On a frosty winter morning in the industrial streets of Irving, UNT alum Brooks Trabold ('15) is unloading mid-sized palettes full of wines from different parts of the world. As owner of the startup wine distribution and importation company, Flora & Fauna Imports, he is involved in every aspect of his business, from the physical labor of carrying boxes packed with 55-degree chilled reds and bubbles, to meeting with clients face-to-face throughout DFW.
Trabold's first meeting of the day is at Roots and Water Wine Room -- a rustic, dimly lit private wine club. There, he meets with AJ McClellan, Roots and Water's owner and a certified sommelier, and Richard O'Neill, the owner of Jeroboam, a wine and spirits distributor. The men sit down in plump leather armchairs and Trabold commences the wine showing with a vivid red, pouring each of them a taste. The men talk about its tannin structure and fruity aroma and discuss meeting for lunch soon. The end of the conversation hints at potential sales as Trabold bids adieu and leaves to his next destination.
"I love Brooks," says McClellan, whose Roots and Water currently offers seven wines from Trabold, including wine from producers such as Two Old Dogs, Parmeson Wines, Elwood, Rubia, Hailstone Vineyards, Vinchio Vaglio Serra and Villa Saletta. "He is a great guy, has an amazing book of great wines, and is super knowledgeable when it comes to wine."
Trabold started Flora & Fauna nearly two years ago. Before his adventures in Dallas, he worked at Christopher Creek Winery in Healdsburg, California, where he served as director of sales and even physically crushed grapes -- something he still does every year because he "simply loves it."
"I love seeing the life of a vine -- it's like a butterfly hatching," Trabold says. "Crushing grapes is hard work, but very rewarding."
His initial interest in wine lies in the business itself. Trabold wanted to bring small- to mid-sized producers to Texas after seeing how difficult it was for producers of this size to find distribution. Flora & Fauna's name was inspired by Trabold's experience with the wildlife in the vineyards, especially rabbits since they always ate the best fruit.
"If animals are eating your fruit, it's a sign that you have a healthy vineyard," he says.
The pandemic shifted the way Flora & Fauna operated as restaurants closed and the company temporarily lost business. To keep afloat, Trabold concentrated his efforts on retail spaces like liquor and grocery stores -- Flora & Fauna supplies big brands around Texas such as H-E-B, Spec's and Total Wine, along with 84 restaurants.
"I was used to restaurants, and now I have larger placements and orders," says Trabold, who previously worked as a capital assets valuation analyst for Dallas-based VMG Health. "It's not easy working with corporate retail, but my experience in corporate health care helps."
It was at VMG where he met Paige Nissen, who's been involved with the company since the beginning.
"Brooks is really, really passionate about what he does," she says. "I think working with wine is truly his calling."
Trabold's next visit is to the retail shop Burgundy Swine, located in a quiet area of Victory Park. He greets four men in a lounge area flooded with natural light, where he unzips his rolling bag to pull out 12 wines for the tasting. Trabold -- never rushed and always friendly -- educates the men about the producers and the wine itself. He answers their questions about pricing and listens intently as they offer comments about the composition of the wines. Trabold's intent, he says, is to place relationships over profit.
"Being friendly is a prerequisite to this business," he says.
In between the wine tastings, Trabold stops in to say hello to some of his restaurant clients, including Billy Can Can steakhouse and saloon, Imoto and Mot Hai Ba. An impromptu visit to a Jinya Ramen, a highly prospected account for Flora & Fauna, sparks confidence in Trabold. He feels the visit went well for his first attempt at approaching the manager for his interest.
That drive to grow his business and customer relationships is no surprise to Cole Towery ('15), who was Trabold's UNT roommate before working for him at Flora & Fauna. Towery, who helps the business periodically delivering orders across the state, can attest to Trabold's work ethic and dedication.
"I think one day he woke up feeling dangerous and just went after it," Towery says. "He works too much -- I swear the dude sleeps at the warehouse. He works 24/7."
The final stop on Trabold's journey is Biagio Wine & Spirits, where he catches up with Courtney Soileau, Biagio's wine buyer and sales consultant. They discuss the needs of Biagio and start putting together an order.
"His portfolio definitely consists of smaller vineyards and family-owned wineries," Soileau says. "He's very passionate about his collection and consistently chooses wines that are of the utmost quality."
The goal of Flora & Fauna is to connect small wine producers from all over the world to the Texas market. Matching wineries to businesses is a sort of curative process, where personalities and necessities marry.
"The distributors get the business and attention," he says. "We provide a service level you can't find anywhere else."
Not only does Trabold's direct involvement with curating producers cultivate successful business, but he also is active in trying to convince producers to not use foil in their packaging due to the waste it causes. He hopes to reduce the carbon footprint the wine industry has. Since the pandemic, people have been consuming more wine, according to The Wine Institute.
"People are focusing more on ethically sourced wine," Trabold says. "They are caring more, are more educated, and are shifting to small wines and not big names."
Ultimately, Trabold's goal is to continue to grow Flora & Fauna beyond Texas -- and change the palates and minds of the state's consumers in the process.
"We want people to 'build their book' of experiences and to taste as many wines from as many producers as possible," he says. "You could make a pinot noir a thousand different ways, and each way, you're going to get a different taste profile and experience. If you have the opportunity to open up two or three bottles of pinot noir from different producers at the same time, and compare and contrast them, you'll really begin to understand and appreciate the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences that are attributed to different regions in the world or different winemaking methodologies."