Juan Pablo Torres Padilla of Sullivan Rutherford Estate wins Napa County winery GM category of Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry Awards Winery
The winner of the Napa County winery managing partner category in North Bay Business Journal’s beverage alcohol industry awards says the firm has made substantial investments in the vineyards.
How did you get into the industry? And what has been your career track since?
I was first exposed to wine at a young age, growing up in Mexico.
My grandfather traveled the world extensively, and as a teenager he would pour us a small glass and share his passion for Bordeaux, Burgundy, and California wines.
My passion for wine continued to flourish after I moved to Paris, while living in France for over 15 years. During that time, I had the opportunity of making hundreds of visits to wineries in regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne.
I spent some time working harvests and got to know producers like Olivier Leflaive in Burgundy, Joseph Henriot from Champagne, and Daniel and Florence Cathiard in Bordeaux, owners of Château Smith Haut Lafitte. During one very special private visit to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy with co-owner Aubert de Villaine, my uncle and I were inspired to transform our passion for wine into a life project: the idea of owning a winery had been planted.
The search started in Bordeaux and Burgundy, but soon turned to the Napa Valley due to the blend between the tradition and deep history of the Old World, and the innovative, disruptive, search for excellence culture of the U.S.
I spent over two years visiting more than 120 wineries looking for a vineyard that had the highest quality in its soil, a strong sense of place; a sense of history and the potential to add value in the pursuit of excellence. I found all four at Sullivan Rutherford Estate, and after almost two more years, we were able to acquire the estate in early 2018.
How have you or your company influenced the industry in the last five years? What are key accomplishments?
Having owned Sullivan only since 2018, we have been able to build upon the winery’s 40-plus year foundation in our pursuit of producing a “First Growth” world-class wine.
I believe Sullivan is one of the properties in this entire region with this potential, and the first step of this endeavor was to assemble the right team. This started with the recruitment of what I call “professional leadership.”
I aim at bringing the vision, the passion, and the inspiration, but I needed to hire and develop a unique team of top professionals in the wine world.
After about six months, we managed to convince General Manager Joshua Lowell to join us in our pursuit of excellence; Joshua spent over 20 years leading high-end wineries such as Futo, Aubert, and Peter Michael.
He then started to gradually assemble his team, and we now have one of the most impressive leadership teams in the Napa Valley: from Vineyard Manager Mike Wolf and rising star viticulturist Caleb Mosley -who are considered to be among the best in the Napa Valley; to Winemaker Jeff Cole -who joined in 2013 under the tutelage of Scott McLeod; to Estate Director Lisa Barker-Mullen; to Head of Consumer Sales & Marketing Erin Callahan; and National Sales Director Daniel Horsch.
Additionally, we’ve made substantial investments in the vineyard. We believe we will be able to elevate the entire estate to the same quality level of what historically were our best blocks.
Based on several soil studies that have been conducted, we are replanting roughly 40% of the estate. We are optimizing rootstocks, vine spacing and the trellis system, and have already adjusted our farming practices to build soil vitality.
We are also investing in the cellar. Joshua has enabled Jeff to refine our aging protocol to produce the very best wines to ever come off this property. We are currently working with Hans Baldauf of BCV Architecture + Interiors, one of the top architects in the country, to build a state-of-the-art production and hospitality facility, as well.
One area where I feel Sullivan will be especially impactful is in producing a world-class merlot. We decided to replant over half of the blocks to merlot so we can continue our founder’s legacy to create the best merlot-based wine in the Napa Valley.
What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you and/or your company moved to capitalize on or adjust to those changes?
During my time in the Napa Valley I’ve already seen several trends come and go, but the world’s iconic wines remain timeless.
Our mission is to be at the forefront of innovation and quality, while also staying authentic to the classical winemaking traditions: humanity has made wine for the past 9000 years!