O WINES: THE “O” STANDS FOR OPPORTUNITY

By: Kathryn Helstley

Stacy Lill and Kathy Johanson, friends for 22 years, own and operate O Wines in Woodinville, Washington. One hundred percent of the proceeds of O Wines is used to fund scholarships for low-income, high-potential youth. While Lill and Johanson share a desire to make a difference in the world, the inspiration for O Wines did not come as a result of deep pondering over the world’s problems, but rather from a light- hearted moment of cajoling banter.

In 2006, while enjoying an evening out with their husbands, the conversation turned toward the wine industry, in which both the men had some experience. As the wine flowed and good-natured banter progressed between the men, Stacy and Kathy turned toward one another and declared that they were going to start their own wine business and donate all the proceeds to charity.

“Stacy and I are both very competitive, so it started as banter between us and our husbands over too much wine,” chuckles Johanson as she remembers that evening. “It started as a joke, a competition, but then we decided to do it.” Forty cocktail napkins later they had a rough business outline, with plans and ideas—hard evidence of their intentions.

“We did a year’s worth of research and had six different focus groups, all women, and came up with a flavor profile,” Johanson explains. O Wines is female owned and operated, with the goal of making an excellent, consistent product at a reasonable price point. “We want to be the chardonnay that is in every household, the daily wine,” declares Johanson.

The two women divide up the day-to-day work of the winery, the events and the myriad other things associated with such an endeavor. It is grueling work, and their close friendship and open communication style have helped them succeed in a tough industry.

The purpose behind their product makes all of the effort worthwhile. When first looking for a cause that meant something to them, Lill and Johanson felt drawn to help abused women, and through research discovered that one root cause of the cycle of abuse was lack of education.

Determined to make a difference, O Wines donates all proceeds to fund scholarships.