James Van Der Kolk's extensive journey in the wine business began with a field trip to a winery in Germany during a summer term in college. Fascinated by the subtle, yet incredible differences in wines made form riesling grapes grown in neighboring vineyards with different conditions, a discussion with the winemaker ensued and the rest is history. At 24, James knew he wanted to work in the wine world, but wasn't exactly sure how or where.
As a West Michigan native, it turned out that the Fenn Valley winery in Fennville Michigan was good fit for his interests. Creating his own role at the winery as the sales and marketing manager, James began learning literally every side of the wine business. From vineyard management and growing, to winemaking and production and through to every side of the sales process, James learned the ropes at this small family owned winery. This experience gave him the insight into what separates a small winery with quality and uniqueness as its focus and a large corporate winery producing wine solely as a profit driven commodity. These experiences with a craft winery remains at the heart of how James thinks about wine to this day.
In 2001 James went to work for Elite Brands, a new wine division of Imperial Beverage. Over the next 5 years he turned his route into a profitable business and built a solid book of accounts. Many of these establishments are now the top tier restaurants and wine shops in the region. James then moved into the role of managing Elite Brands USA, connected with a distributor base in 18 states and suppliers around the world. Although he continued to build on his success in the wine business, the travel and time away from his family began to take a toll. He stepped back into a Michigan wholesale position with Imperial Beverage for the next two years, and his vision for i-lixir beverage began to take shape.
During James' time in the wine business it became evident that with consolidation on the wholesale side of the supply chain, the overall focus shifted towards keeping the largest, corporate suppliers happy. This shift left the small, quality-focused winery at mercy of the few salespeople who had the time or energy to take care of them. It became very clear that the efficiency of consolidation actually made it less viable for small wineries to succeed even though more individuals had the opportunity to represent them. Much like anything else made with quality and heart first, a passionate small group of dedicated salespeople can have a bigger impact than a mass of uninterested people.
In April of 2012, James left his position with Imperial Beverage and began assembling the small portfolio of producers that would be come the Ilixir book. In September of 2012, Ilixir Beverage opened for business and James began promoting the collection of small, craft focused wine producers he had gathered to his already large network of relationships in Michigan.
The ongoing focus of James and i-lixir Beverage is smart growth focused on working with people, producers, importers, retailers and restauranteurs who strive to create authentic wine experiences. The pleasure (that's what wine should be all about anyway right?) around these experiences is always rooted in the knowledge that wine is much more than a commodity sold for profit, but a unique agricultural product with a rich history and connection with the land it comes from.
James lives in the lakeside town of Grand Haven, Michigan with his wife and two children.