From the Bottom of the Barrel to the Top of the Shelf
How Horses Improve Our Professional Lives: Lisa Bell
By Shannon Ott
LK Wines & Tours, a local wine distributer, had its most successful year in 2020. Owner Lisa Bell established the business in 2018 after being involved with the wine industry for nearly twenty years. The success she had in the face of 2020, an unparalleled year in our lifetime, she attributes to both the strength and determination she has acquired through a lifelong relationship with horses, and how it created a tenacity that led to her working her way up a business she had previously known next to nothing about.
Lisa describes herself as being a “goal oriented” person. She began riding at the age of five and quickly began pursuing both riding and horses like a full-time job. Her most notable horses, Whiskey River (Willie) and Ponytail Mike (PT) brought Lisa and her mom, Linda Dreher through many shows and ribbons. Lisa worked her way up to showing both geldings at an advanced level in 3-day events, which takes an extraordinary amount of physical training, time in the saddle, and skill. In 1991 Lisa and Willie made the Pan American Games (Pan Am). For those who do not follow the sport of riding (or sports in general), the Pan Am Games are held every 4 years, in the year prior to the summer Olympics. Much like the Olympics it hosts several countries and teams that compete in a variety of sports that include Equestrian disciplines. For the sports included in Pan Am the only other competition that is considered more illustrious is the Olympic Games. To make it into a competition like this as a rider is an incredible feat, but on one’s own horse takes twice the amount of commitment and determination due to the rider conditioning and training themselves and their horse. Lisa is serious when she calls herself a goal orientated person.
At 18 Lisa packed her horse and trailer in Illinois, drove to Virginia, and never left. Used to being on her own hauling all over the country for shows, it was not a big deal at all to the independent young woman. She continued to pursue horses into her 20’s. At 30 she had her son, Brandt, and at 33 she began her career in wine. A single mom working as a bartender, riding on the track, and training in her free time, Lisa was no stranger to taking jobs so when she met someone working as a wine merchandiser, she decided to add it to her growing list of gigs. For a few holiday seasons she was responsible for stocking wine in grocery store displays, until one day she was offered the chance to sell wine a day a week. Lisa quickly found out she had a knack for sales, as her numbers climbed, she was offered a full-time sales position. It was impressive for someone that had never even tried what they were selling, of course Lisa changed that and found that her passion for sales extended to her product as well.
Lisa took a break from riding while her son was growing up to help him pursue his interests, but also to pursue her interest in wine. In this time, she traveled the world to learn everything she possibly could about the world of wine. As both her knowledge and her son grew, Lisa began to get back into the saddle, first trail riding and then beginning to show again. Her main riding horse DD she purchased around 11 years ago and has enjoyed fox hunting with the Blue Ridge Hunt Club and showing at novice levels with her mom (who still rides) in North Carolina. In 2018 Lisa decided it was time to start her own wine business. The area she currently serves stretches from Arlington to Blacksburg, and everywhere in between. Lisa works with five main importers, importing wine from South Africa, France, Germany, Portugal, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as some domestic wine makers across the United States. Once she has purchased wine, she then finds retailers that need more to their repertoire and sells them the wines that fit best with their business model. Lisa’s business also includes wine tours, mainly in Europe, that offer others the chance to experience the culture of wine in other countries.
Lisa does not typically offer wine made in Virginia when asked why she explained that the wine industry in our state is very new. “Virginia only has about 300 wineries”, and that these wineries are still so new that for their businesses it is more financially sensible to currently sell their wines on premises. Lisa enjoys working with local wineries on adding to their catalogues and recommends wine enthusiasts to take advantage of Virginia’s beautiful wine country.
Lisa’s imports and domestics are in a variety of local stores, restaurants, and farm markets. Remembering how she worked her way up from the bottom, Lisa generally prefers to work with independent retailer’s vs large chains. Throughout the pandemic, she has strengthened her relationship with small businesses even more. Lisa honestly believes that small business is the lifeblood of our local communities and wishes that everyone would continue to support small business as they have during the pandemic. Improving and expanding her relationship with small business is also a large component of what got her own business through the pandemic. Not only through selling more, but also working with these businesses to sell to the customer in creative ways. One of these being the “Quarantine 6-pack”, a random 6 pack of wine that the customer could enjoy during the weeks spent sheltering at home. Lisa also found success paring wines with meats and other foods restaurants had to offer, that the customer was then able to take home, cook, and enjoy a paired wine with. Lisa has learned through the years that “people drink when it is good, and they drink when it is bad”, she knew that during the early months of the pandemic she still had a market, but she was forced to find new ways to reach them through the same willpower that she used to train and compete. Clearly, she has seen success through her persistence given that this was the best year for her business, despite being unable to give tours, which she hopes she can resume in 2022.
The best way to support Lisa is to shop and dine local as often as one possibly can. Two of her favorites to look for right now are the red Portuguese Blend OMG, and the Hungarian white Furmit. When asked how to purchase wine if you really do not know what you are doing, Lisa gave some simple and solid advice. First, staying within 10-15 dollars to start of with is a good idea, there are some great wines in that price range. Second, staying within what she referred to as the “primary wines” consisting of: chardonnay, cabernet, Sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, and pinot noir. She says that “there isn’t a need to drink really expensive and eclectic wines right away, experiment with wine and see what you like then branch out from there.”
Lisa’s business goals in 2021 are to double her businesses earnings from last year, and she is absolutely determined to do just that. A long way from stocking holiday displays and was achieved solely through her own determination and effort. The girl who skipped her prom to show, took that fortitude, and applied it through her entire life to become a successful businesswoman.