20 leaders of North Coast independently owned wineries

In this report

Listed alphabetically by winery

Charlie Barra, Barra of Mendocino

Cyril Chappellet, Chappellet Winery

Kim Stare Wallace, Dry Creek Vineyard

Tracy Dutton, Dutton Estate Winery

Violet Grgich, Grgich Hills Estate

Suzanne Groth, Groth Vineyards & Winery

Joy Sterling, Iron Horse Vineyards

Will Jarvis, Jarvis Estate

John Jordan, Jordan Vineyard & Winery

Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery

René Schlatter, Merryvale Family of Wines

Jim Pedroncelli, Pedroncelli Winery

Ariana Peju White, Peju Province Winery

Ron Rubin, Ron Rubin Winery

Hugh Davies, Schramsberg Vineyards

Axel Schug, Schug Carneros Estate Winery

Art Seavey and Dorie Seavey, Seavey Vineyard

Jon Ruel, Trefethen Family Vineyards

Richard Bruno and Chris Condos, Vinum Cellars

Katie Leonardini, Whitehall Lane Winery

A common feature of many independently owned wineries on the California North Coast is family involvement. And what's noticeable in North Bay Business Journal's look this year at 20 leaders of such businesses is the rise of the next generation to top executive posts.

What also stands out is the rise of women in this new crop of leadership at local family-run vintners. That includes Suzanne Groth, Violet Grgich, Ariana Peju White and Whitehall Lane's Katie Leonardini.

This report focuses on vintners that made the Business Journal's list of independent wineries, published March 5. The leaders are listed alphabetically by winery.

Charlie Barra

Proprietor, Barra of Mendocino

7051 N. State St., Redwood Valley 95470


Charlie Barra, 92, is a pioneer in Mendocino County organic winemaking. In 1955 he purchased Redwood Valley Vineyards, with 175 acres of vines at the headwaters of the Russian River.

The wine company started in 1997 amid a downturn in the winegrape business. It produces about 20,000 cases annually.

Stepson Shawn Harmon left a 10-year career in civil engineering in 2002 to handle finances of the wine business. Now he also oversees operations of the 300-acre vineyard business, the winery and custom winemaking by Redwood Valley Cellars.

Cyril Chappellet

Chairman, Chappellet Winery

1581 Sage Canyon Road, St. Helena 94574


Cyril Chappellet, oldest son of winery founders Donn and Molly, was elected chairman of the winery's family-run board of directors in 2012. He was the only person other than his father, who died in 2016, to hold that position since the winery started in 1967.

He studied farm management at California Polytechnic University and earned a business degree from Pepperdine University.

He began a career outside the wine business, at his parents' suggestion, in corporate planning and acquisitions. In 1988, after nearly a decade of honing his business skills, Cyril Chappellet returned to the winery in the Pritchard Hill area near St. Helena.

Kim Stare Wallace

President, Dry Creek Vineyard

3770 Lambert Bridge Road, Healdsburg 95448


Kim Stare Wallace became president of the 100,000-case-a-year winery in 2012. Her husband, Don, had been president since 2006 on the retirement of her father, David Stare, founder of the first new winery in Dry Creek Valley since Prohibition. The ranch includes 200 estate acres of vines.

In January, the Sonoma County winery made a big investment in creating its own salesforce, hiring five representatives to serve regions across the country.

“In a world of increasing consolidation, I am proud that Dry Creek Vineyard has remained one of the last truly private, family-owned, iconic wineries consistently producing 90-plus-point wines,” Stare Wallace said.

Dry Creek Vineyard was selected as the official wine of the Louis Vuitton America's 2016 Cup World Series. With a sailboat on its label, the winery has a 40-year history of backing sailing events.

Last year, the winery received a patent for printing sustainable-sourcing information on its corks. In 2018, the winery received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for a sixth straight year.

Tracy Dutton

President, Dutton Estate Winery

8757 Green Valley Road, Sebastopol 95472


Joe and Tracy Dutton purchased a 20-acre chardonnay vineyard and tasting room in the Green Valley region of Sonoma County's Russian River Valley in 1995. It is near the Kozlowski Farms business Tracy Dutton's family started in 1949 and the Dutton Ranch winegrape and apple business Joe Dutton co-owns.

Raised on Kozlowski Farms, Tracy Dutton learned that business from various levels, even managing the retail shop for pies, jams and fresh fruit at age 16. She then started traveling regionally and nationally for sales.

In the early 1990s, she studied marketing at Chico State University and earned a degree in economics from Sonoma State University. She returned to work at Kozlowski full time in accounting. Then she literally married the boy next door, and that wine business began.

The winery is permitted to produce 20,000 cases a year and makes 4,000 for Dutton Estate.

