BURT – Cynthia West-Chamberlain is involved in every last aspect of winemaking and marketing at her successful Black Willow Winery.
So it’s no wonder that she was recently chosen from a field of candidates across the state as Agricultural Entrepreneur of the Year by the New York State Small Business Development Center.
What is surprising is that she only opened her winery two years ago at 5565 W. Lake Road.
When West-Chamberlain and her husband, Michael Chamberlain, launched their winery, they offered five wines. That selection has grown to 13 wines, including three meads, or honey wines. This helps set them apart from the other 16 wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail.
They also pair their wines with high-end chocolates from Florida, another niche.
Their wines have earned 29 international awards, as well.
“We’re very honored to receive all of these awards,” said West-Chamberlain. “I just do what I do and keep doing it. Even though we’ve gone this far in this short a time, we haven’t gone after the wholesale market yet – the stores that carry our product have come to us.”
She speaks like a true marketing expert, and so it should come as no surprise that this is West-Chamberlain’s background. She was a marketing development manager with Ingram Micro for 14 years before downsizing forced her to find her next career. She is also co-owner, along with her husband, of Milestone Builders in Lockport.
Owning a winery was a longtime dream for the couple, she recalled.
“Every time I’d drive by a new winery, I’d say, ‘That could be me,’ ” she said with a laugh. “This has been a lot more work that I thought it would be, but if you can do the thing you love, it’s very rewarding. We make something that goes from being a grape to being a product on a shelf, and I’m involved in every piece of it.”
West-Chamberlain said she worked closely with the state Small Business Development Center’s Niagara office to start her business and that she continues to work with it.
“Cindy is one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever worked with,” said Maureen Henderson, assistant director of the center’s Niagara office, “and she’s also one of the quickest. When I give her homework, she’s got it right away. She stays focused and knows what she wants, and that’s paid off in the wonderful success of her winery. She’s using her marketing skills, and she has found different niches.”
The state Small Business Development Center provides business counseling and training to New York residents through a network of 24 regional centers, free of charge. The organization annually chooses an Agricultural Entrepreneur of the Year from among its clients across the state who not only runs a successful small business, but also has a positive impact on the local community.
West-Chamberlain was selected to attend the opening of the first New York State Small Business Development Center’s Wine Outlet in Shanghai, China, in October. She was a featured speaker at the center’s April 29 event in Niagara Falls, where she collected her award, discussing her experiences in China. Her wines are now sold in Shanghai, along with selections from two other Niagara Wine Trail wineries, Vizcarra Vineyards at Becker Farms in Gasport and Spring Lake Winery in Lockport.
“We were there for a week, and it was an experience!” she said. “We had a delegation of 14 Chinese officials at our event in April, and they all came back here to our winery. We were the first American winery they had ever visited.”
“They are interested in opening another wine outlet in central China, and they said it will probably take a couple of years, but they’d like me to speak to them about my experiences,” she said.
Henderson noted that West-Chamberlain’s business has grown quickly.
“I’m sure there are a lot more awards in her future,” she said.