation and heard of apple ice wine. So my dad came back and told me about it because we had been brewing beer.
It was his idea to experiment with making apple ice wine, given the local orchards and the apples we have around. We tried it on a whim and it turned out to be pretty good.
Q Did that first batch take a long time?
A The length of time hasn’t really changed — it took about four months. We had friends and family who tried it and they thought it was pretty good. So that is when the light bulb went off that this could be more than a hobby. This could be a small business.
Our soft launch selling this was through the Newport Wine Festival in fall 2008. It was a way to test the waters. Now that we were in front of more sophisticated wine drinkers, we wanted to get their take on it. We got a really positive reception.
Q What did you think after that?
A We were not expecting it at all, and we were getting this positive feedback. That was really exciting. We met a distributor in Rhode Island and that was the first time we started selling. They got us into 10 stores down there.
In Massachusetts, if you are a farmer winery producing less than 5,000 gallons annually, you can self-distribute within your state, so we started going after local liquor stores and restaurants.
Q Did you have to have labels ready to go?
A Yes. We had everything lined up prior to that show — the bottles were designed, the labels were approved.
Q Did you design the label?
A I did. I had done some computer graphics in the past. I do the packaging and the marketing.
Q What do you like about this whole process?
A I come at this from a different angle from my dad. My mom is a teacher and my dad restores antique furniture, so he is very good with his hands. He is a craftsman. He enjoys the process of making wine and everything that goes into it. It is an art with that kind of wine; it is not mass produced.
But my background is in business, so I enjoy the process of actually increasing our productivity, making things more efficient without sacrificing quality. What I like about this is you are creating a physical product that you can hold and see the fruits of your labor right there.
Q How long did rehauling your basement take?
A Since 2008 we have been buying freezers and tanks. We haven’t expanded the basement as much as taken stuff out to add everything in.
Q What do you like about your product?
A For starters, ice wine is pretty unique, but apple ice wine is a fraction of ice wine. Most people who have heard of ice wine have not heard of apple ice wine. So it tastes good and is unique and memorable. It is not what you would expect from a wine.
The fact that we make it all from locally grown apples and from a fruit that Harvard and Massachusetts is known for is a big selling point.
Q Is there one thing you really enjoy doing?
A My favorite part is really drinking it, and thinking, “I made this.”