Violet Grgich

President, Grgich Hills Estate

1829 St. Helena Highway, Rutherford 94573


As his namesake winery turns 40, Vintner Hall of Famer Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, 95, retired as president, naming his daughter, Violet Grgich, to replace him. Born in 1965, she has been overseeing operations for years.

At University of California, Davis, she majored in music but also took enology, biology and chemistry classes. A harpsichordist, she earned a master's degree in music from Indiana University, then returned to the winery to work full-time, rising eventually to vice president of sales and operations.

In this report

Listed alphabetically by winery

Charlie Barra, Barra of Mendocino

Cyril Chappellet, Chappellet Winery

Kim Stare Wallace, Dry Creek Vineyard

Tracy Dutton, Dutton Estate Winery

Violet Grgich, Grgich Hills Estate

Suzanne Groth, Groth Vineyards & Winery

Joy Sterling, Iron Horse Vineyards

Will Jarvis, Jarvis Estate

John Jordan, Jordan Vineyard & Winery

Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery

René Schlatter, Merryvale Family of Wines

Jim Pedroncelli, Pedroncelli Winery

Ariana Peju White, Peju Province Winery

Ron Rubin, Ron Rubin Winery

Hugh Davies, Schramsberg Vineyards

Axel Schug, Schug Carneros Estate Winery

Art Seavey and Dorie Seavey, Seavey Vineyard

Jon Ruel, Trefethen Family Vineyards

Richard Bruno and Chris Condos, Vinum Cellars

Katie Leonardini, Whitehall Lane Winery

Mike Grgich made a name for Napa Valley in 1976 when his 1973 chardonnay for Chateau Montelena beat French wines in the legendary Judgment of Paris tasting and was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2008.

He and Hills Bros. Coffee co-owner Austin Hills formed Grgich in 1977. Hills remains chairman of the board and director along with his sister Mary Lee Strebl.

The winery makes about 70,000 cases a year from 366 acres of certified Biodynamic estate vines.

Suzanne Groth

President and CEO, Groth Vineyards & Winery

750 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville 94562


Accountant and former high-tech executive Dennis Groth, with wife Judy, started Groth Vineyards in 1982.

Last year, Dennis Groth turned over day-to-day management to their daughter Suzanne Groth, who has been working her way up in the company since 1998, starting in sales and publicity. She became a stakeholder in 2006 - 22 percent each given to her and brother Andrew - and was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing in 2009.

An art history graduate and painter, she worked for Henry Wine Group for four years before joining the family winery.

“It was only after selling other people's ‘wine vision' that I was able to appreciate how very special Groth Vineyards was,” she said.

The operation has 165 acres of vines in near Oakville and Yountville in Napa Valley and produced 72,000 cases of wine in 2017.

Joy Sterling

CEO, Iron Horse Vineyards

9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol 95472


After a career in journalism, Joy Sterling joined her parents, winery founders Barry and Audrey Sterling, in marketing the sparkling-wine brand in 1985. That year she landed Iron Horse its first signature placement at a White House state dinner, and exclusive placements for celebrity events followed.

She became CEO in 2006.

Iron Horse produces about 30,000 cases annually.

Will Jarvis

President, Jarvis Estate

2970 Monticello Road, Napa 94558


Will Jarvis, 34, grew up working in the vineyards and cavernous winery, which was started in 1990 and opened to the public in 1995. The Napa winery is housed inside 45,000 square feet of caves. That helped the offices, production and wine to survive the October wildfires but not multiple houses and a historic barn.

Jarvis started working at the family business at age 15, starting in the vineyard that summer. The next summer he led winery tours, handing visitors off to adult staff when the wine started flowing. Another summer was spent in the winery fulfillment facility and in administration, working directly for Chief Financial Officer and General Manager Deanna Martinez.

Born to a father from Oklahoma and a mother from Mexico, he learned Spanish early.

“It's a nice advantage when you live in California,” he said.

But he followed the advice of his parents, founders William and Leticia Jarvis, and got a job outside the wine business. With a degree in biology, he worked for biotechnology company Codexis in Redwood City for two and a half years as a research assistant.

He then earned an MBA from Stanford University in 2011. He worked for Sequoia Capital, Intrexon Corp., Woodside Capital Partners and Mavericks Capital before returning to Jarvis in early 2015 as vice president. Roughly a year later, he was named president.

Jarvis makes about 5,000 cases annually.

John Jordan

CEO, Jordan Vineyard & Winery

1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg 95448


CEO John Jordan likes to let it rip with fun marketing pursuits at the French-style château in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley. This year, he's letting his vineyard team start ripping up the 120 acres of estate vineyard to adjust varieties, reorient row orientation to wind and sun, and add nutrients to the soil. It's a seven-year project.

