Mississippi entrepreneur savors sweet taste of success

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Photo courtesy of Vino del Sol

Matt Hedges, founder of Vino del Sol Winery, is a native of Corinth and a graduate of the University of Mississippi

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Since 2004, Vino del Sol has built a reputation as a leading importer of estate-grown, sustainably farmed and family-owned winery offerings. It all started with a Mississippi native, a passion for wine and an elevator speech.

Photo courtesy of Vino del Sol

A map of Argentina

As a United States importer with annual sales of more than 250,000 cases, Vino del Sol is recognized within the industry as “The Argentine Wine Specialist.”

Named one of 2016’s Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Corinth native and Vino del Sol co-founder and president Matt Hedges is well known throughout the wine world. While studying abroad in Buenos Aires in 2001, he fell in love with the country and its wine. He returned home hoping to find a variety of the same wines. It turns out those offerings were scarce.

“When I came back to the U.S., I was surprised that it was hard to find; after all, Argentina was the world’s fifth largest wine producer and the Malbec grape was perfect for the American palate,” Hedges said. “It became apparent importing Argentine wine would be a great and fun opportunity. The timing was perfect where we could choose and partner with Argentina’s top wineries.”

Hedges’ love for fine wine began at an early age, in none other than small town Mississippi.

“I was lucky that my parents exposed me to a lot when I was young, such as international travel and wine,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Vino del Sol

Matt Hedges, co-founder and president of Vino del Sol Winery

After earning his MBA from the University of Mississippi in 2004, he won the Wake Forest Elevator Competition, a Shark Tank-style pitch delivered in an actual elevator.

The venture was Vino del Sol, which means both “wine of the sun” and “comes from the sun” in Spanish. Given that the sun is on the Argentine flag and also an important characteristic of Argentine wines (most grape-growing regions receive more than 300 days of sun throughout the year), the name seemed like a good fit.

But despite those heavy Argentine influences, Hedges said it was Mississippi that made it all possible.

“Vino del Sol wouldn’t be here without Ole Miss. Ole Miss allowed me to shape all of my MBA classes around the idea of importing Argentine wine,” he said. “The professors were extremely supportive and sent a classmate, Andrew Jones, and (me) to an international business plan competition. After we won, Ole Miss was instrumental in introducing us to investors. I am very proud that the majority of our board of directors and investors are Ole Miss alums and extremely thankful to the Ole Miss community for making my dream come true. We are currently selling well over 2 million bottles a year.”

Hedges founded Vino del Sol with Thane Prichard and Alejandro Darago. The company now has an experienced team of 16 wine professionals working with a network of more than 60 wholesalers across all 50 states.

Hedges’ Mississippi roots also have been instrumental in Vino del Sol’s focus on family farming. Wine begins in the vineyards, and Vino del Sol believes it is important for wineries to own and farm their own vines. Every winery Vino del Sol works with directly controls the majority of the vineyards used to make their wines.

All of the wineries in the Vino del Sol portfolio are sustainably farmed.

“We have become the trusted source for our customers,” Hedges said. “The wine industry is long-term and we’ve proven we can develop products that over-deliver for the consumer and are consistent year-in and year-out. We have many competitive advantages in logistics as well as winery partnerships. We focus on working with good people and being good people and partners.”

Photo courtesy of Vino del Sol

A Vino del Sol bodega

Because the wine business is a long-term one, decisions made in the vineyard today may not be reflected in the bottle for several years. This is why all of the Vino del Sol wineries are family operations with a shared multi-generational vision for a sustainable long-term business.

“The formula for success for each individual is different, but the reasons for success in Matt’s case are drive and planning,” said Thane Prichard, co-founder and national director of sales at Vino del Sol. “We’ve been able to work on building a business from the ground up with a focus on Argentina, a wonderful country with great wines. We started importing wines from Argentina very early in the growth of the company, working with the farmers and their families from around the world.”

The focus on sustainability and family farms has contributed to Vino del Sol’s success in the U.S. They currently sell in all 50 states and have many local, regional or national plays with chains, such as World Market, Whole Foods, Central Markets, Truluck’s, HEB, Seasons 52, Giant Eagle, Oceanaire and many more. Costco alone sells tens of thousands of cases of their wine annually. They’ve also developed successful private label brands and have begun building their brands in some of the world’s top placements, such as American Airlines, Air Canada, the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, the Cosmopolitan, and Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise lines.

Though Hedges largely credits his Mississippi education for his successes in the world of wine, his advice to novice entrepreneurs can be summed up in three simple steps.

“Be passionate about what you want to do,” he said. “Work harder than your competitors, and be sure you have competitive advantages that cannot be duplicated easily by another.”