Building business relationships with international winemakers began with the Auburn Family
Ryan Reece ’14 prunes vineyards for a living. He reflects on its growth over past years, analyzes the current conditions of his fruit fields and prepares for the growth of next season.
But Reece isn’t a winemaker. He is a senior accountant for Vineyard Brands, a wine importing business based in Birmingham, Ala. The fruits of his vineyard are balanced accounts, and his vines are the people. In this role, he tends to the vast fields of Vineyard Brands’ financial needs.
“I didn’t know I wanted to get into the wine business, it just fell into place,” Reece said.
Vineyard Brands works with wine producers from “the greatest places on Earth” to offer a reliable selection of premiere wines to its customers. Whether from the sunny hills of California or the luscious fields of France, by focusing on quality–rather than quantity— Vineyard Brands allows each of their small, family-owned wine importers to survive.
Reece began his own wine collection after he joined Vineyard Brands, when he started receiving bottles of wine home after they arrived in cases with a broken bottle. Unsellable for the distributor, they became free perks for employees. Now holding 175 bottles in his wine locker, he intends to drink some now and to save some for up to 20 years.
“I never thought I would be someone who would get into wine collecting, but it’s turned out to be one of the best perks about my job,” Reece said.
Reece majored in accounting at Auburn, but as he took his business classes, he found his passion wasn’t in the tax aspect of accounting, but within the relationships it creates.
Studying for an accounting test in Lowder Hall, Reece began communicating with his classmates who were from all around the globe. In awe at how their unique backgrounds had led each of them to the same exact point, Reece appreciated Auburn University for the cultural melting pot that it was.
Conversations like those helped Reece build the foundation of his career.
“Since I’ve had this role at Vineyard Brands, I’ve gotten to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to talk with people and families,” Reece said.
And at Vineyard Brands, the families are the root of the business.
Vineyard Brands represents 25 independently-owned wineries, and their goal is to understand and respect the values of each of their producers while holding each of their wines to a high standard of quality and taste. Each wine is tasted by the staff before a decision on representation is made, and Reece, though trained in accounting rather than beverage critiquing, is one of these essential wine-tasters.
“Since I’ve had this role at Vineyard Brands, I’ve gotten to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to talk with people and families.”
“Others in the company taste the wines before our office does, but we taste it to confirm that our whole company likes the product,” Reece said.
The crisp and bubbly flavor of Reece’s numbers job comes from these mid-day wine tastings, but his day begins and ends with ‘putting out fires’ of urgent emails that rage in his inbox, where he deals with inconsistent wine postings and other requests from producers. But the major part of Reece’s work is in Vineyard Brands’ accounts payable and accounts receivable, where he oversees and balances his company’s accounts.
Before becoming senior accountant at Vineyard Brands, Reece didn’t understand wine culture or how people could be so passionate about the ancient beverage. But as he became part of a community who placed their identity in their wines, he saw a rich history that he found worth investing in.
“Wine has such a deep culture and history,” Reece said. “These producers love their family tradition of wine.”
One of these producers, August Kessler from Germany, stays connected with Reece in between their annual sales meetings. Initially bonding over their mutual love for Christkindlmarket, a massive German Christmas market, their relationship has allowed Reece to learn about German culture and Kessler’s passion for wine.
“Through August, I have learned more about the German wine market. Germany is extremely proud of their Rieslings, and August embodies that passion.”
Thought COVID-19 has restricted face-to-face interactions during the past year, the two exchange emails to keep their long-distance friendship alive.
The parallel between Reece’s experience at Vineyard Brands and his time at Auburn lies within the value of these relationships: the value of family. When Reece became a member of the Auburn Family as a freshman living on campus, he experienced the feelings that drew so many to love the Plains.
“People might be Alabama fans, but once you come to Auburn, you just have to love it,” Reece said.
As an Auburn fan loves the Auburn Family and its rich traditions, members of the wine business bond with each other in the same familial way.
“For Auburn fans, you like the people and the history of it. You love the whole. That is the same with the people in the wine business. People who truly love wine and want to be in that business are a part of that family group,” Reece said.
When he first started working in the wine business, he assumed the best bottles of wine are always the most expensive. Once clients and coworkers broadened his perspective, Reece his opinion changed.
“Now, I have a completely different understanding of wine, and it’s much more in depth than before I worked at Vineyard Brands,” Reece said.
Several of Reece’s current favorites sit in his spare office. He pulled out a bottle of ruby-red colored Italian Caparzo, made by his favorite producer. He grabbed a bottle of a cool and crisp summertime rosé, Miraval.
With his wedding coming up in December, Reece and his fiancé Brittney Baeke ’14 chose a venue that will allow the couple to bring their own wine. Wanting to start with a light champagne and end with a rich French wine, Reece decided that if there is ever a day to splurge on purchasing Vineyard Brand’s best wines, his wedding day would be the time.
“The best wine is not the most expensive wine,” said Reece. “It’s the one that you want to drink again.”