Jordan Oil & Gas Co. owner Thomas Jordan Jr. started the winery in 1972, and the first vintage was in 1976. His son, John, who was born when the winery was founded in May 1972, has been the top executive since fall 2005.

The winery made about 100,000 cases of wine last year and has 112 acres of vines.

Merry Edwards

Proprietor, Merry Edwards Winery

2959 Gravenstein Highway N., Sebastopol 95472


Merry Edwards has been a rising name in North Coast winemaking for four decades. In the winter of 1973, she earned a master's degree from University of California, Davis, in food science, with an emphasis in enology. She went to work at Mount Eden Vineyards in 1974. She was hired in 1977 to launch Matanzas Creek Winery near Santa Rosa.

In 1996 she purchased land in Sebastopol Hills area of Russian River Valley and started producing wines under her name the next year. A decade later, she built her own winery, and the winery was expanded four years later.

Her winery produces about 20,000 cases annually.

René Schlatter

Proprietor and CEO, Merryvale Family of Wines

1000 Main St., St. Helena 94574


Wine Enthusiast magazine named René Schlatter “Person of the Year” in 2011. Born in Switzerland, Jack Schlatter's son René joined the company in 1995 after earning a master's degree from Arizona's Thunderbird Graduate School of International Management.

The son became proprietor and CEO of Merryvale Family of Wines in 2008, and his father, chairman.

The Merryvale brand dates back to its first vintage in 1983, made in a custom winery in Calistoga. Napa Valley vintner Bill Harlan and partners bought the St. Helena winery building in 1986. Jack Schlatter became a partner in 1991 then purchased full ownership five years later.

In 2005, the family purchased 50 acres of the Stanly Ranch estate vineyard, first planted in 1872, and built the Starmont Winery and Vineyards facility. Roughly 100,000 cases were produced last year.

Jim Pedroncelli

Proprietor, Pedroncelli Winery

1220 Canyon Road, Geyserville 95441


Pedroncelli Winery was born in the middle of Prohibition and before the double-punch of the Great Depression and World War II. Second-generation proprietor Jim Pedroncelli, 86, has been upbeat and outspoken voice for the prospects of Sonoma County wine in the decades since.

In 1954, he recommends the winery use “Sonoma County” on the label, an industry first for that appellation. Three years later, he first started with sales and marketing duties.

In 1963 he and brother John Pedroncelli Jr. purchased the winery from their father, who started the Dry Creek Valley winery in 1927 and died at the beginning of 2015 at 89.

North Bay Business Journal recognized Pedroncelli with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Wine Industry + Spirits & Beer Awards event in November.

The winery produces about 65,000 cases in 2014 and controls more than 100 vineyard acres.

Ariana Peju White

CEO, Peju Province Winery

8466 St Helena Highway, Rutherford 94573


Ariana Peju White and her sister, Lisa, grew up playing in the family's Rutherford vineyard in the Napa Valley. Their parents, winery founders Tony and Herta Peju, moved from Southern California to Napa Valley in 1983.

“… one of the first jobs I can remember is my father paying my sister and me $1 to sucker a vineyard row,” Ariana Peju told Napa Valley Vintners. She would also give tours to visitors from the tasting room in the parents' garage.

After college, she returned to Napa Valley, working for nearly three years in the tasting room of Rubicon Estate and was promoted twice, lastly to assistant manager.

She joined the family wine company in 2006. She started an environmental plan that has converted the winery to solar energy, energy-saving bulbs, safe cleaning products and Earth-friendly packaging. The Rutherford estate vineyard was certified organic.

The winery produces about 35,000 cases and farms 180 acres of vines.

Ron Rubin

Proprietor, Ron Rubin Winery

5220 Ross Road, Sebastopol 95472


Ron Rubin has long been a beverage entrepreneur and innovator.

In 1972, Rubin worked for his family's Central Wholesale Liquor Co. in Illinois. To prepare for his dream of someday owning a a vineyard, Rubin worked there for 22 years, managing distribution of wine, liquor, and beer in 48 Illinois counties.

In 1990, Rubin formed New Age Beverages in Illinois, getting the master licensee for Clearly Canadian sparkling water for the Southeast. In a 10-state region, he created a network of over 100 distributors, selling over 3 million cases of the fizzy drink.

After acquiring Republic of Tea in Novato, in late 2011 he purchased River Road Family Vineyards and Winery in the Green Valley area of Russian River Valley.

Rubin recently teamed with Zoll Medical Corp. and American Red Cross to fund automatic external defibrillators in North Coast wineries, and 126 have signed up so far.

The winery produced 50,000 cases in 2017 and owns 10 acres of vines.

