What is it that reassures about a family business? The sense of a greater personal investment in the transaction, and the joy of talking, not to a hired hand, but to a keeper of the flame are surely irresistible. What could be more romantic than a long-held vision, passed from one generation to the next, without the distraction of external investors in search of short-term dividends?
The Society loves family-owned wine producers, whose passion and honesty are palpable in the glass and who make good wine. A case in point is California. Below, some of our favourites share with USA buyer Sarah Knowles MW their own clear sense of purpose, from legacy and continuity to sustainability.
Heidi Scheid of Scheid Family Wines in the Salinas Valley tells us ‘Working in a family-owned business is such a privilege. I’ve worked with my father and brother for the past 30 years. We hold a shared vision for our winery, with a desire to build and sustain a culture that reflects our core values’ – witness the delicious District 7 varietals, fruits of the family’s belief in the potential of pinot noir and chardonnay in this cool spot near Monterey. Over in the warmer Central Valley, sixth-generation Jody Bogle at Bogle Winery – ‘1,900 acres and growing!’ agrees. ‘We are committed to carrying on the work started by those who have come before us, from creating a vigorous sustainability program in the vineyards and at the winery… to planning for future generations to continue the family business’.
Lasting legacies are those that are swift to adapt. In its 95-year history of farming in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, the Pedroncelli clan has overseen countless transitions from horses to tractors, generic grapes to fighting varietals, basket to bladder presses, and overhead irrigation to water-conserving drip. The evolution of California’s appellation system of Approved Viticultural Areas (AVAs), combined with what Julie Pedroncelli describes as the wisdom gained over the years has informed site-specific planting. ‘We found we didn’t get the best from some of the grapes which weren’t suited to our warmer climate especially chardonnay and pinot noir, which do better a few miles south in the Russian River Valley’ she explains. Not so cabernet sauvignon, now bottled in its own right.
A similar learning curve for Ron McManis, whose family heritage was fruit-growing until his passion for the grape led from vine to winery to the McManis Family Vineyards label in 1994. His championing of an obscure variety perfectly adapted to northern California’s warm, dry Lodi is a stroke of genius much appreciated by the many fans of McManis Petite Sirah. He and his wife Jamie derive great joy from watching the fifth generation take the baton. ‘They have the same passion as Jamie and I have about growing quality grapes and making a quality wine. We are excited to see where we go from here’.
The importance of the personal relationship, for both grower and customer resonates at Schug Winery, supplier of The Society’s Exhibition Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Here, trade partners not only work directly with a family member, but come to be regarded as family themselves. ‘As second-generation owner-managers, we keep the legacy and spirit of our parents alive’ says Claudia Schug, adding that ‘it warms my heart when I meet export customers who remember my father.’ His roots and classical training in Germany’s Rheingau wines will always inform the house style and underpin what she describes as the ‘old-world elegance’ of their wines.
‘When you’re making decisions as a family business, you are able to put more emphasis on planning for the future,’ says Hilary Cline of Cline Cellars, whose bold and costly decision to go organic stemmed not from fad or fashion, but from her pioneering father Fred’s real concerns about exposing her and her seven siblings to agrochemicals. ‘The choice to change was personal – placing human health and wellness ahead of vineyard and vine productivity and large yields,’ she continues, adding that it turned out well for their 1,000 sustainably farmed acres too.
As climate change rewrites the agricultural rule book, it’s clear that keeping it in the family also keeps you agile. Forget lengthy corporate negotiations between random colleagues: these are people who have known each other all their lives. That’s not to say a family at work can’t easily become a family at war, but as Heidi Scheid concludes ‘family businesses can get sticky sometimes but we’ve always been good at hashing things out in the office and then heading out to dinner and putting any disagreements aside… family should be about love and support.’
Most importantly, nobody loses sight of the agenda, which is that they are custodians of a dream. We think you can’t get a better guarantee of quality than that.
Browse our USA wines and see the full selection we have available for you to enjoy.