Vice president and senior viticulturist, Silverado Premium Properties
855 Bordeaux Way, Ste. 100, Napa 94558, 707-253-1776
Professional background: Career winegrower and winegrape buyer
Education: St. Helena High School
What do you see as the essential role of a leader in the current environment? Working with my fellow growers to shape the future regulatory landscape. As with the entire state of California, the North Coast too has its water issues and will be the focus of regulation for many years to come.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry? Consolidation of wine brands. We still have not realized the full impact of this push of the last decade. Secondly is the regulatory burden on farm enterprises. Here I see no light at the end of the tunnel. Government has and is expanding at a rate much greater than the private sector can comply with. There is little regard to unintended consequences that all regulation brings to bear. Granted regulation and especially a stakeholder regulatory process are often necessary to keep the balance with our communities’ resources. Most regulation moves forward in a vacuum without tested science, very different from theoretical science. Unfortunately the latter is where we find much of the current regulatory world.
What advice would you give to young emerging leaders? This is an ageless concept that is now more important than ever, “Just because you do not have an interest in government, it doesn’t mean your government doesn’t have an interest in you.” Be involved or don’t complain. It is not enough to just throw money at a problem any longer, it requires direct engagement.
What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment? Micromanage your overhead expenses. Be agile and flexible in all efforts. Do not waste time on last-minute decisions, be prepared with multiple options. Opportunities are fewer and pass quickly. In order to survive and even prosper, act, don’t react.
How do you think your business will change in the next five years? We will have fewer places to market our grapes in the traditional manner. I see the same pressure to deliver exceptional value for our ultimate customers, the consumer. I also see more grower wine, aka the bulk wine market, evolving into a larger percentage of the annual crush.
What is a decision you wish you hadn’t made? What did you learn from it? A couple of key items for me have stuck in my daily work. First is establishing a vineyard. I have been guilty of passing my responsibility off to a winemaker’s desire to use less than the highest quality plant materials. This is a long-term endeavor, and every part of your decision-making process will come to bear in the lifetime of that vineyard. Plant materials are all too often not given the attention they require. Using substandard plant materials will shorten the productive life of the vineyard, period. Second is about people working with you. If the people around you do not share the same vision, valuable resources are wasted. I have attempted to impose my view onto others. Not the best approach. Invest in the right person, and your investment will pay handsomely.
What is your most memorable business experience? I have had a career full of satisfying experiences. Watching a young vineyard grow is still my favorite thing. I truly enjoy what I do. I find now having to answer that question reminds me of one task I challenged myself with while working for the Gallo family years ago. A large reservoir was built with an outflow pipe that was ultimately buried 70 to 80 feet deep in the upper section on which a vineyard was planted. When it came time to test the pipe we discovered that it leaked. The 16-inch line was about 750-feet long and had a couple of bends in it. Locating the leak for repair became very crucial for a cost-effective repair. Experts were called out to survey the line and were unable to locate the failure. I do not know to this day what made me think I could solve this issue, but I piped up with a solution. I built a camera carrier (mole) to move up the pipe opening, towing the power cord and a safety cable. The first attempt failed. I was extremely embarrassed but asked for a second try, and the “mole” worked very well. The leak was located, and the multi-million dollar system was repaired. I went outside my comfort zone and got lucky.
What is your greatest business success? While purchasing grapes for Allied Domecq here in California I used a controversial method for determining pruning levels called bud dissections. I took samples across my market area and one piece of data that my experience has shown is the absence of crop potential. Using this information I purchased early, and by the time my competition was able to calculate the short crop I was done buying for the year.
What was your toughest business decision? As the grower relations agent for Chateau St. Jean, having to look at several growers in the eye and tell them their efforts for the entire year were not going to pay off. The year was 1989, and the September rains caught many growers with chardonnay melting away to botrytis in the field.
What would your friends be surprised to find out about you? I built and operated a large gold dredge for two summers on the Trinity River – the only two summers in my life without a grapevine in them. Yes, I was single, young and looked like many new winery owners with their starry eyes. It was my first look at the world outside of sunny St. Helena, and it was the opportunity for me to grow up. The best part of that experience was the treasure of meeting a dear friend with whom that friendship remains close to this day.
First job: Ranch/vineyard hand for Ernie and Virginia Van Asperen, Round Hill Winery
Most admired businessperson outside the company: This for me is two people from my past. First, Julio Gallo for his passion for winegrowing, learning/teaching and demanding the best with his honest love and respect of the land. Second is Tom Hobart. He, like no other, made working hard fun, and he instilled in others to get out of their comfort zone, sometimes to a fault. As a friend, I miss and think about him often.
Current reading: Still into my quarterly ASEV Journal. I own every copy ever printed (the first 20 years were a gift). It has been my scientific backstop for my entire career. It is not the only resource, but it has been the best. Otherwise, anything by Louis L’ Amour for the light stuff, Paul Johnson for the rest.
Most want to meet: I would like to have a beer with Neil Young.
Stress relievers: Music, hanging at home (that’s where my wife, Lorna, is), playing in the garden
Favorite activities outside work: Fishing, visiting with my children and travel
Additional activities: I own and operate with my wife a micro wine brand, Route 128 Winery, with tasting and retail in Geyserville. I grow the grapes, make the wine at our home property and Lorna does the compliance, bookkeeping and manages the shop in Geyserville.
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