Alumnus Marcus Seiden wants to do for wine aperitif what Starbucks did for espresso—make it a shared national experience for those who savor fine wine.
Enter JARDESCA, a bright, new Sonoma white wine aperitif that Seiden MBA 10 and his partners describe as “California lifestyle” in a bottle. Their handcrafted blend of wines, botanicals and eau-de-vie is catching on fast, bringing to the U.S. a California spin on the European aperitif tradition. Seiden is putting all his MBA skills to work as he ramps up his latest entrepreneurial venture.
The accolades and accounts are pouring in. JARDESCA topped the list of Foodable’s best new spirits of 2014, Zagat praised it among “4 New Spirits to Enjoy Now,” and the San Francisco Examiner, Napa Valley Register and Ziggy the Wine Gal followed with glowing reviews. Seiden says JARDESCA now has more than 50 accounts in top restaurants, wine shops, stores and most recently added distribution at Nugget Market in Davis and Woodland thanks to a connection through the Graduate School of Management. And it’s now available online.
The name and bottle design embody the JARDESCA “garden to glass” experience that Seiden hopes will continue to spread. Holding court near the top of the bottle are wine grapes framing the face of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, who espoused the pleasure of food and pursuit of happiness. JARDESCA the brand fuses jardin, meaning garden, and fresca, or fresh—the source of the sweet and dry grape brandy’s custom blend of botanicals.
“This is the marrying of the vineyard and garden of California,” said Seiden, adding that JARDESCA can be enjoyed straight or mixed as a simple cocktail. “That’s the idea and why we created it.”
“Love what you eat”
Seiden is no stranger to start-up success in the food and beverage business. The last company he was a major part of went from near scratch to a multimillion dollar buyout in just a few years.
While a student in the Bay Area MBA program in 2009, Seiden took lecturer Marc Lowe’s New and Small Business Venture course, which proved to be the launch pad for his passion. While in the class, Seiden drew on the coursework and his background in private equity finance to write a completely new business plan for his long-time friend, Phil Anson, whose company, Phil’s Fresh Foods in Colorado, was floundering and needed a five-year strategic plan to partner with investors and grow. Seiden had been an early stage advisor to his friend’s company since 2002.
Finishing the business plan, Seiden continued as a senior manager directing winegrape and bulk-wine sourcing at Diageo in Napa. He shuttled back and forth between work, business school and Colorado to woo seed investors for Phil’s, which had focused on frozen burritos.
“We were good at frozen food manufacturing,” Seiden said. “But we needed to expand in other categories beyond burritos.” Phil’s evolved into EVOL Foods (LOVE spelled backwards) with an expanding product line of more than 20 SKUs, including organic, gluten-free frozen prepared bowls, quesadillas, flat-bread pizzas, mac and cheese, skillet meals and vegetable teriyaki. They had distribution through a wide range of national food chains, including Whole Foods and Target.
As they scaled up EVOL and its “Love what you eat” brand appeal, sales quickly grew to nearly $25 million in 2013. That success began to raise the eyebrows of potential suitors. Seiden had since become general manager at River Road Vineyards and Winery, a 40,000-case winery in the Russian River Valley, however he remained on the EVOL board and as a senior advisor.
While at River Road, Seiden was recognized by the North Bay Business Journal as one of the “40-under-40” most influential executives in that region in April 2013.
“During the first 90 days after arriving at River Road, I challenged my team to focus on innovation,” Seiden said at the time. “We redesigned our labels and launched a new wine—Un-Oaked Chardonnay. It was a big risk and a huge win. We sold out 30 days after bottling. While financially successful, the real benefit was the change of culture to embrace outside-the-box thinking and flexibility.”
Not long after, in December 2013, Colorado food conglomerate Boulder Brands, Inc., showed the love by acquiring EVOL Foods for $48 million cash, keeping Seiden’s friend and business partner Phil Anson as a senior vice president and EVOL operating on its own with its team of 80 intact.
Raising a glass of heaven
Seiden invested some of his proceeds into launching JARDESCA, using the same outside-the-box thinking and agility to quickly bring the wine aperitif to market in January and gain traction. One reviewer has called it, “…divine as an aperitif to get the juices flowing.”
He says the experience and advice from Marc Lowe and his MBA coursework continue to help him every day as he races to plant more seeds for JARDESCA’s future.
“I appreciated all the insight he gave me,” Seiden said of Lowe. “You can talk about the theory all day, but to talk to someone who can get you from Point A to Point B while bootstrapping is invaluable.”
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