Yoav Gilat, founder, SHARE A SPLASH wine co.

It all started with a mission to create the best sub $20 California Cabernet Sauvignon on the market.  Yoav Gilat, born and raised in Tel Aviv, founded the company when he left a promising career as a lawyer to follow his passion for food and wine. While working as a legal advisor to some of the largest food and hospitality companies in Israel, he realized he was much more interested in their core business than the legalities surrounding it.  

After moving to the food and wine centric Bay area, armed with a business degree from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the Columbia Business School, he established a network of contacts in California’s wine country. As a passionate wine lover himself, he noticed a gap in the marketplace, no one was making high quality California Cabernet Sauvignons in the $20 and under price point.  With an innovative business model where he didn’t need a brick & mortar facility and a huge upfront investment, he was able to quickly go to market and in retrospect his timing couldn’t have been better.

Founded just before the great recession, Cannonball grew quickly, achieving on average 25% volume growth (YoY) from its founding year in 2006. When the recession began to unfold in late 2007, Gilat was initially very concerned. With a new brand coupled with the  question of whether wine would become a luxury many would choose to cut out of their spending. While many businesses struggled in 2008-2009, that time period happened to be a catalyst of growth for them. 

Prices for grapes dropped and Cannonball was able to secure high-quality grapes at lower prices. With Cabernet Sauvignon being by far the most expensive grape in California, this had particular relevance for Cannonball and their single-minded focus. Consumers were also trading down during this period and Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon was in the $14.99 price bracket with an emotive, approachable label.

The quality of the wine couldn’t have been better for the price, based on initial success they started adding line extensions – Chardonnay launched in 2009, followed by Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. This acceleration created new opportunities, an importing side of the business started in 2012, and a second successful brand launched in 2014 – Angels & Cowboys.

Sonoma-centric Angels & Cowboys has fast become a growth driver for the company. The brand is a collaboration between Yoav Gilat and SHARE A SPLASH label designer Michael Schwab. Schwab, who also designed the Cannonball label, is noted for his classic designs depicting California landmarks like The Golden Gate National Park. He brings a similar dramatic simplicity to the brand’s label, depicting a sun-bleached silhouette of a young white tail deer skull, evoking a rugged, austere and graceful beauty. Angels & Cowboys now includes 4 SKUs, with two sparkling wines – a Brut Rosé and Brut NV launched in the past 12-months – joining existing stablemates Sonoma County Rosé and Proprietary Red. All hew to the brand’s ethos of taking inspiration from classic French wines and infusing them with California’s bolder style. 

In 2019 Gilat promoted Ondine Chattan to Head Winemaker, overseeing the company’s entire winemaking and grape sourcing operations. Chattan brought with her over 20 years of winemaking experience from high profile wineries such as Ridge, Cline and Geyser Peak. Her experience and leadership have contributed directly to recent wins for the company. 

“The quality of our wine has never been higher, with Ondine at the forefront of viticulture and vinification operations for us, the future is very bright.” Gilat remarked. The company’s recent big achievements include Angels & Cowboys Sonoma County Rosé 2020 being named one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Enthusiast Wines for 2021, and Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 scoring 91 points and nabbing a silver medal at one of the most prestigious wine competitions in the world, Decanter’s World Wine Awards 2021.

Today SHARE A SPLASH wine co. produces and manages a portfolio of wines that echo a simple belief: that wine, like life, is best enjoyed when shared. The portfolio is built around brands that serve up incredibly high quality wine for the price point and include: Cannonball, Angels & Cowboys, High Dive Napa Valley and imports including New Zealand’s Astrolabe Wines and José Maria da Fonseca’s Twin Vines. 

2021 marks 15 years since the company’s founding. While the company has had incredible successes, new challenges are always surfacing. In recent years climate change, primarily in the form of wildfires, have threatened production with 2020 being the most directly impacted. Fires during the September harvest in Sonoma County drastically reduced yield, and some grapes, most notably those destined for their Angel & Cowboys Rosé were rejected due to smoke taint. 

