California's New Generation Vintners & Growers Discuss Trends

California's New Generation Vintners & Growers Discuss Trends

by Gladys Horiuchi
2009, 12/01/09

December 1, 2009


SAN FRANCISCO—Twenty “new generation” vintners and growers from throughout California convened at Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, November 17, to share their perspectives on California wine trends at a media and trade event sponsored by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.  The group engaged in lively dialogues on four topics that reflect the younger generation’s impact on the state’s wine industry: evolving California wine styles; passing the torch at family wineries; eco-friendly growing and winemaking; and innovative marketing.  To view vintner/grower video interviews from this event, go to

“There are 3,000 wineries and 4,600 winegrowers in California, and most are family businesses making significant economic and cultural contributions to our state,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, Wine Institute president and CEO.  “Our event showcases some of California’s new generation in wine and how their creative energy, passion and innovation are helping to guide our industry and take it in new directions.”

 “The next generation of the California wine community is building on our great growing and winemaking traditions, combining it with their own fresh perspective and talents, said Karen Ross, former president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers.  “It is fun and exciting to see so many dynamic younger people taking the reins.  With their enthusiasm and new ideas, California growers and vintners will continue to set trends and be a global influence for generations to come.”

Vintners and growers participating in the event included: (Pictured front row l-r) Andrew Murray, Andrew Murray Vineyards; Mike Heringer, Heringer Estates; Cheryl Murphy Durzy, Clos LaChance Wines; Warren Bogle, Bogle Vineyards; Karl Wente, Wente Family Estates; Chris Pisani, ZD Wines; Judd Finkelstein, Judd’s Hill; Josh Baker, Edna Valley Vineyards; Nick de Luca, Star Lane and Dierberg Estate; (Back row l-r) Paul Clifton, Hahn Estates Winery; Jason Smith, Paraiso Vineyards; Nicholas Miller, Bien Nacido/Solomon Hills/ French Camp Vineyards; Alan Viader, Viader; Aaron Lange, LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards; Sarah Cahn- Bennett, Navarro Vineyards & Winery; Kathy Benziger, Benziger Family Winery; Clay Mauritson, Mauritson Family Winery; Kim Ledbetter Bronson, Vino Farms; Chris Leamy, Terre d’Oro/Montevina Winery; Cane Vanderhoof, Miramonte Winery/Celebration Cellars.


Next Generation: Passing the Torch

The first breakout session at the event, “Next Generation: Passing the Torch,” moderated by Laurel Shaffer, sommelier at Cavallo Point, focused on the family nature of the California wine industry, as a majority of the state’s wineries are family-owned with about half being small in size making 5,000 cases or less.  All the speakers were from multigenerational wineries, such as fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente and sixth-generation winemaker Mike Heringer.  Speakers described growing up in a family business and learning about winegrowing and winemaking at a young age from parents and grandparents, as well as mentoring the next generation.

Karl Wente, Wente Family Estates, Livermore, San Francisco Bay
As a fifth generation winemaker, I’ve been fortunate to inherit a family legacy that embraces the fusion of tradition and innovation.  Each generation has contributed major advancements to our operations while recognizing that part of our continued success is letting the next generation step up and use shared experience as a guide forward.

Mike Heringer, Heringer Estates Vineyards & Winery, Clarksburg

Being the sixth generation Heringer to farm in Clarksburg, growing up and working on our family farm since I was 10 years old, I have come to appreciate what the generations before me have had to endure over the years to keep our small family farm viable in the constantly changing California agricultural climate.  I am proud and honored that through premium grape growing and winemaking I have been able to evolve our operation into something that has the potential to sustain this farm for the next generation if they choose.

Kathy Benziger, Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen, Sonoma Valley
There are so many things to love about working at our family’s winery, but one of the things that excites me most about my current role is mentoring the next generation (the third generation) and cultivating the enthusiasm and passion about winegrowing that has been here at Benziger from the beginning.

Warren Bogle, Bogle Vineyards, Clarksburg
Growing up in a family business I feel it is our responsibility to build upon the contributions of our grandparents and parents.  You don’t have to have motivation for something you love to do, want to do and were raised to do.  I truly believe it’s in your blood.  Bogle is a brand to most people but to us it is our name.

