Ross Halleck (Owner/Vintner)

My childhood in Rockford, IL., shaped my personality and values. I appreciate being from the Midwest. There’s an authenticity and lack of pretense that comes from these roots. But it also bored me to tears growing up in Rockford. I had a wanderlust from an early age that was fueled by our common weekend lament as teenagers: “Nuthin’ to do!” Miniature golf, bicycling through cornfields, smoking pot in the park and movies, got old quickly. So the Midwest compelled me into the world to explore and live. I couldn’t wait to “get the hell out of Dodge.”

Most important real life experience and advice you would give a high school student?

There’s no right answer to this question; it’s very personal. I spent seven years traveling around the world, before going to college. Today they would call it homeless. But for me, it was being “on the road” as memorialized by Jack Kerouac. I was not a candidate for college, despite honor-roll performance, through all my school years. I was destined for a different path.

My sons have also taken different paths. My youngest and oldest attended fine universities to pursue careers in film making, while my middle son bumped around in junior college, until he decided to work in the family business. He’s excelling. But he has his heart set on a career in music, and is using the family business as a stepping stone to achieve some financial security, in order to pursue his passion.

My point with these anecdotes is not to shine a light outside, but to guide a young person within. There’s not enough emphasis on this in our society. There are limitless possibilities with which we are blessed in this country. But the metrics for deciding are inadequately represented; status and money lead, while meaning, passion and personal gifts are underrated.  The reverse turns out to be true; check into heart, take time to do this, honestly evaluate your abilities, determine your desires, then pursue that which has meaning.

Tell us about your first job:

I washed pots and pans in a hospital kitchen at 14 years old. ‘Nuff said. I lasted two weeks.

What is a personal goal you have?

I’ll continue to live passionately and serve.

What is your biggest motivator in life and in business?

My biggest motivator has been happiness. It’s been illusive at times. I’ve experienced stretches of discontent and strife. But happiness has remained a benchmark. I relate deeply to the words of the Declaration of Independence, citing our “inalienable rights.” When I learned them, I mistakenly understood these rights to be universal. When traveling around the world, I learned they are not. In fact, they are a construct our Founding Fathers have gifted to all the generations of Americans that followed. I’m a grateful recipient

What is new or “hot” in your industry that you’re excited about?

I’m in two industries: the practice of marketing and the luxury wine business. Of course, there are important confluences. But I look at marketing as a horizontal discipline that affects everyone in business. The luxury wine industry has some clear target audiences with more distinct and effective means of reaching them.

What’s hot in marketing, is the explosion and fractionalization of media, sending brands across the planet scrambling for efficient solutions to reach people where they live, within the media they consume. It’s an epochal shift, yielding varied solutions, but few have risen to address the primary issues of shrinking attention spans and a plethora of media.

In the luxury wine business, there are platforms emerging, even maturing that meet the specific needs of an industry, in pursuit of direct to consumer relationships. They bridge the needs of the small producer, uniting inventory management, shipping, merchandising, customer relationship management, shopping carts and marketing. They have made my business possible.

What is your biggest pet peeve about technology?

Technology demands our attention at an incredible speed, and then, as quickly, becomes obsolete.

Is there a book you would recommend to our readers? Why?

The Essential Rumi: translated by Coleman Barks.

There’s a plethora of self-help and personal development books out there. Most are worth reading, but the work is really within. Most books can’t guide you there. Rumi is different. He’s a mystical Sufi poet from the 13th century. He’s the most widely read, of all poets combined and achieved a universal appeal, due to his unique ability to take us to our own source. This is where change can truly take place.

Tell us about your preferred social media platform and what makes it so great?

None preferred or interesting to me.

Tell us about your real-life hero?

None identified. They become human every time I get close.

What is one mistake you would make again and why?

Though I don’t want to repeat it, going deep into debt for my business was a huge wake-up call. When we won #1 Pinot Noir in the US in 2003, the banks threw money at us. We took it, thinking we would grow into a great brand and build a small wine empire. We used the money for inventory, marketing and to travel to distant markets. We grew. Then 2008 hit. Our inventory was devalued and our loan was called. We were forced to respond quickly. I think Seinfeld called it “shrinkage.” It took us years to work ourselves out. We are now growing again and using bank money, but we are much more careful and in control. We have a plan.

Leave us with your best advice for up and coming entrepreneurs or a personal daily discipline that has contributed to your current success (or both, if you want):

I meditate daily. I would recommend meditation to anyone, entrepreneur or not. We are most effective in any situation if we are fully present. This means not distracted by the past or concerned about the future; it represents a place of peace. Being present is the most powerful we can be in addressing any obstacle or challenge. Athletes call it, “being in the zone.” This is not a state that just happens. It takes practice and commitment. Meditation is a tried and proven method for smoothing our thoughts, controlling our “Monkey Mind,” and being present. It also contributes to profound happiness. Who doesn’t want that?