FALMOUTH — In 2020, during the pandemic, husband and wife Deon Wills and Veronika Spevakova Wills started their own business importing and wholesaling a diverse range of wines from the Moravian region of the Czech Republic.
Beginning operations in Falmouth, Wills International has expanded to other states including New York, Pennsylvania and California.
Wine was a family affair
For Veronika, wine has always been a subject of passion. Born and raised in the Czech Republic, she traveled to the United States when she was 26 years old. She met her husband Deon in Louisiana and with their two daughters moved to Cape Cod nearly 15 years ago.
Veronika spent the first 26 years of her life learning the ins and outs of viticulture and viniculture at her family’s winery in Moravia, Czech Republic. In 2005, Veronika and Deon wanted to start their own journey as wine distributors, together with the family winery Spevak. The founding of a family and their two professional careers, however, took precedence over business.
During Christmas 2019, Veronika’s father, Frantisek Spevak, founder of Spevak Winery, traveled to Cape Cod and hosted wine tastings for several friends and their families.
“He (my dad) observed the taste buds of American wine lovers, their preferences, and then back in the Czech Republic, started arranging special wines based on that,” Veronika said. “One day we received a phone call from the Czech Republic and my father was telling us to come and get our wine, so we started our business.”
Veronika and Deon decided to form Wills International, LLC to import and distribute wine in the United States.
“Our first shipment arrived in the summer of 2021 and it was accepted immediately,” Deon said. “We immediately had seven clients.”
The first shipment included a custom and special edition of Spevak Winery’s Moravian White, Moravian Rosé and Moravian Red brands.
“We could have been importers, but since the Czech region is not well known for its wine, we had to create demand for the product first,” Deon said. “We have become distributors ourselves.”
Although Veronika earned WSET (The Wine & Spirit Education) L3 sommelier certification after starting their business, neither Deon nor Veronika had any idea how to run a business.
Introducing Cape Town to Czech Wines
Although she grew up in the vineyards, Veronika chose science as her career path. After completing her master’s degree in microbiology and biochemistry, she moved to the United States to pursue her graduate studies. Currently working as a technical manager for the associates of Cape Cod, a global biotechnology company, she has over the years become a speaker, educator and ambassador for new technologies.
On the other hand, Deon was born and raised in Louisiana and currently works as a chemical and beverage manager for a large food distributor. According to Veronika, Deon serves as a “one man army” when it comes to handling logistics.
“I’m used to working in management and working in a team; but I had no prior logistics experience and for me it was like learning a new industry overnight,” Deon said.
While Veronika organizes wine tastings, promotions and other activities, Deon is responsible for handling everything behind the scenes, starting with contacting suppliers and distributors and expanding their business to other states.
Since the Czech Republic is not known for its wines, restaurants on Cape Cod were skeptical at first. According to Veronika, customers are more demanding once they have tasted the wine. They distribute the wine to various local Cape Town businesses including Barnstable Market, Fenway Beer Shop, Craft Beer Cellar, Cotuit Liquors, Urban Grape, and more. This summer, Veronika hosted a private tasting with friends and fellow Czechs in Temecula, Southern California.
Wills International works directly with the Czech Embassy in Washington DC, the Czech Consulate in New York and the Czech Consulate in Los Angeles.
“We attend different annual and monthly events; whenever they organize Christmas markets, concerts or other events at the consulate, we attend the events, promoting our wines,” said Veronika.
Starting a business in the midst of a global pandemic in collaboration with another country was no small feat. According to Veronika, “the timing was not ideal”, but her family, as well as her family in the Czech Republic, are “patient and passionate about work”.
“When you do this for yourself, it doesn’t feel like work anymore,” Deon said.
Collaboration with Spevak Winery
Frantisek Spevak, Veronika’s father, founded Spevak Winery in 1993. Frantisek is a fourth generation winemaker, however, he was the only one in the family to take winemaking to a commercial level. A set of 10 hectares of vines falls under the Spevak Winery estate.
“The domain is not large, our objective has always been quality; for my father, quality rather than quantity is the most important aspect,” she said.
Since Spevak Winery also has a clientele in the Czech Republic, there are limits to the amount of wine they can produce for US customers.
According to Veronika, getting more suppliers and producers to collaborate is now the goal.
“Ensuring quality is the most important aspect, so we talked to other producers, tasted their products to find a potential match with ours,” she said. “We also think of producing low-cost wines as well as specific high-quality wines, meeting the needs of different customers, aiming to offer something for everyone.”
According to Frantisek Spevak, there are many native varieties of wine from the Czech Republic that have yet to be introduced to the world stage.
Veronika and Deon’s endeavor to expand their family business into the United States is a source of great pride for Frantisek.
“I couldn’t be happier that my life’s work is now being showcased in the United States,” Frantisek said, on a Zoom call from the Czech Republic.
Veronika, the eldest daughter of Frantisek and Marie, was to be involved in the family business from the start. Despite the choice of science, wine has always been his passion and his love.
“I wanted her to be involved in the business, but that didn’t happen then; now everything is falling into place and my dreams are coming true,” Frantisek said. “The wine is already gaining new customers in the United States and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Finding the right type of wine to meet the expectations of an American audience remains a challenge for Frantisek.
“We also want to inspire them to try new and different varieties of wine,” Frantisek said.
Preserving wine and culture
For Veronika, distributing wine that “tastes like home” to others and across the state is a way to retain Czech identity.
“I’m not at home, but working to promote and share Czech wine with others makes me feel like I’m doing something valuable for my country,” she said.
The local Falmouth community also includes several Czech businesses.
Wills International aims to reach American communities with the help of Czech customers. For Veronika, it’s not just about promoting wine.
“The Czech Republic has long been politically isolated, our wine interests people for the country; customers are starting to ask about the culture, the country and our way of life,” she said.
Veronika wants her daughters, Kristyna and Elisabeth, to have a powerful connection to Deon’s African-American heritage and his Czech heritage.
“Being away from home. I still keep my Czech identity; I want my daughters to have that too,” Veronika said. “I don’t want them to be away from either side, I expect them to be close to both.”
Deon and Veronika are optimistic about the future, with a clear goal to grow their business in the years to come.
For more information about Wills International, visit the website: https://www.willsinternational.com/
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