Laura Booras and Tim Booras, the father-daughter team behind North Carolina's Freedom Beverage. | Credit: William Fernandez

Growing up, Laura Booras remembers traveling with her dad around North Carolina as he sold wines for American Premium Beverage, the company that Tim Booras cofounded right out of college in 1973. 

“It was the days of Mateus and Blue Nun,” said Laura, who still has a Blue Nun t-shirt from when she was a baby. “I would follow my dad around the grocery store. My job was to dust off bottles on the shelves, and pull bottles to the front and push competitors to the back.”

She too entered the wine industry after college, moving to Santa Barbara County in 2004 “to go out and learn the business and get my hands dirty.” She worked for Consilience, Zaca Mesa, and then, in 2007, was hired as the brand manager for Riverbench Winery. Though a prominent Santa Maria Valley vineyard since 1973, the owners wanted to start a wine label. Booras spearheaded that mission, with the help of vineyard manager Jim Stollberg and, later, consulting winemaker Clarissa Nagy. 

Together, they built Riverbench into a powerhouse for high-quality pinot noir and chardonnay, opening a hospitality center in a remodeled home on the estate as well as a tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. The brand became a regional pioneer in sparkling wine, even planting the third traditional sparkling grape, pinot meunier. “We didn’t invent imitating Champagne, but I think we did it really well,” said Booras, who became general manager in 2009 and CEO in 2018. “I’m so proud of it.” She also served on the board of the California Wine Institute for 12 years, as president of World of Pinot Noir for three years, and three terms on the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association. 

Tim Booras, meanwhile, grew American Premium Beverage into the top North Carolina distributor of major alcohol brands. He sold his interest in 2007, but retained a smaller, boutique-focused importing and distribution company called Freedom Beverage, which he runs today. 

“He got back to the roots of hand-selling products he cared about,” explained Laura. “Freedom never called on huge grocery stores. They were able to focus on building small brands through Whole Foods, Earth Fare, and small chains and restaurants and wine shop accounts. “

Dad and daughter frequently discussed joining forces, and she started working part-time for Freedom during the pandemic. “My dad and I started having so much fun,” she said. “We worked really well together. It just started to feel like it was time.”

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In March, Booras parted ways with Riverbench, where she’d lived on-site for many years, to become vice president of Freedom. She headed east with her partner, the filmmaker/photographer Wil Fernandez, and they’ve been living a bit of the van life around North Carolina, visiting each city to see where they want to settle down. 

“When I left, it was still a white zinfandel-in-the-fridge market,” said Laura of how the state’s food & drink scene evolved impressively over the 18 years she was gone. “We didn’t expect to love Raleigh as much as we have,” she said of that city, and noted that Greensboro, where her dad has always lived, is “way cooler than it was when I left.”

The nomadic existence is also providing Laura the chance to meet the company’s 20-plus employees. “I’ve known a lot of people at Freedom over the years, but getting to know them and work with them on a day-to-day basis has been really cool,” she said. “We’re like the little big guy of North Carolina — we’re not huge, but we are not tiny, and we do cover the entire state.” She compared Freedom to what Henry Wine Group was once like in this region. 

Her dad remains an inspiring leader for the company, but he just turned 70 years old, and retirement may one day come. Business remains robust. “Alcohol sales are down, and yet Freedom is not,” she said. “We’re having a blast. We’re still selling well, we’re still growing. That energy feels really awesome.”

For Booras, who also studied cooking in France during her Riverbench years, the interface between importing European wines, connecting with craft breweries, and even representing her winemaker friends in Santa Barbara is a continual source of education. 

“It’s a nice way to stay current in the industry,” said Laura, who’s particularly excited about the rising quality of Greek wines, especially since that is her father’s heritage and she grew up speaking Greek. “In Santa Barbara, we can get in our own little bubble, so it’s cool to try things from other places and countries to grow my wine knowledge.”

And Laura believes she has much to contribute to the future of Freedom, even if these early days require some figuring out. “I feel like I’m starting over just a little bit,” she admitted. “But there’s definitely an element of modernity that I can bring to the table.”


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