Jason Smith, Paraiso Vineyards, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey Count
The beauty of the second generation coming to work at Paraiso Vineyards was that it was never expected.  My parents sent us away to college to explore and decide whatever path that we wanted to choose…in the end it was my own decision to come and work in the family business, making it my own passion and not just that of my parents.

Evolving California Wine Styles
The winemakers discussing “Evolving California Wine Styles,” moderated by sommelier/journalist Chris Sawyer, compared the growing of popular varieties in different wine regions.  Winemakers Josh Baker from Edna Valley and Sarah Cahn-Bennett looked at growing cool climate varieties such as Riesling and Chardonnay in San Luis Obispo and Mendocino counties.  Winemakers Andrew Murray and Clay Mauritson discussed achieving balance and sense of place with Syrah and other Rhone varieties in Santa Barbara County and Dry Creek Valley Rockpile vineyards.  And winemakers Nick de Luca and Alan Viader talked about working with Bordeaux varieties in Santa Ynez and Napa Valley.

Alan Viader, Viader, Napa Valley
I grew up on the Viader property and have been exposed to this rare terroir my entire life. Every time I’m tasting the wines or creating blends it's very important to me that it gives me a sense of place.  I think a wine needs to be balanced, but that could mean balanced for aging or balance for drinking now.  It all depends on what you want people to experience when they drink your wine.  I tend to pick sooner and at lower brix, leading to lower alcohols. I want my wines to age a few years.  I would love to have my grandkids open up one of my wines in 50 years and have it still be drinkable.

Clay Mauritson, Mauritson Family Winery, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
My family has owned and farmed our Rockpile property for six generations.  The unique qualities that define the American Viticultural Area, along with the diversity of the soils and exposures, allow us to produces wines of incredible character.

Josh Baker, Edna Valley Vineyards, San Luis Obispo County
Making balanced wines is key to showcasing the idea of "terroir" to wine lovers.  Our Estate Chardonnay is a perfect example.  My aim in creating this wine was to harness the minerality of the site and the concentration of the 35-year-old vines.  There isn't a better expression of true Edna Valley fruit on the market.

Sarah Cahn-Bennett, Navarro Vineyards, Mendocino County

Navarro has historically specialized in Alsatian varietals and Pinot Noir.  I try to concentrate on what the season and grapes offer each unique year, and also where I think I can really change the quality of the wine; in the vineyard.  As well as managing Navarro’s vineyards, I am managing a new planting down the road from Navarro in Boonville.  The vineyard was designed to integrate Babydoll sheep for as many as 10 months of the year.  As well as growing Pinot Noir, Pennyroyal Farms will be growing Sauvignon Blanc because it does well in the warmer end of the Anderson Valley.  My plans are to make a savvy New Zealand wine with an Alsatian twist.     

Nick de Luca, Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyard, Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara County
Honest winemaking is nothing more than servitude to the vineyard.  Thus, as my vineyard evolves, so does my winemaking.  The process has been an exercise in negative space, learning to discard unnecessary techniques and to eschew new technology.

Andrew Murray, Andrew Murray Vineyards, Santa Barbara Count

Our company motto is “Handcrafted wines from steep hillside vineyards, planted exclusively to Rhône Varieties.”


Eco-friendly Growing and Winemaking
The “Eco-friendly Growing and Winemaking” breakout highlighted the continuous efforts of wineries to “go green.”  Winemakers emphasized the constant search for new ways to improve wine quality through sustainable practices and how every aspect of the business is constantly evaluated for sustainability.  Moderator Allison Jordan of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) shared how more than 60 percent of the state’s production and vineyard acreage is using green practices and said CSWA plans to introduce its certification program for sustainable winegrowing in January 2010.


Chris Pisani, ZD Wines, Napa Valley

ZD Wines’ focus and commitment to organic farming and sustainable business practices have been an ongoing effort for more than 25 years.  Understanding and respecting our critical relationship with Mother Nature is a “no-brainer” for us, and we are constantly looking for new ways to improve our approach to making exceptional wines while at the same time remaining responsible stewards of the land.

