A Winning Business Venture
By Elizabeth Skenes Millen
Photography provided by Mondavi Home Collection
Call it happenstance, serendipity or a miracle. When Beaufort resident Renee Armstrong set up her booth at the Southern Living inspired Bottles and Barrels festival in Habersham near Beaufort last June to sell her wine-related wares, she had no idea a Cinderella story was in the making and the “glass slipper” would be a perfect fit for her.
A wine lover, Renee combined two of her passions—wine and candle making—into a fledgling start up business. Repurposing wine bottles, she handcrafted small batches of all natural, soy candles, which she infused with her aromatic concoctions of essential oils. The result was an environmentally responsible, clean burning, delightful line of candles. Her main outlets for sales were craft fairs, where many weekends she would set up shop in hopes of selling her creations.
Two years into the business, Renee took a long, hard look at her endeavor. She gave herself one more year to either thrive or dive. However, on New Year’s Day 2014, she had a feeling that ‘14 was going to be her year. She didn’t know what that would look like or how it would manifest, she only knew her gut feeling was optimistic. The Barrels and Bottles event proved to make her dreams come true, validating that being in the right place at the right time still has very powerful merit.
While there are thousands of wine brands on the market, there are only a few elite family names that make up the “royalty” of the wine industry. Mondavi is one of those names. Lydia Mondavi, the wife of Robert Mondavi, Jr., is a powerhouse businesswoman in the wine industry, the cosmetic industry and now in the home design industry. Lydia, a new part-time resident of the Lowcountry, along with Rob and their 3 year old son, was in attendance at the Bottles and Barrels festival. When Renee heard that Lydia was there, her goal became making sure Lydia had a candle to take home—a simple gesture of Southern grace. The two ladies met, Renee gave Lydia a candle, brief pleasantries were exchanged and that was that.
In building their home on one of the Sea Islands outside of Beaufort, Rob and Lydia partnered with acclaimed designers and manufacturers to bring their Southern story to life through their distinct personal style and regional inspirations. Blending Napa’s acclaimed wine country with the casual elegance of the Lowcountry, the Mondavi’s coastal home embodies the family’s entertaining lifestyle and reconnects them to Lydia’s South Carolina ancestral heritage. The Mondavi home collection features flooring crafted from reclaimed wood of vintage wine barrels and the Old Crow Bourbon Distillery in Kentucky.
Upon her return to California, Lydia lit the candle Renee had given her and took special note when she got a delightful whiff of the blend of pure essential oils wafting from the candle. “It made me think we need to have a candle line, creating special blend signature scents for the Mondavi Home Collection.” She crafted a short email to Renee simply stating that she would like to discuss partnering with her in bringing a signature candle line to the Collection.
You can only imagine the thrill, fear, disbelief and excitement that filled Renee as she read the email. “I called Lydia, and when we were finished talking, I threw the phone. I couldn’t believe it! It was destiny,” Renee said. It seems these two women’s paths crossed with a nose for business as the destination.
It all happened quickly, too. “The four weeks following the initial contact, we produced the design, label and scent. We basically had the product to completion in six weeks,” Rachel Armstrong, Renee’s youngest of three daughters and business partner, said. It was the purity and responsibility to the environment of Renee’s product that drew Lydia to it. “They are made from all natural soy wax with no toxins, in repurposed wine bottles, with all natural cotton wicks. It’s everything Rob and I believe in,” Lydia said.
The first scent of the Mondavi Home Candle Collection is called “Lowcountry.” It embodies the lively notes of the Lowcountry coast and fresh white wine, laced with hints of Asian pear, crisp apple and muddled honey, with lush tropical and oak undertones. “Lowcountry” is reminiscence of Southern porches, Spanish moss and a glass of crisp white wine. “Rob has a great nose and when he smelled this scent he thought it was just enough spice. We entertain a lot and this is a candle that can burn in the kitchen and not overpower the food or wine,” Lydia said. The next scent, due out this winter, will be called “Wine Country” and will be a luscious, velvety scent exuding sultry leather and tobacco notes of a big red wine.
This is a story of two women, who are so much alike but on a totally different scale, combining their talents. It’s about family, recycling, doing what you love and dreams coming true. It’s about women helping women. “You make a left or a right. I made a right. You couldn’t have wrapped this package up any prettier and handed it to me,” Renee said. In the words of Cinderella’s fairy Godmother, “Magic can appear when you least expect it. Even miracles take a little time.”
To see photos of the new coastal Mondavi home and find out more about Mondavi Home Collection and the candle line go to www.mondavihome.com and uncorkcandles.com, where the candles are available for purchase.