Hugh Davies

President and CEO, Schramsberg Vineyards

1400 Schramsberg Road, Calistoga 94515


Hugh Davies was born in 1965, the year his parents, Jack and Jamie Davies, restarted the 156-year-old Schramsberg winery. Hugh Davies has been president and CEO of sparkling wine house since 2005.

The winery produced 75,000 cases last year, mostly of sparkling wine and a few thousand cases of J. Schram and Schramsberg Reserve still wines.

Davies Vineyards, a second brand by the Schramsberg top executive, completed its St. Helena tasting room in 2017. The brand's winery opened there in 2012.

Axel Schug

Managing partner, Schug Carneros Estate Winery

602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma 95476


Axel Schug joined the winery full time in 1990 became managing partner in 2007 upon the retirement of his father, Walter Schug, who started the winery in 1980. Walter and Gertrud Schug had emigrated from Germany in the 1960s.

Axel Schug started his career in hotels but then joined the winery at age 25 rising to sales and marketing director. His wife, Kristine, is the winery chef, and twin sisters Andrea and Claudia are involved at the winery.

The newest addition to Schug is a tasting room on Sonoma's Plaza.

Schug makes about 30,000 cases a year and farms 42 acres.

Art Seavey and Dorie Seavey

Partners, Seavey Vineyard

1310 Conn Valley Road, St. Helena 94574


Siblings Art and Dorie Seavey run Seavey Vineyard, started by their parents, Bill and Mary, who purchased the land in 1979. The property had been a vineyard for Franco-Swiss Farming Co. until Prohibition. The circa 1881 stone dairy barn was remodeled in 1990.

Art Seavey oversees farming and winemaking. His first love is said to be the ocean, and after a stint in Ecuador farming shrimp, he became co-owner of the Monterey Abalone Company.

The oldest of five children, Dorie Seavey leads sales and marketing. She returned to the winery in 2012 after more than 30 years in New England as a labor economist.

The winery makes 3,000 cases annually and farms 40 acres of vines.

Jon Ruel

CEO, Trefethen Family Vineyards

1160 Oak Knoll Ave., Napa 94558


John Trefethen's parents purchased an abandoned winery in 1968, and it turns 50 this year. His wife, Janet, became CEO in the 1970s shortly after the first wines were released.

Jon Ruel came to Trefethen in 2004 as a viticulturist and rose to chief operating officer and director of viticulture and winemaking before being promoted to president and chief operating officer in September 2014 then CEO in May 2015.

The winery has been a leader in sustainable winegrowing in the North Coast and farms 480 acres of vines. Trefethen produces about 70,000 cases annually.

Its historic Eshcol Winery, built in 1886, was seriously damaged in the 6.0-magnitude Napa quake Aug., 24, 2014. The structure was reopened in May 2017, after millions of dollars of seismic shoring and historic reconstruction.

Trefethen produces about 70,000 cases annually.

Richard Bruno and Chris Condos

Partner-winemakers, Vinum Cellars

135 Camino Dorado, Suite 6, Napa 94558


Vinum Cellars founding winemakers Richard Bruno and Chris Condos charged into the wine business, running up their credit lines to launch the Napa winery in 1997.

They met in University of California, Davis, viticulture and enology program, with Condos graduating in 1995 and Bruno in 1997.

Condos went to work at Pine Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa as an enologist and now is consulting for Kathryn Kennedy Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He also started the brand Horse & Plow.

Bruno started as a waiter in 1985 then shifted his focus to winemaking. After college he worked at various wineries in the greater Bay Area and consulted on winemaking as far away as Colorado. He had led winemaking at Sonoma-based Don Sebastiani & Sons. Vinum makes about 25,000 cases a year.

Katie Leonardini

Vice president of operations, Whitehall Lane Winery

1563 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena 94574


The second of three children of founders Tom Leonardini Sr. and Karen Leonardini, Katie Leonardini earned a bachelor's degree in political science at Gonzaga University in Washington. She spent eight years in the financial services industry in San Francisco with Franklin Templeton Investments and Charles Schwab before moving to Philadelphia.

In 2004 she joined the family winery as vice president of operations and part-owner.

The winery produces about 50,000 cases annually and has 150 acres of vines.


Corrections, June 21, 2018: Davies Vineyards opened its St. Helena winery in 2012 and tasting room in 2017. The original story said the winery opened last year.

Tracy Dutton is president of Dutton Estate Winery, rather than Peter Heyworth. Heyworth is no longer president of Dutton-Goldfield Winery. Dutton worked full time in accounting at Kozlowski Farms after college, rather than as vice president of sales. According to a representative, Dutton Estate winery is permitted to produce 20,000 cases annually, including 4,000 cases for that brand.

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