This created a much lower production for the vintage, but happily one of the highest quality ones as well. Everyone in the wine producing areas on the west coast including SHARE A SPLASH breathed a sigh of relief with the 2021 vintage. Harvest which concluded last month had no threatening wildfires and beautiful weather to bring in the crop. Chattan reports an extraordinary year for intensity of color (likely due to drought stresses) as well as a vintage of great acid balance. Some varieties did come in with much lower yields than expected, but that uncertainty is the nature of life in the wine business.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought some immediate challenges but also some opportunities as well. An abrupt end to both domestic and international travel grounded their sales team, and Gilat who actively visits their 30 international markets. The overnight shutdown of restaurants, bars and hotels (known as the on-premise channel)  impacted about 30% of their sales. 

While the team worked to quickly reposition themselves, their ability to sell direct to consumers via their website offered a lifeline. That business grew 100% (YoY from 2019) in 2020 and helped stem the loss of sales from bars and restaurants. Focusing on selling small format bottles (half sized, 375ml) to restaurants once they were allowed to re-open for takeout helped them maintain relationships and sales with their on-premise accounts. 

Like many other businesses, SHARE A SPLASH is also now suffering from global supply chain and shipping delay issues. The launch of Twin Vines, their new Vinho Verde import from Portugal was delayed several months due to back ups of shipping containers and delays unloading cargo at US ports. Glass manufacturers who supply the glass bottles for their wines have severely limited stock and prices have surged up to 30%. 

While the company is working on solving these logistical issues, it has also led to opportunities. Rethinking the glass suppliers for their Cannonball line will allow them to switch to lighter weight bottles that are sourced exclusively domestically.  Both of these changes will reduce the carbon footprint of their products, with packaging and shipping being some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses in wine production. Gilat, an eternal optimist, notes “whenever I see a problem, I try to look for solutions that will have added value; not only solving the immediate problem, but improving the product, packaging or relationship.”

For Gilat relationships are the key to his success. When a distributor partner who was struggling with cash flow at the height of Covid asked for better payment terms he happily agreed to it. “Put the time and effort into maintaining relationships in your industry and that will establish you and your company in leadership positions” Gilat advises. He prioritized this from the beginning, even before investing in social media and public relations – which can also be valuable tools to enhance credibility and leadership.  For example, a close relationship from business school led to acquiring importing rights for a new brand, in a new category that allowed entry into a fast-growing segment of the business and also increased price diversification. “Without my relationships and personal brand in the industry as a trustworthy business leader, that would never have happened.” 

Being part of a community and giving back can be critical to any organization’s success, and are also part of the story for Gilat and SHARE A SPLASH. Being able to give back to those less fortunate than you immediately gives you a sense of belonging, of realizing that the world is bigger than what’s going on in your head. 

This perspective helps pull you out of any emotional low, see things in a new way and often can lead to insights to see your way out of a business or even all-consuming personal issue. Long an admirer of Chef José Andrés and his innovative solutions to providing real-time relief during disasters, the company has launched a give back program benefiting his charity World Central Kitchen (WCK). 

Through the ‘Pulling Corks & Filling Forks’ program, Angels & Cowboys will donate proceeds from every bottle of wine sold (up to $50,000 annually) to World Central Kitchen, helping fund meals for those affected by natural and manmade disasters. “We believe José Andrés, founder of WCK, embodies the trailblazer ethos of the Angels and Cowboys brand; I am inspired by his innovative, forward-thinking, generous philanthropic efforts; I see him as the ultimate Angel & Cowboy” Gilat commented. We can all drink to that!

Crystal Kadir

MS, Durham University GP The work of a family doctor includes a wide range of clinical diversity, which requires extensive knowledge and erudition from a specialist. However, I believe that the most important thing for a family doctor is to be human because the cooperation and understanding between the doctor and the patient are crucial in ensuring successful health care. On my days off, I love being in nature. Since childhood, I have been passionate about playing chess and tennis. Whenever I have time off, I enjoy traveling around the world.