Brenner’s wines were served at a U.S. State Department dinner hosted by Hillary Clinton in October 2009. This boost to the brand’s credibility enabled Brenner to sign on more distributors and step up sales. Now, with $1.5 million from private investors, she’s planning to expand her management team and hire a marketing firm. She projects revenues of $1.5 million for 2012. Her personal income is still less than half of what she earned during her high-tech career. “But I’ve never been happier,” she says. “I’m living a very rich life. Every time I’m out in the vineyards, the experience totally refuels me. I’ve never felt more fulfilled in my work.”
JUDY JACOBS, 53
From | Property Developer
To | Painter and Glass Artist
In late 1999, Judy Jacobs took a glassmaking class at Rainbow Glass, an emporium near her home in Sacramento, California. She was immediately captivated. Every evening, after a day spent working at a real estate–development firm, she applied herself to her new hobby. “I set up a kiln in my spare bedroom,” she says, “and created plates, coasters, necklaces and earrings.” The equipment and supplies cost $1,500, but Jacobs’s day job was going well, and the creative work helped her relieve stress. “I had taken all the art classes my high school offered, and more classes in college and workshops later on,” she says. “But I was programmed from a young age to believe that you couldn’t make money as an artist.” She became a real estate broker, manager and property developer instead, making “$100,000 plus,” she says.
A few months later, a local art gallery invited Jacobs to create a few glass masks for a show. Encouraged by how well they sold, Jacobs signed up for a five-day workshop hosted by the Arts Business Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, where artists and crafts-people study how to increase their profits. She learned a better way to price her work, how to approach retailers and the importance of producing on a large scale. When she returned home, Jacobs staged a show of her glasswork at her house, where visitors could see all her tools and materials, and she converted her garage into a studio so she could step up production.
Her art enterprise started to prosper. But the same couldn’t be said for real estate. When she first got into the business, she loved it, but as the economy worsened, job pressures escalated, and she began to suffer from insomnia and muscle spasms. Taking a painting class with Robert Burridge, an artist whose work she admired, seemed like the perfect vacation. Jacobs had studied painting in the past, but nothing had prepared her for the breakthrough she experienced in Burridge’s class. For the first time in her life, she painted with bold strokes of bright acrylic color. This is who I am, she thought. This is me.