PDA Q&A: Gary Burkart

Executive Vice President, Luna Entertainment, Novi; President, Celani Family Vineyards, Napa Valley, Calif.

DB: Where are you?

GB: In Chicago. We’re about to meet with our wine distributor, Wirtz Beverage Illinois — it’s owned by Rocky Wirtz, the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks.

DB: What kind of meeting is it?

GB: We’ll review the execution of our brand management, and our plan of action. From there, we’ll visit several restaurateurs and retailers. We’ll talk to them about the five different wines we produce, and about our winemaker, Mark Herold. We’ll, of course, sample the wines. We entered the market last spring, and Chicago is one of those great cities that really appreciates fine winemaking.

DB: How many wine events do you do?

GB: Between 15 and 20 tours (a year). We’re in 11 states (including Michigan) and Canada, and we continue to grow. Our industry is all about relationships. You find strong partners and you support them. So after we finish introducing our wines today, we’ll host a sold-out wine dinner at the Mid-American Club.

DB: As a longtime banking executive, what led to your career change?

GB: I met Tom Celani, owner of Celani Family Vineyards, at various charity events (in metro Detroit). We both love wine, and we always talked about how great it would be to own a vineyard in Napa Valley. Well, Tom bought a 20-acre estate in Napa (in 2004), and that’s when I left the banking industry to join him.

DB: What advice do you have for people contemplating a career change?

GB: Do your homework. I enrolled in a series of extension classes at U-C Davis (University of California Davis), where I learned all about winemaking and the global reach of the industry. It’s one of those hobbies that I was fortunate enough to turn into a great second career. I also would advise people to talk to experts in the given industry they’re researching. You can also shadow people, which is an excellent way to see if a particular industry is right for you.

DB: What lessons from the banking world do you rely on?

GB: You can have the greatest product in the world, but you’ve got to support it with advertising and marketing. For us, the wine tours have been very successful. Like I said, it all gets back to establishing strong partnerships.