In the sometimes pretentious world of winemaking, Bob and Lauren Bullock are pragmatists who think good wine should be an anytime pleasure. At Eye of the Needle winery, they buy surplus wine from premium wineries and blend, age and bottle it under their own label in an effort to create a flavorful wine for $10-$15.

"We don’t want to be the Friday or Saturday night wine,” Bob Bullock says. "We want to be the Sunday through Thursday night wine business.”

Rapid growth

In 2009, the Bullocks’ startup sold its first 440 cases in 11 weeks. By 2012, Eye of the Needle had three part-time employees and annual sales of nearly 6,000 cases - or more than 60,000 bottles of wine. In 2012, four wines - Harvest White, The Eye, Sangiovese and Syrah - won awards at the Seattle Wine Awards and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Eye of the Needle is selling six different wines in 159 locations, mostly in the Puget Sound area but also in six other states and Canada. The tasting room in Woodinville is open two days a week.

The brand has grown quickly because it’s a great value, says Lauren Bullock, but they put a lot of effort into presentation - both the label on the bottle and the vibe of their tasting room.

"Your winery is always so much fun to visit,” a customer wrote recently. "The employees are cheerful, knowledgeable and fun, the winery is decorated beautifully for each event and the wines are always so tasty.”

 

Want access to the very latest in agriculture news each day? Sign up for the Western Farm Press Daily e-mail newsletter.

 

Getting help to ‘do it right’

Through it all, the Bullocks have worked with Jennifer Shelton, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Working with Shelton, Bob Bullock says, "is gold. Pure gold.”

"Anytime there’s a question, if I call her and she doesn’t know, she’ll find someone who does,” he says. "If I want to send wine to China, she knows someone at the SBDC who can help. E-commerce? She has answer after answer after answer.”

The Washington SBDC provides no-cost, one-to-one advising to small business owners who want to start, grow or transition their business. The Washington SBDC network includes 28 business advisors and four international trade specialists. It receives support from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Washington State University and other institutions of higher education and economic development.

"We were just starting out,” Lauren Bullock says. "We knew this was something that could really fly and we wanted to do it right.”