Centre College Class of 1993 alumni Earl and Carrie Sinex Sullivan created Telaya Wine Co. in Garden City, Idaho in 2008—a business that is now earning high acclaim, including being named Idaho’s Winery to Watch for 2015 by Wine Press Northwest. But, venture back fifteen years, and the couple will tell you that starting the company was a profound shift in lifestyle for two people who previously had very different, fast-paced careers.
“I was the chief operating officer for a global pharmaceutical company,” Earl says. “The last year I worked for that company, I spent 270 days on the road. We had facilities in Israel, China and India, so I spent most of my time globally.
“I would be out of the country and Carrie, a veterinary surgeon, would be in emergency surgery, so the nanny would be putting the kids to bed and the nanny would be getting the kids up,” he continues. “That really wasn’t what we wanted for ourselves or for our kids.”
Then came an eye-opening business trip in 2007, when Earl closed a deal in Israel on Christmas day. That holiday caused the couple to reevaluate the way they wanted to spend their lives.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What could we do that would enable us to teach the values we were looking for to our kids? With my background in biology and Carrie’s in science, what could we do as a business that would still be stimulating?'”
Soon after, the couple made the decision to open Telaya, a name that blends the Teton mountain range and the Spanish word for beach, ‘playa,’ a nod to the beach vacation in Mexico where they first began devising their new business plan.
“I grew up working on my parents’ and my grandparents’ farms and learned a lot of life lessons there,” Earl continues. “That was something we wanted to teach our boys, now age seven and ten. It was a very conscious and deliberate decision on our part to get into winemaking. The chemistry was fascinating to both of us, as well as the entrepreneurship and the work ethic. We wanted to teach that to our kids.”
After the duo sold the pharmaceutical business, Earl worked for a season in a winery cellar to learn some of the basic techniques before they started production.
Now the winery is growing faster than they could have hoped. One of their wines recently received 90 points from Wine Enthusiast, one of the few Idaho wines to break that margin. Their wine club has surpassed 600 members, nearly capacity for the company’s production. And, in April, they announced that they will be opening a new, 11,000-square-foot production facility and tasting room.
More importantly, however, the couple is creating a family business where their boys are learning and growing along with them, helping out at Telaya whenever they can and sharing their parents’ dream.
by Cindy Long
April 30, 2015