Maxim Atanassov has always had a thing for wine.
The Bulgarian-born Atanassov would be shipped off to his grandparents’ farm for the summers when he was young.
“I essentially grew up making wine with my grandfather, looking after the vineyard,” Atanassov said.
“So, I fell in love.”
When he came to Canada to pursue his university degree, Atanassov tried to open a wine importing business while living in New Brunswick. It didn’t work out as well as he’d hoped. The plan fermented for a while, and eventually, he reopened a wine import agency in Alberta in 2014.
It was through his experience with that agency that Atanassov realized some of the barriers faced by importers and producers.
That’s the driving force behind Calgary-based Vinterre. It’s a web-based platform that organizes the world’s wine information and connects wine producers and buyers.
By talking with more than 60 producers, he heard that wine information exchange with wine buyers was a big roadblock. The acquisition of wine samples was expensive. Regulations vary from province to province, making it a challenge to interact with customers across Canada. Then, getting the message out on their wines – this is a challenge for any business, but for wine producers, it’s an uphill battle.
Focus on the producer
Atanassov said they wanted to build a system to address these challenges.
When they discussed it with producers, Atanassov said they would start rattling off where it would save them both time and money.
“We see this as a bit of a strategic play because we want to focus on the producer,” he said.
“Because that’s where the value chain originally, that’s where it starts.”
They’re going to start with the producer first. Then the importer and the domestic distributors.
Atanassov said they will capture all of the wine and wine-related information in one place. They’ll also have tools like bottle shots, videos and other material available for the importers and distributors – all in one place.
They’re streamlining the education, marketing and governance for wine producers, to eliminate the gaps from vine to customer.
Deep business experience
After graduating from university, Atanassov spent 10 years with Ernst and Young’s consulting division. Then he went over to Deloitte.
He’s worked with a lot of top companies in North America.
Working with the Platform Calgary Alberta Yield program, Atanassov wasn’t looking as much for the business acumen. Though, he did pick up a thing or two.
What he sought were introductions and connections.
“Truly they have acted as an accelerator for us in terms of human connection taking our business to the next level,” he said.
He said they got so much out of the collaboration with other industry participants – whether that’s access to venture capital, navigation of government programs or connections to different aspects of business.
Launched this fall
Vinterre officially launched its premium version this fall. The basic version was available at the tail end of the summer. They’re slated to have a professional version out early in 2022.
“We’re rolling out more features and extending the value chain is sort of where the focus is,” Atanassov said.
They also wanted to build an environmental, social, governance (ESG) component to Vinterre. Plant information, water management, carbon management practices – even packaging and recycling – will all be available to producers.
The majority of their client base is outside Canada. Their product is available in eight languages and their focusing on the top 11 wine producing countries.
Canada’s the fourth largest importer of wine, Atanassov said, so it’s been valuable from that side of the equation. The focus, for now, is on the producer.
“What we’ve tried to do is create the perfect alignment between our interest, the producers the importers, for the government’s interest and the exporters’ interest,” he said.