Colgate Entrepreneurs: Brian Haghighi ’09 starts his own fruit winery



Harry Raymond

Early 20th century economist and political scientist Joseph Schum­peter asserted that the source of eco­nomic growth in capitalism is radical innovation that revolutionizes the economic structure from within, de­stroying the old structure while creat­ing a new one. He called this process of transformation and innovation “creative destruction.” For Schum­peter, individuals drive an economy and the “wild spirit” of entrepreneurs is the force that shapes it.

The Colgate Entrepreneur col­umn will profile some of these wild spirits and creative destroy­ers. The entrepreneurial pulse of Colgate is often overlooked, but Hamilton has been the breeding ground for countless companies including well known game-changers such as Trivial Pursuit, Ben & Jerry’s and Vitamin Water. Each week The Maroon-News will sit down with a Colgate alumnus who has taken the road less traveled to start a business and lead the way in creative de­struction. Some of the alumni profiled are navigating their first venture and others will have built and sold multiple companies but, regardless of their age or experi­ence, they all share a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the summer of 2009, just months after graduating Colgate, a still jobless Brian Haghighi at­tended a dinner party at the home of some family friends. As a hobby, his friends, Devin and Bobbi Lee Sission were making fruit wine.

“I had never heard of fruit wine and I wasn’t much of a wine drinker in college.” Hagihidi said.

The Sissions excitingly poured their dinner guests their most re­cent creation, a plum wine. With Haghighi’s first sip, the seed for his San Diego-based California Fruit Wine Company had been planted.

“When I first drank it, I said to myself ‘This is pretty good. Why have I never heard of it? There could be real potential here.'” Hagihidi said.

Haghighi had graduated from Colgate a few months earlier without applying for a single job.

“I didn’t apply for jobs out of college, partially because the market was so bad and partially because my dad had an invention that he wanted to make a business out of so I felt obligated to support him,” Hagihidi said. His 75-year old father had invented a hair brush with two handles that would pull apart in the middle in order to put a design in your hair part. It didn’t take long for the younger Haghighi to have his doubts.

“It took a couple months for common sense to kick in and real­ize this was a bad idea.” Haghighi explained, “My dad is an old guy so he’s probably not the best per­son to be coming up with female hair products.”

Haghighi abandoned the idea of selling his father’s hair brush but he still wanted to do some­thing entrepreneurial. He found it in fruit wine.

In September 2009, Haghighi returned to Colgate to visit friends and, at the same time, research the fruit wine market. Both Case Library and the world wide web had little to offer, but Haghighi was encouraged that there were so many wine firms owned and run by three people or less.

“I thought, ‘That must mean that wine is a viable business. There are so many of them that they must be making good mon­ey,'” Haghighi said, “a year and a half into it, I’ve learned that most wine businesses are habitually in the red.”

Haghighi was still broke, job­less and had zero credit history when he started looking for capi­tal. He soon partnered with his friends Devin and Bob Lee Sis­sion, his brothers David and Alan to create the California Fruit Wine Company.

“Between the five of us, we started with $12,500 of capital which is nothing for starting a business,” Hagihidi said.

Haghighi worked as a free-lance website designer on the side and moved home to save money.

“Living at home is not great for attracting girls but these are the sacrifices you have to make when starting your own company,” Hagihidi said.

During the next year, the team, led by Brian and David, built Cali­, found a place for their winery, purchased wine-making equipment, continued to perfect their recipes for larger batches and endured the long per­mitting process. In order to stay un­der budget, Haghighi says he used, an online classifieds community, to find industrial space and purchase cheap second-hand winery equipment.

“When starting any business you have to be resourceful and there are always going to be un­foreseen setbacks but after nearly eighteen months we finally had movable and legal product,” Hagihidi said.

In November 2010, the Cal­ifornia Fruit Wine Company received their last Federal and State licences making them the first Southern California winery dedicated to making fruit wine.

Haghighi, a Political Science major, credits Colgate for teaching him to run a business.

“I learned more about running a business and the real world from my extracurricular activities than any class,” Hagihidi said.

Haghighi was involved in the Christian Fellowship, Men at Colgate and Brother’s Society. He recommends taking Principles of Accounting and Intro to Eco­nomics to get a business founda­tion but more importantly, he said: “Get involved. Start a club because extracurricular activities teach you to operate in a team with a shared mission.” He added, “Colgate is not just an academic institution, it’s a life preparation institution so take advantage of those non-academic aspects.”

Haghighi’s company now of­fers four varieties of fruit wine for under $15 a bottle: peach, plum, cherry and strawberry. He contin­ues to expand his fledgling busi­ness, soon offering wine tastings and parties.

“I am wired for entrepreneur­ship for a couple reasons. One, I don’t deal well with authority. Two, I am always more productive and happy when I do something that originates with me. I couldn’t see myself doing much else.”