Art Massolo knows that although the wine industry is an ever-evolving global business, it’s still powered by relationships. And few people are as well connected as Massolo. He credits his active network of beverage retailers, suppliers, importers, distributors, and more to his experience living in multiple countries across the world building world-class wine brands.
In his newest role as the Chief Business Development Officer at Mile High Labs, a Colorado-based CBD ingredient manufacturing company, he looks forward to applying his experience and brand building expertise to cannabis — an industry in which he says he was destined to work.
We caught up with Massolo to learn more about his career, what’s ahead for Mile High Labs, and more.
ForceBrands: Tell us first about your background and how you got into the wine industry.
Art Massolo: I have to say; it was one of those moments of complete serendipity. I was finishing up at Hamilton College in 1993 when I met someone who was on the board of directors for one of the largest wine companies in the world. We had a great conversation and he offered me an internship. So right after college, I found myself in the vineyards of Chile.
I arrived as an export manager. Within a week, they had a 400-hectare vineyard that needed revamping. The goal was to create Chile’s first boutique winery. I came up with the name Viña Cono Sur, the label and the marketing, and presented to board. Fast forward to the present day and it’s the second largest wine company in Chile, with distribution all over the world.
Viña Trivento in Argentina was the second project I founded. It’s now the second largest wine company in that country. I did the full spectrum of business on that project.
After that, I spent some time in the dot-com startup world. I was a co-founder of b2bwine.com, which was acquired by the Winery Exchange at the end of 2000.
FB: You’ve been critical to the development of numerous world-class wine and spirits brands. What do you find most rewarding about working in the industry? Mind sharing some career highlights with us?
AM: The wine industry is ever-changing. Each harvest is like a brand new story. My job was to discover that story and tell it in such a compelling way that people wanted to hear it over and over again. You need to make that story as important as the wine itself. I don’t think people on the outside realize how creative you need to be and how difficult this business is.
Origin is a great example of this. Three of us built that brand from the ground up. It was the fastest selling brand in U.K. history. We sold one-million, 9-liter cases there in less than a year through The Thresher Group.
Also, launching Franzia in China was pretty exciting. It took some years off of my life but it was fun, nonetheless.
FB: What are some of the most valuable lessons you learned from building brands in a global market in the beverage trade?
AM: Relationships are the key to success. I mean, the wine needs to be good, but the relationships are what allow you to get your product out to the masses. Even though it’s a huge, global industry it is still relationship-based.
The people I work with… I take the time to know them, because at the end of the day we are all human beings trying to make our way in the world. The more we treat each other as friends and create authentic relationships, the better off we’re all going to be.
FB: When it comes to building teams, how do you cultivate great culture?
AM: It’s easy to throw in a wine metaphor so instead I’ll say “clarity of purpose” is the root of great culture. Everyone on your team needs to be on board with what you’re doing, confident that their task is contributing to the goal, and given the space to do their best work.
You also need to trust people and their abilities. The more ego you can take out of the process, the better.
FB: Let’s chat cannabis — how did you enter the industry?
AM: Looking back on my career, it seems like it was my destiny. I’ve had a relationship with the plant for many years and my wine industry experience gave me the relationships and the branding experience. My dot-com days prepared me for the breakneck speed by which this industry is growing.
FB: Tell us more about your role as the ‘CBDO’ at Mile High Labs. What excites you most about the work you’re doing now?
AM: Yes, I’m the Chief Business Development Officer, the CBDO. It’s killer. My main roles are creating partnerships with CPG companies and Global Distribution entities. The obvious market for me is beverages, of course. We’re working with companies to develop products, ensure that they’ll hold up on the shelf, that they’ll taste great, that color and mouthfeel will be consistent.
We’re also working with food, pet food, health and beauty, nutraceuticals, E-Vapor, and vitamins. There really isn’t a category out there that isn’t looking into CBD as an ingredient.
FB: You’ve had direct experience developing CBD-infused beverages. What are some of the natural synergies between the two industries?
AM: Although the products are very different, the development process for the two products is very similar. At Mile High Labs, we are laser-focused on quality assurance, purity, and consistency. Even though the CBD industry isn’t regulated yet, we are adamant about using Good Manufacturing Practices to make sure our ingredients are pure and consistent.
Winemakers know you’re only as good as your worst bottle. Same goes for CBD products. If people aren’t happy with the quality, they won’t come back.
FB: What advice do you have for people transitioning from other CPG sectors into cannabis?
AM: Just like there’s a huge difference between Gallo and smaller brands, there’s a huge difference between traditional CPG sectors and the CBD industry. This business is much more suited to innovators than structured individuals. You need to be solutions-focused. Not only do you need to be adaptable to change, you need to embrace change. Because it seems like this industry is changing every day.
My one caution is there are a lot of bad actors out there who see opportunity in this underregulated market. They see pathways to make a quick buck and get out, with no regard for the industry or the end customer.
As the industry grows, companies like Mile High Labs are demonstrating what a good company can do. We’re proof positive that CBD companies can consistently produce an exceptionally high-quality product at scale. And as soon as the FDA increases regulations, you’ll see a lot of bad actors wash out of the business.
So my advice would be to do your research, talk to people in the industry, and go with the companies that have made the investments and set up the protocols to ensure a quality product for the long haul.