In the latest episode of our True Connections Podcast, Alan Hooks is joined by the founder of Maison Mirabeau, Stephen Cronk. As well as sharing how he and his family made his longstanding wine-making dreams a reality, Stephen discusses brand success, working with nature and the power of social media.
Listen to the podcast
Click on the player below to hear Alan and Stephen’s conversation:
‘To succeed you must first go out and try’ is Maison Mirabeau founder Stephen Cronk’s message to aspiring entrepreneurs. Mirabeau, the biggest selling French rosé brand in the UK, was Stephen’s lifelong dream and in this episode he shares how it became a reality. Despite joining the wine trade fresh out of university, it wasn’t until almost two decades later that Stephen took the plunge to uproot his entire life and move to Provence with his family to start the business.
After completing his wine exams and working as a salesman, Stephen started his first wine company at the age of 24. Although recognizing the valuable lessons he learned as a young entrepreneur, Stephen says that upon entering his thirties he felt pressure to get an ‘adult job’ and enter the corporate world. Despite establishing himself as a successful telecoms salesman in the following years, Stephen still pined for his unfulfilled wine business dreams. He says he missed selling a social, sensory product and that the telecoms industry was simply unable to replicate the excitement he had for the wine industry.
Biting the bullet
In 2008, after years of discussing his aspirations with friends and family, a friend of Stephen’s gave him the final push he needed. He reminded Stephen that years before he had committed to starting the business by writing a start date on his kitchen blackboard. This hit home for Stephen as he realised how long he had been harbouring - but not acting on - his ambitions. He didn’t want to be the person who always spoke about it and never did it.
When researching how to make it happen, Stephen learnt about the 3 Vs of wine making: Viticulture, Vinification and Vendre. After sourcing talented farmers and wine makers already in Provence, Stephen focused on the ‘Vendre’ e.g creating a brand that would sell. He rightly points out that you could create the best wine in the world but if no one discovers it, you don’t have a business.
My main advice is to speak to as many people as you can who know better than you.
Harnessing social media
This is when Stephen decided to harness the power of social media. He felt that in such a saturated market this could be a way to have an advantage against competitors – and it worked. Mirabeau was positioned as a ‘lifestyle’ brand that through its wine, could transport consumers to the iconic Provence region. On social media the brand shared how the wines should be enjoyed along with illustrating the aesthetics and spirit of Provence. This creative, out-of-the-box way to advocate the wine was different from other brands who, at the time, would use social media to show the wine making process. Stephen’s video on how to open a wine bottle with a shoe went viral, becoming the most viewed wine video in the world!
Stephen and his family had the odds stacked against them when they sold their house in South West London and headed for Provence. For a start, they couldn’t speak French, didn’t have experience making wine, and didn’t have an abundance of funds to support the business. What they did have was passion and commitment which resonated with many people. Being a small business is also difficult in the modern world of data. Unable to buy data to identify gaps in the market, the company relied on their instinct and knowledge to create new wines and even a rosé gin!
After building the brand it was time to find a vineyard of their own. 5 years of searching and 39 vineyards later, Stephen and his family bought their first vineyard, Domaine Mirabeau. Although already planning to practice organic farming, Stephen soon saw the devastating effect conventional, monoculture farming had caused to the soil. Not only was the soil depleted, it had become devoid of organic life. Needing to repair the damage that had been done, Stephen looked into regenerative farming in which there is a strong focus on bio diversity. He has since established the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation to advocate for improved biodiversity in vineyards. This is something the Cronk family are particularly passionate about as this way of farming can help to alleviate the impacts of global warming and protect the environment.
Stephen hopes that Mirabeau will deepen its global reach in the coming years and establish itself even further as an authentic brand that makes great wine and helps to create magic moments.
Having a good idea is one thing. Pushing through and implementing it is another. We portray entrepreneurs who share their personal stories and reflect on lessons learnt.