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Lauren Ackerman at Napa’s Ackerman Family Vineyards wins North Bay Women in Business award

Lauren Ackerman

Owner and proprietor

Ackerman Family Vineyards and Ackerman Heritage House

608 Randolph St., Napa 94559

707-799-2111

www.ackermanfamilyvineyards.com

Lauren Ackerman went from tech to philanthrophy to wine. She is a 2020 North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Awards winner.

Professional background: I was in the information technology industry in the early part of my career; moved into philanthropy in the mid-90’s until the present day, started my winery officially in 2003 after starting to make wine in 1995 and then started renovations on my 1888 Queen Anne Victorian which is now used as a special wine & food event space for local and out of town visitors.

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations, University of Southern California; MBA in strategic marketing and entrepreneurship, Pepperdine University; The Rockefeller Foundation TPW Program (The Philanthropic Workshop) on global strategic philanthropy; Summer Program at Oxford University, Victorian History

Staff: 4

Tell us about yourself and your company:

Ackerman Family Vineyards is a small producer of super premium wines located in the Coombsville AVA of Napa Valley.

We produce around 1,000 cases annually and currently have six varietals that we produce. Since 1995, it has been a labor of love to build and grow our wine brand over the years into the unique organization that it is today.

I personally have learned so much in this process and am still learning, which keeps me on my toes! After purchasing the Victorian in downtown Napa in 2010, I embarked on a five-year journey that involved completely renovating a dilapidated historic house and dealing with an earthquake prior to completion. All the ups and downs of this process taught me so much and was well worth the effort. Today, both the winery and the Victorian are working hand-in-hand to give our visitors a truly unique experience.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?

I am so proud that The Ackerman Heritage House won the California Preservation Foundation Award for best Historic Preservation last year. This was such a huge honor to receive and made me realize that all my hard work was definitely worth it.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

Taking on an historic renovation project that I had no idea how to do but persevering with it over five years.

There were definitely days I thought about quitting, but I had to dig down deep within myself to keep moving forward, always wondering if people would actually like it enough to visit.

Since opening in the fall of 2015, we’ve had almost 10,000 people through its doors and I am very proud of the fact that my dream to do a project like this actually came to fruition because it certainly wasn’t an easy journey. I learned patience, courage, faith and a sense of humor are often needed the most when taking on a challenging task.

What is your biggest challenge today?

My biggest challenge today is making sure both my winery and the Victorian remain viable and sustainable businesses, especially considering the effects of COVID-19 on small businesses throughout the Bay Area.

My team and I have done all we can to be creative, innovative, practical and resilient in the face of this interesting time. I didn’t work this hard for almost 25 years to quit now! Now that we have re-opened, we are excited about discovering new opportunities to build our businesses and evolve in new ways that we didn’t recognize last year.

Words that best describe you: Courageous, strategic, entrepreneur, fun-loving, generous, thoughtful, supportive of others, community-minded, kind yet strong.

In what ways have the pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders changed who you are as a person that will be a part of you long after the pandemic has passed?

Actually, I’m not sure the pandemic has changed me much except for perhaps being more resilient, more determined and less critical of myself. It has also made me even more grateful for the life I have and the people I have as friends.

Also, what ways do you think it will change the way you go about your career and your business?

It definitely has changed how we will conduct our businesses going forward in terms of continuing to look for creative opportunities that help us build our brand via virtual tastings and events, to create new and engaging private events that appeal to locals and visitors alike in a post-COVID environment, to always be striving to be innovative and unique while challenging ourselves to dig deeper, think bigger and, most of all, have fun doing what we do!

As for my career, I think it will just make me more determined to continue on the road to success which, in my case, is always under construction!

And when it comes to the COVID-19 issue, what are some the lessons learned for the business community?

Lauren Ackerman

Owner and proprietor

Ackerman Family Vineyards and Ackerman Heritage House

608 Randolph St., Napa 94559

707-799-2111

www.ackermanfamilyvineyards.com

I think some of the lessons learned will be to not put your eggs all in one basket but expand your offerings, expand your market opportunities and stay close to your community by supporting their needs during both easy and difficult times. In return, they will support you.

Also, to always have a plan in place for that “rainy day” (in this case, two “rainy” months!) and not be afraid to ask for help when you need it most. Even the best of business owners can’t predict all the things that can go wrong, so being as prepared as possible while maintaining a positive outlook on the future is key.

I know, for myself, having survived the economic effects of this pandemic so far, the opportunities are wide open for people who work hard, listen to their customers, stay focused and know their business well in terms of the team, the financial strength, and the market opportunities for their products.

