With a grandmother from Provence-Côte d’Azur, family farming roots in Honduras, and an upbringing in New Orleans, Lauren Craig’s childhood was steeped in a diverse, family-oriented wine and food education.
“I was really exposed to all this bright, vibrant food. My grandfathers are from New Orleans, and then my grandmother is French, and she taught us about wine early on to develop our palate,” she told California Business Journal in a recent interview.
All these influences come together in Ms. Craig’s new passion project, Endymion Spirits, a distribution company bringing unique, family-produced wines and spirits to New Orleans. NOLA aficionados will recognize the name Endymion—it’s one of the largest parades at Mardi Gras.
Ms. Craig has been bringing products to market for nearly 20 years, but in the medical technology and digital health sector. Working in that field satiated both her scientific and entrepreneurial leanings; it was also personally rewarding. As someone who had been a caregiver and watched close family members suffer from illness, Ms. Craig knew she was working on products and services that were having positive impacts on patients’ lives.
But she also knew that one day, she would return to her roots and launch a company focused on wine and spirits, back in her hometown of New Orleans. The seed was planted when Ms. Craig returned briefly, post-Hurricane Katrina, and worked on projects to help rebuild the city economically.
“After the storm, we looked at a lot of different industries that could help move the city into a different kind of viewpoint. One that I passionately advocated for in New Orleans was the beverage industry,” she says. “I just thought we were naturally located in a great area, with the port, and we already had the food recognition. Loyola Marymount’s Entrepreneurship program taught me a lot and I was fortunate to be able to apply those learnings in real-world scenarios.”
Many of the ‘how-can-we-rebuild-New-Orleans talks’ were taking place in the city’s only open tavern at the time, which, for Ms. Craig, drove home the point that good food and wine brings people together and starts conversations.
After Ms. Craig moved back to California, she built on her career in the med-tech and digital health sector. The location was opportune, giving her plenty of chances to pursue her wine enthusiast tendencies, and see the process of growing and making wine up-close.
“I’ve always felt connected to wine. I like being connected to the earth,” she says, “and it’s always been a nice reprieve to go out in the California wine areas and visit vineyards and listen to the winemakers.”
She started the MBA program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2018, and six months after she graduated, the whole world went into pandemic lockdown. Ms. Craig used the time to work on her business plan and network, so she could finally launch her passion project.
She began looking for potential collaborative partners in a particular region of the Walla Walla Valley called the Rocks District, in Oregon, which has gained notoriety because of its unique soil. In this area, sometimes called “The Rocks” by locals, “vines struggle to grow, resulting in tiny grapes with amazing flavor intensity,” writes Harvey Steiman of Wine Spectator magazine.
Because of her own family’s connection to farming, Ms. Craig knew that she wanted to work with small, family-owned businesses that were intimately involved in the creation of their product.
“That was always very important to me, to tell the story of some of the smaller farmers who are investing in areas, and to be able to tell the story of the winemaker. At the end of the day, putting their name on their finished product that’s going out to everybody—I mean, it’s great to be able to help them showcase their work, especially to a new city and audience.” — Lauren Craig
A local community college connected Ms. Craig to the Browns, a third-generation winemaking family who’s been growing grapes in the region since the 1950s. Another winery, Icône, was using the Brown family’s grapes in their new product: boutique wine in a can. Sip Magazine just awarded Icône’s canned cabernet sauvignon a “Double Gold Medal” in their Best of the Northwest wine awards.
Ms. Craig was impressed with the quality of the wine and immediately saw its potential for the New Orleans market, particularly the rosé and the white wine. They were light, crisp, and transportable. Ms. Craig was also excited because the white wine was made from viognier—one of her favorite varietals—which can be hard to find in the U.S. And at 250ml, the single-serve cans contained much more than an average glass of wine. This was a beverage that would be perfect for NOLA festivals.
“Personally, I wanted something that I could, you know, sip on throughout the day. These are lighter wines, meant to be enjoyed at a parade or festival or concert, because down there (in New Orleans), it gets very hot,” she says. “These are cool and light, and you can carry them around with you.”
Ms. Craig is already thinking of new products to bring to NOLA. There are more projects with the Brown family in the works, and she’s always looking for other family-run vineyards making quality products. She’s researching distilleries and even thinking about low/zero alcohol products to distribute in New Orleans.
“Distilleries are on our radar. One of the areas I’ve researched is Mexico. I love the culture there, and then my family is from Central America, so I think distilleries will absolutely be a part of our future. And then you know, I’m a huge advocate of the low/zero alcohol movement going on. Personally, I have friends who choose not to drink, and I love the idea of having different options for them at parties and festivals.” Lauren Craig
With Endymion Spirits, Ms. Craig has proposed a collaboration with Louisiana businesses to find ways to give back to the community. “And perhaps even find a way to teach New Orleans youth about the science, tradition, and culture behind great food and wine, just like I was taught as a child.”
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