The Heck family has been helm of the 134-year-old Korbel wine brand for six decades. Gary Heck for four of those decades has been carrying on the Korbel brothers’ legacy of making fine Champagne-method bubbly in the U.S.
His father, Adolf, bought the company from the brothers in 1954 and developed automation for what had been a tedious production process. Gary Heck became chairman in 1984 and the stature of the brand has grown. Heck also has been actively involved in wine industry leadership, chairing a top trade group and in the past two decades making Sonoma County the epicenter of wine business education.
What are top achievements of your career?
GARY HECK: I took over for my dad in 1974 as executive vice president, because he was very ill at the time. And since then, I’ve seen Korbel grow from 150,000 cases [annually] to a million and a half. It’s been quite the successful involvement of me being with Korbel and all my executive staff. You’re successful because of who you surround yourself with.
The other thing, too, is I’ve been chairman of the Wine Institute, in 1993–94. I started with the Wine Institute in 1976 and am still on the board of directors and on the Finance and Administration Committee.
Twenty years ago, I was approached by Sonoma State University to start their Wine Business Institute. Along with Henry Trione, my chairman in Sonoma [County], and Walt Klenz, my chairman in Napa [County], we started the Wine Business Institute, and it has been a very successful trip down the road. We’re very happy and pleased with its success at the present time.
What is the importance of education in the wine business?
HECK: When [Sonoma State then-School of Business & Economics] Dean [Larry] Clark and [then-President] Ruben [Armiñana] approached me 20 years ago, they said they would like the business of wine become part of the education of Sonoma State. Not winemaking and not enology — we have got Fresno [State University] and [University of California] Davis and other universities that do a wonderful job at that. But no one was really focusing on the business of wine, and so that’s what we do at Sonoma State.
With a history stretching back to 1882, how does Korbel balance heritage and cutting edge, provenance and relevance?
HECK: As you can see when you’re here, we’re all about heritage. Korbel has been around for 134 years, so it’s important for us to maintain our quality of production and making everything méthode champenoise. Even our 187s [single-serving bottles] are made by the traditional method. They’re not transfers. That’s not like a lot of other people in the sparkling or Champagne business.
We’ve been very, very successful in modernizing our production facilities. We probably have one of the most state-of-the-art production facilities in the country. It’s not like making wine, where you bottle it and you put it in the warehouse and it sits there. We bottle, disgorge and label every day here. The only two days we’re not in production here is Christmas and New Year’s.
What impact has the Heck era of Korbel had on sparkling wine in the U.S. and the competition the brand has had overseas from traditional méthode champenoise producers in Europe and sparkling wine producers in up-and-coming regions such as Asti and Prosecco?
F. Korbel & Bros.
Category: Lifetime Achievement Award
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