I think we all learned a lot about what we are truly made of during this unprecedented time…

As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

When I was younger, my biggest obstacle was being taken seriously in business.

It was a time when women were not really heading into the information technology sector, especially if they didn’t have a science background, and I was pretty much an oddity in that world.

I remember being told “how can someone so young be so ‘big picture’ thinking?” when I was trying to sell them on a business strategy I had created. It made me work harder to prove that I was capable even if they didn’t believe that at first.

Over the years, I realized the best boss to work for was myself, since I didn’t seem to have bosses early on in my career who knew how to appropriately mentor and nurture an ambitious, yet very green, young woman.

Once I went out on my own for good in 1982, I’ve never looked back, even though there certainly were periods that I wondered if I knew what I was getting into. I didn’t let obstacles deter me from my goals, and I never let the fact that I was female be a deterrent in getting where I wanted to be in business. I just planned my path and, with a few adjustments along the way, I kept staying focused on the goal, even if it took a lot longer than was originally planned.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

I think the aftermath of this will be a big wake-up call for the wine industry in terms of how we find new customers, how we build and expand our businesses and how we mature as an industry overall.

Before COVID-19, the wine industry was already facing some challenges in terms of baby boomers buying less wine, and millennials not being as brand driven and having more options, such as beer, spirits, hard seltzers, etc. to choose from.

With a backdrop landscape of almost 10,000 wineries in the U.S. current it was already difficult for smaller producers to be “discovered” prior to COVID-19.

Now, in the wake of the pandemic, small producers will need to work even harder in new, innovative ways to reach consumers who might be reluctant to venture into a tasting room when they can order online or try something “virtually” instead.

Online marketing utilizing email, social media, and virtual campaigns, will become more the “norm” as well as being important channels that can create sustainable wine sales going forward – something that seems easy enough to do but is actually far more exacting in practice.

This new “normal” might even make some wineries consider whether or not they need a traditional tasting room at all if people are reluctant to travel for a while. However, when people do come for a visit, creating a unique, and a “one-of-a-kind” experience is what our customers will continue to be seeking.

Currently, many wineries are evaluating various aspects of the business and cutting back in production, replanting vineyards, and changing their varietal portfolio to create more “value” wines at lesser price points. All of this was started prior to COVID-19, but has been adopted even more by wineries of all sizes as they navigate the aftermath of this pandemic reality.

Who was your most important mentor?

I was fortunate to have two strong mentors in my life, starting with my father who treated my sister and me as if we were two sons at times. He shared his business knowledge and experiences us, encouraged us to be our own bosses early on in our careers, and most importantly, let us make mistakes without criticizing but quietly would ask, “what did you learn from that?”

I even learned all about football from him, his favorite sport, as if I was a son! But most importantly, my father encouraged me to think for myself, seek solutions and create my own success because it would be far more meaningful when I achieved it. He was a force to be reckoned with, strong, direct yet a gentle heart, and I absorbed a lot from him during my early business years.

Later on in life, when I moved to Napa in 1994, my mentor became Margrit Mondavi, a true Napa legend and one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met. She was smart, funny, engaging, philanthropic, strategic, community-oriented, and a tiny bit naughty.

In short, she epitomized grace and hospitality – two key attributes that I believe are needed in our profession when welcoming our visitors to our hospitality venues. She encouraged me to dream big, to be a leader in the community and most of all, to enjoy life at its fullest. I still miss her quite a lot.

What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?

I would tell any young woman going into business today to believe in herself, ask a lot of questions of others you admire in the workforce, take the job that will teach you the most, even if it’s not the highest salary, but make that position shine while you are there. Working a bit harder than your colleagues is what gets noticed and treating the business you work for as if it were your own, will also get you noticed. Most of all, be open to new ideas, new ways of doing things, and have a good sense of humor along the way.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Bob Mondavi

Typical day at the office: Emails, virtual and in-person tastings, meetings with my team, and lots of conference calls.

Best place to work outside of your office: Outside by the pool near the vineyard

Current reading: "Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown” by Anne Glenconner

Most want to meet: Since I restored a Victorian-era house, I would have loved to have met Queen Victoria to learn why she still influences architectural style today…

Social media you most use: Facebook and Instagram

Stress relievers: walking through the vineyard and being with friends

Favorite hobbies: traveling, antiquing, camping with a trailer, wine tasting, fishing, swimming, sailing

What would your parents or significant others say if asked to brag about you?

They would say I’m enthusiastic, creative, artistic, studious, inquisitive and a little bit stubborn!

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