ROCKLAND—When it comes to starting and running a business in Maine, Tabitha Blake Perry, owner of Crush Distributors, in Yarmouth, takes a look back on her humble beginnings and how far she’s come. She spoke Sept. 18 at the Midcoast Women’s Storyteller Series in Rockland.
In Midcoast Women’s Storyteller Series, three Maine entrepreneurs (Tabitha Blake, owner of Perry-Crush Distributors, Heather Sanborn, owner of Rising Tide Brewery; and Ashley Seelig, owner of Fog Bar and Café) told their stories at Fog bar and Café on Wednesday, September 18. They spoke about what it was like to form and run their own businesses in Maine.
Born in Maine, Tabitha Blake Perry moved to California in her 20s to live in California’s wine county, and there, worked every aspect of the job from production to sales.
While in Napa, she began working for a successful distribution company, McNeil Wines, a move that allowed her to career to flourish as she worked throughout Northern California, establishing relationships with professionals in all facets of the industry.
One such connection was her neighbor, Marc Imbert, who happened to take over his family’s winery in Corsica and introduced Blake Perry to several producers in the Languedoc Region in France. During that time, she rose to be the company’s top sales representative.
All of this education about the industry was getting stored away for something bigger—but she didn’t know it yet.
When she moved back to Maine in 2008 to be closer to her family, she got a job at Back Bay Grill in Portland as a server.
“I sold wine in California and wanted to live in Maine, so I felt as though I had to make it work,” she said. “The year when I moved back East, we were in a recession. Nobody was hiring, so I decided it was only fitting that I use some of the relationships that I had in California to sell wine for myself in my home state.”
During her first year as a wine rep of her own newly formed company, Blake Perry did everything from storing the wine at a storage facility to delivering wine out of the trunk of her car. Tasting wines and choosing them selectively was her first priority.
“We choose wines with a sense of place, from the vineyard to the shelf, and we want to be confident that we are supporting families,” she said. “I select wines that truly speak to where they are from and the people who put their hearts in to them.”
Little did she know, she was in exactly the right place at the right time in the right industry.
Today, there are nearly 21 wineries across the state of Maine, comprising a list that includes mead makers, as well as cideries. This relatively young and growing industry has burgeoned over the last 20 years and Blake Perry’s company has grown right along with it. Her company is predominately female and represents a lot of female wine producers, as well as producers from all over the world.
Her biggest obstacle is to stop herself from “trying to do it all”— something all mothers with careers know all too well.
“Balancing motherhood with a career is my biggest challenge,” she said. “Knowing when it is time to turn off the computer and the phone and just be 100% present — I still struggle with that, because I could work around the clock. However, my boys are 3 and 5, I want to enjoy them as much as possible.”
Another challenge comes from being the female owner of a company in an industry that has been historically male.
“I was in Europe on a buyer’s trip,” she recalled. “I was tasting at a winery and I loved all their wines so much, I was eager to sell them in Maine. I openly said in our tasting group: ‘These wines are truly special. I love them and think we can do really well with them in Maine.’ The winemaker looked at me and said, ‘That is great; please be sure to tell your boss.’”
Today, Crush Distributors offers more than 400 wine brands and has seven sales reps all over the state, a feat that speaks to the perseverance of a micro-business into a full-fledged company. With Maine growing concurrently as one of the best foodie destinations in the nation, there is no shortage of good wine to go with it.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com