Kim Ledbetter Bronson, Vino Farms, Lodi, Sonoma, Napa counties

Being a fourth-generation farmer in California, sustainable farming has become a way of life.  The eco-friendly decisions we make everyday are based on what is best for many future generations to come.

Paul Clifton, Hahn Estates Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County
Hahn Winery is the first winery in the Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito tri-county region to be certified green by the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Program.  With a longstanding commitment to preservation of the environment, the certification is the latest step in the winery’s ongoing efforts to promote the three “E”s of sustainability: Environmental Health, Economic Viability and Social Equity.

Chris Leamy, Terra d’Oro/Montevina Winery, Amador County

Sustainability is a constant process.  Every aspect of the business needs to be constantly evaluated.  Nothing is untouchable.  It’s a quixotic quest to create without consuming.

Aaron Lange, LangeTwins Winery & Vineyards, Lodi

As a fifth generation farmer in Lodi, I recognize that sustainable winegrape growing and ethical land stewardship must be the rule, and not the exception, to ensure that our community, ecosystem, and family business will thrive for future generations to come.


The digitally connected new generation consumer was the focal point of the marketing session where moderator/blogger Courtney Cochran talked about how winery marketing showcases the exciting food, music and video happening in California.  Cane Vanderhoof uses a combination social media and traditional marketing tools to build the fan base attending his winery’s live music events.  Judd Finkelstein uses their web site to share his popular comic videos and ukulele concerts.  A content-rich web site, promoted with emails, social media and blogs, publicizes Cheryl Murphy Durzy’s destination winery.  Nicholas Miller makes extra effort to promote client wines with wine critic scores and news on his web site and through emails.

Cane Vanderhoof, Miramonte Winery/Celebration Cellars, Temecula Valley
Feels like a time of sea change – not common in the wine business!  Old forms are being questioned, new forms are being presented.  Fueled by an increasingly younger, hyper-connected and communicative society, small wineries have amazing opportunities to conceive, craft, package and market their brands in completely innovative ways.

Cheryl Murphy Durzy, Clos LaChance Winery, San Martin, Santa Cruz Mountains
Brand loyalty is very difficult in this market—and we believe that the customer wants to feel like they are a part of our family—with a connection to our winery, the people and the products we produce here.  Our tactics for getting people to engage with our brand include electronic media and public relations.  Instead of expensive advertising, we have invested heavily in a comprehensive, content rich web site.  We drive traffic via regular emails, social media and the popular “blogosphere.”  Once the customer is “engaged,” we work very hard to provide a high quality experience with our wines and at the winery to create that loyalty.

Judd Finkelstein, Judd’s Hill, Napa Valley
Social media affords opportunities for creative individuals without huge budgets to make a big impact with their audiences.  A single person can now conceivably hold the power that traditionally came with hiring a PR and/or advertising firm.

Nicholas Miller, Bien Nacido/Solomon Hills/French Camp Vineyards
It does seem to me like every symposium/conference I attend now having to do with the wine industry is focused on “millennials.”  It seems like they are becoming the great hope for the wine industry’s continued prosperity.  The good news is that they seem to be the easiest generation to access.  With most members carrying PDAs or iPhones, they are just a Facebook/Twitter/blog away from being reachable almost anywhere they are.


About Wine Institute
Established in 1934 and celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009, the Wine Institute is the premier voice effectively representing wine worldwide. With membership of more than 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses, the organization initiates and advocates public policy that enhances the ability to responsibly produce, promote and enjoy wine.  Wine Institute works to enhance the economic and environmental health of its communities and the state through sustainable winegrowing and winemaking practices and a partnership with California Travel and Tourism to showcase California’s wine and food offerings.  The membership represents 85 percent of U.S. wine production and 90 percent of U.S. wine exports.  Visit:

About The California Association of Winegrape Growers

Established in 1974, the California Association of Winegrape Growers represents the growers of more than 50 percent of the gross grape tonnage crushed for wine and concentrate in California.  The statewide association is an advocate for farmers, providing leadership on public policies, research and education programs, sustainable farming practices and trade policy to enhance the California winegrape growing business and communities.  Visit

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