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Marin-born Springboard Wine expands to spirits

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Springboard Wine Co., the pioneering women-owned wine distribution company born in Marin, is now picking up local liquor products for distribution. Changing their name to Springboard Wine and Spirits Co., the company now represents 10 different craft and local producers.

Small-batch liquor producers will tell you that the two hardest things of starting out in the industry are getting your labeling approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and getting distribution. Because of the three-tier system in California — importers or producers, distributors and retailers — the actual makers of the product cannot sell directly to the consumer or the retailer, except in extremely limited quantities. This creates an environment where delivery of your product is based on factors outside of your control. For instance: delivery fees, delivery schedules, minimum orders and competitive products in the same category as yours.

Originally based in both San Rafael and Novato, Springboard now operates out of Petaluma. Founded in 2006, the company is owned by sisters Sybil Ajay Sanford and Elizabeth Corsini, chief executive officer and president, respectively.

“People don’t understand the challenge of distribution,” Corsini says. “You can have an amazing product and it just could not matter. That is the reason Sybil started Springboard. That was the whole idea. You can get lost in a larger book, but we could pull those amazing things out and give them the attention they needed.”

The sisters had moved the business to Petaluma and began thinking about expanding.

“Part of it was a pandemic evolution,” Corsini says. “With the fires and the pandemic, we realized that we needed more depth. Our customer base has shrunk in half. We needed more products to sell to these same customers.”

Spirits seemed like a natural progression. And a $1,065 fee for the appropriate license wasn’t much of an extra expense. But there was a new learning curve for spirits; so Springboard reached back to their wine experience, and what helped put them on the map originally.

“(The late Bolinas winemaker Sean) Thackrey was the defining brand for us, the brand that made Springboard something in the minds of buyers,” Ajay says. “It was a tipping point for the company. It changed everything.”

Corsini concedes that before that big-name signing no one had any reason to talk to the sisters.

“Hi there. We’re new. We’ve never done this before. We have these brands you’ve never heard of. Would you like to place an order?” she says and laughs. “With Sean, all of a sudden, we had entré. They now had a reason to talk to us. That really changed things for us.”

Some of the products signed to Springboard Wine and Spirits Co. (Photo by Jeff Burkhart)

After re-licensing in 2022, the two set out to sign new brands with an eye for a couple of established brands to build around. Two of the first signees have been Young and Yonder Spirits in Healdsburg — now owned by Tim Welch, former distiller for Moylan’s Distilling Co. and the maker of their 2022 U.S. Open Whiskey’s Grand National Whiskey champion — and Batiste Rhum, the eco-positive rhum pioneered by Marin native Tristan Mermin.

“The first thing that Sybil said to me was ‘We are not a pod factory. We are looking for relationships that we can develop based on the quality of the goods that we have to offer, and a wanting to do good together,’” Mermin says.

Mermin’s own product, a rhum made from free-run cane juice in the Caribbean and then finished in the Bay Area at sea level, needs some explaining.

“As wine sellers, they can understand that the agriculture is super important,” Mermin says. “Because if you do bad agriculture, your product is going to suck. Just because you distill it doesn’t mean it’s going to taste better.”

“And just because you are small doesn’t mean you’re awesome,” Corsini adds. “Same with ‘local.’ That’s great. But it doesn’t mean ‘good.’ As a company, we are curating for awesome and then helping those amazing producers really find a voice and a way to be successful in the market.”

In addition to Batiste and Young and Yonder Spirits, Springboard has signed up Accompani;  Besos de Angelica; Falcon Spirits, the makers of Max Rudsten’s Fernet Francisco; Tequila Gran Dovejo; Keeper’s Quest; Prolijo Mezcal; Proof Cocktail Co.; and Straightaway.

Corsini is mindful that the liquor business is fickle, and that some new companies are only designed for a quick “turn and burn.” She says Springboard does its best to avoid these. But she’s also pragmatic.

“It is always better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,” she says. “If we help build an amazing brand and then they leave us, we still have that residual gain. All the friends you’ve made, you are part of that success. It sucks, but you cannot really avoid it. You have to recognize it. We would certainly rather be a springboard than a stepping stone. “

Corsini goes on to say that there has to be a “cultural fit” for them and that they themselves have to be excited to work with the people behind the products.

“They themselves embody a certain kind of ease,” Mermin says. “Like we want to sell cool stuff and we don’t want to be hassled about it. They are not out here with the attitude that I have got to get mine before someone else does.”

“We are just trying to champion these brands that deserve the attention,” Corsini adds.

And it would appear that, at least on a Northern California level, that resonates with many Sonoma and Marin producers.

For more information, go to springboardwine.com.

Jeff Burkhart is the author of “Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender, Vol. I and II,” the host of the Barfly Podcast on iTunes (as seen in the NY Times) and an award-winning bartender at a local restaurant. Follow him at jeffburkhart.net and contact him at [email protected]

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