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Alum Plants Seeds for Great Wine

Crowdfunding Company Helps Winemakers, Consumers Explore New Tastes

By Liam Farrell

Wine

One Sunday, about three years after graduation, Dave Trebilcock ’89, MBA ’96 had a revelation brought to him in a glass. An afternoon of football, steak and wine—specifically, a 1983 Trefethen Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Library Reserve—showed Trebilcock that his future was going to be more specialized than his job as a beverage manager at a Washington, D.C., hotel.

“It just stopped me in my tracks,” he says. “It’s just one of those moments—this is what I need to do.”

That passion and experience in the hospitality and wine industry were the foundation for Trebilcock’s new venture, GrapeSeed. The company uses a crowdfunding model in which subscribers (“partners,” in Trebilcock’s nomenclature) pay $100 a month to help fund and buy exclusive productions of wine. The six-employee company, launched in March, is based in California’s Sonoma County wine region.

The goal is to take advantage of 21st-century consumer behavior and the relaxation of shipping laws to break down legacy barriers between wine lovers and boutique creations. Alcohol distribution is often a byzantine process of rules and regulations that can inhibit wide availability of new or specialty products. Trebilcock once drove Fess Parker, known to millions as TV’s Daniel Boone and Disney’s Davy Crockett, around the D.C. area so the actor could personally hawk his own wine, a stark introduction into how even that kind of notoriety wouldn’t always break down doors.

“It’s a really, really tough business,” Trebilcock says. “There’s a lot of noise between passionate wine enthusiasts and people who are making great, distinct, world-class wine.”

As a UMD student, Trebilcock worked as a room service waiter and banquet bartender at the Grand Hyatt hotel in D.C. After a short-lived attempt at accounting after finishing his finance degree, he got back into the hospitality business as a beverage manager at the Sheraton City Centre, helping to launch a steak house with a single malt whisky bar.

NCAS PinotWine, however, was always his greatest love. Trebilcock went on to work for Treasury Wine Estates, Beam Wine Estates and Terlato Wines International before founding GrapeSeed.

He hopes GrapeSeed can be a conduit for winemakers to be more experimental. The company has started with five partners whom Trebilcock knows through professional and personal connections.

“Living in wine country, it is not hard to bump into people in the business at every turn,” he says.

With short, limited runs that don’t directly compete with big labels, Trebilcock says the business can be an opportunity for flights of fancy. New winemakers are already contacting GrapeSeed, which was closing in on 200 subscribers near the end of May.

“Great brands have rules,” he says. “BMW would probably get sideways looks if they came out with a pickup truck.”

Jean Hoefliger, a winemaker with Alpha Omega Winery in California, says GrapeSeed’s biggest draw is its room to explore.

“The winemaking world can sometimes be traditional—a little conservative—and GrapeSeed allows winemakers to branch out creatively,” he says. “(GrapeSeed) provides the audience I need to try innovative blends and concepts.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.