Operating a local business is nothing new for Hamilton County resident Scott Burton. After all, he built, developed and maintained the Indiana Fieldhouse in Fishers until he sold it a few years ago. But, Scott’s latest adventure is completely personal with the primary goals of having fun and giving back to the community.
The Peace Water Winery lies in the heart of the Arts District on Main Street in Carmel. Most days you can find the family vehicle, a refurbished 1966 bright yellow Volkswagon bus named “Reggie,” parked out front. The bus is one of the many peace symbols the Burtons use to embody the winery’s moniker and business model, “One bottle does a world of good.”
“This whole thing started a few years ago after I sold the fieldhouse,” said Scott in the middle of his tasting room. “After about a month, my wife said I had to find something to do.”
Scott had already lived a life in corporate law, but left the firm (Barnes and Thornburg) in the late nineties to spend more time with his family. “The pay check was good, but the quality of life was not what I wanted,” said Scott.
Carmel, Fishers and other areas of Hamilton County were on the cusp of major development, so Scott took his law earnings and began investing in real estate. That led to the development of the fieldhouse, which allowed him the time he wanted to spend with his eight children (seven boys and one girl) and re-capture that lost quality of life.
The sale of the fieldhouse wasn’t a calculated business move, but rather a decision of timing and opportunity. With his wife Laura’s directive to get out from under foot, Scott wasn’t sure what that next venture would be.
“All I knew is that I wanted to do something fun and give back to the community,” said Scott, “The giveback idea literally came from my wife. She has this tradition of paying for the order of the car behind us in the drive-through at Starbucks. It hit me – if buying a cup of coffee for one person makes their day, what if I could do something like that on a larger scale?”
The notion of selling wine to benefit charity was born.
Scott said the idea for a winery evolved from the ideas of fun and community that he wanted to keep at the core of the business. He and Laura had traveled to Napa Valley to enjoy California’s wine offerings before and thought that would be something that people would enjoy in Central Indiana. But first he had to find a winemaker.
“We did our research and made a list of winemakers in Napa that we wanted to pitch our idea to, then we just started knocking on doors,” said Scott.
Brian Brakesman of Summit Lake Vineyards and Winery on Howell Mountain above Napa Valley made the list. Brian said he was intrigued by the initial proposal when Scott and Laura Burton knocked and left the door open to hear more.
“I was fascinated by the ideas he (Scott) had,” said Brian. “Once I saw a shared vision and opportunity, I was on board.”
Scott envisioned a wide selection of California wines for his Indiana winery. Together he and Brian agreed on 10 offerings from white to red that would have the Peace Water label. The grapes for two of the wines would come directly from Brian’s vineyard while the rest would come from other vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The Peace Water brand allowed Brian to tighten relationships with vineyards he had worked with in the past plus develop new relationships with other vineyards.
“All of the grapes used in Peace Water wines are the most premium grapes in the valley,” said Brian. “We are only working with the highest quality fruit and take great care in how it is harvested as well.”
A crew of about 24 people handpicked the grapes from Brian’s vineyard specifically for Scott’s wine. Brian supervised every step of the production of the Peace Water wine and the Burtons flew out to California to witness the harvest.
“I’ve always believed in the idea of ‘surround yourself with good people, hand them the reigns, and let them go!’ That makes for a good working relationship and a premium product,” said Scott. “And we’ve got killer Napa and Sonoma Valley wines.”
With sensitivity to overhead costs and the primary directive in the business plan of giving back to the community, Most Peace Water wines run between $19 and $32 a bottle. All of their offerings are dry and include an oaked and an un-oaked Chardonnay (Soulful & Radiant), a Sauvignon Blanc (Bliss), a Pinot Noir (Sublime), a white table blend (Wishful White), a red table blend (Grateful Red), a Rosé (Inspire), a Zinfandel (Zen), and two varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon (Passion & Nirvana).
The Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (Nirvana) is the one Peace Water offering that moves for $120 a bottle. Scott wasn’t sure how well that would sell in Carmel, Indiana, but was pleasantly surprised shortly after their opening.
“One guy must’ve been very familiar with Howell Mountain because as soon as he saw it was a Howell Mountain Cab, he ordered 2 and a half cases of it without a single taste.”
Peace Water Winery offers similar amenities as other wineries, including tastings and a wine club dubbed, the “Peace Posse.” Club perks include the delivery of your wine in “Reggie” if you live within a 15-mile radius of the storefront.
Every member of the Burton family is a part of Peace Water Winery. Take the foil design around the top of each bottle, for instance. The design features eight hands displaying the peace sign. Those eight hands are actual line drawings from the hands of each of Scott’s children, who range in age from 26 to 12. The label design features a peace sign with a “splash and ripple” effect.
“The label design, a splashing peace sign surrounded by small ripples getting larger as they spread outward, is meant to reflect the whole idea of the brand,” said Scott. “That small ideas and acts [of kindness] can have a big impact and spread farther than you can imagine.”
The business plan calls for 50% of all profits to be donated back to eight different charities (one for each Burton kid) selected by the family. The charities are:
When a patron makes a purchase at Peace Water Winery, they are given a peace sign to take to the Giving Wall where each charity is displayed with a hanging basket next to it. The patron can place their peace sign into the basket of the charity of their choice to designate where their money should go.
As for the future, Scott says he may consider another tasting room on Mass Ave in Indianapolis.
“A location there would definitely fit with what we are all about,” said Scott. He is also considering a local restaurant or two to feature Peace Water wines on their wine list of a local restaurant. “Not a chain or anything, but maybe a local establishment that fits with our business model,” said Scott.
For right now, 37 W. Main St. in Carmel is the only place you can get Peace Water wines. And for Scott, Laura, and the family, that is perfectly okay because they are having fun and giving back to the community.