Millennial Vintners to Watch in 2019
February 28, 2019
SAN FRANCISCO — In 2019, millennials, ages 23-38, will number 73 million people, surpassing Baby Boomers to become America’s largest generation. These consumers, distinguished by their openness to trying new and unusual wines, are naturally of great interest to California wineries. Because millennials are known to value the advice of their peers, what better place to look for opinions and wine recommendations than their own generation of vintners?
With millennials playing a role in U.S. wine sales, Wine Institute has identified several inventive young vintners who are taking the reins of their families’ multi-generational wineries. The following “Millennial Vintners to Watch for 2019” are just a handful of the many leaders bringing new ideas and innovations to their family businesses to help them thrive long into the future.
Jacqueline Balletto - Balletto Vineyards, Sonoma County
As Balletto’s tasting room and direct-to-consumer sales manager, this third-generation vintner has made the family business more digitally savvy by upgrading the winery's tasting room technology, creating a mobile-friendly website and connecting with consumers via social media. In the tasting room, Jacqueline also carries out the family’s vision of building lifelong relationships with customers by introducing people to their estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Prior to her current role, she was a viticulture assistant for the winery and helped maintain relationships with wineries that purchase fruit from Balletto’s Russian River Valley vineyards.
Jamie Benziger - Imagery Estate Winery, Sonoma County
Jamie is the daughter of Imagery founder Joe Benziger. As winemaker, she is the artist behind the winery in Glen Ellen. In addition to annually crafting more than 35 wines, she launched a new tier in 2017 designed to broaden consumers’ palates with unique varietal blends. (For example, the Sauvignon Blanc is blended with 20% Muscat and the Pinot Noir contains 10% Petit Verdot.) Jamie’s collection is introducing Imagery to a new generation and includes the first wines Imagery has ever distributed outside the tasting room.
Nicholas Bleecher - Jericho Canyon Vineyards, Napa Valley
The son of founders Dale and Marla Bleecher, Nicholas is the winemaker and general manager at Jericho Canyon Vineyard. He grew up spending years working in the vineyards after school and during summers and later on in the winery when the building was completed in 2006. Earning UC Davis degrees in viticulture and enology and managerial economics, he worked abroad as many young winemakers do. He returned to Jericho in 2011, working alongside winemakers Heidi Barrett, Bo Barrett, Thomas Brown, Aaron Pott and Michel Rolland. Today, he makes Jericho Canyon Vineyard’s wines as well as wines for personal clients.
Sarah Cahn Bennett - Navarro Vineyards, Mendocino County
Sarah is the daughter of founders Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn, leading the family’s vision for the next generation. When she first took over running the family winery with her brother, Aaron, Sarah reintroduced sheep to the estate (it was formerly a sheep ranch) and put the animals to work suckering vines. She also brought more scientific rigor to the business using her UC Davis training. With the development of Pennyroyal Farm, Navarro’s sister wine estate in Boonville, Sarah created a unique program with excellent wines, acclaimed artisan cheeses and a dairy farm.
Megan Cline - Cline Cellars & Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Sonoma County
Megan is the daughter of Fred and Nancy Cline and has worked with her family for the past four years learning every part of the business from winemaking and marketing to sales and hospitality. She’s been working with Cline’s associate winemaker experimenting with a range of varietals made in amphorae. Megan believes there is a purity in flavor and texture in these wines because the amphorae do not overshadow the grapes. Megan is also a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Chris Hall - Long Meadow Ranch Wine Estates, Napa Valley/Mendocino
Chris is the winery’s COO and executive vice president and he and his parents, Ted and Laddie Hall, run Long Meadow Ranch which includes cultivating over 2,000 acres of land that produce estate-grown grapes and wine, olives and olive oil, fruits and vegetables, eggs and grass-fed lamb and beef. They pioneered the Full Circle Farming concept, an organic, sustainable, integrated farming system that contributes to the health of the full operation. Besides managing the winery’s diversified farming activities, Chris drove the development of Farmstead, a food and wine destination that includes a restaurant, general store, tasting room and outdoor café.
Lindsay Hoopes - Hoopes Vineyards, Napa Valley
The daughter of winery founder Spencer Hoopes, Lindsay is the winery owner and general manager. She joined the winery in 2013 after a law career in the San Francisco district attorney’s office. Under the leadership of her father, she expanded the winery’s portfolio of wines, focusing on limited-production Cabernet Sauvignon of the Napa Valley. She bought and developed a new winery at the former Hopper Creek Winery in Yountville and sources grapes from there and the flagship property in Oakville. She is continuing the goal of capturing the truest expression of the terroir and grape and is dedicated to organic and sustainable farming.
Katie Jackson - Jackson Family Wines, Sonoma County
The daughter of Barbara Banke and Jess Jackson, Katie is the winery’s VP of sustainability. She has championed innovative water and energy management, sustainable farming practices, greenhouse gas reduction and enhanced social equity initiatives in the company since 2011. Under her leadership, Jackson Family Wines has continued efforts to cut water usage, resulting in a reduction of 34% since 2008, and JFW is now the Sonoma County wine industry’s largest solar generator. In 2016, Katie launched the company’s first Family Responsibility Report with comprehensive five-year goals outlining its commitment to reduce its environmental footprint and drive social equity.
Kevin Jones - Lava Cap Winery, El Dorado County/Sierra Foothills
Kevin is the marketing director and assistant operations manager at Lava Cap winery in Placerville, Sierra Foothills. In response to consumer interest in more immersive winery experiences, Kevin is striving to create an atmosphere that inspires guests to relax and stay a while. He also expanded the wine club to make it customizable to members’ preferences and introduced a “modern country club” concept in which visitors can bring their friends along and feel like they’re part of the brand. While others focus on digital marketing, he emphasizes real-life connections by ensuring that family members are present at all public tasting events.
Reid & Sophie Patterson - Mount Eden Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains
They are the son and daughter of Jeffrey and Ellie Patterson. As their parents ease out of full-time work, Reid is taking over the winery production side of the business and Sophie is handling the marketing, tasting room and sales aspects. They are both owners of the winery and are passionate about continuing the family legacy producing small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from their mountaintop estate vineyards as well as non-estate Chardonnays from the Central Coast, primarily Edna Valley.
Peter Stolpman - Stolpman Vineyards, Santa Barbara County
In 2009, Peter took over day-to-day management of the winery founded by his father, and he is now the company’s managing partner. One of his proudest innovations is the Fresh Wine program, which focuses on wines that buck the “jammy and high-octane” trend with such offerings as carbonic Sangiovese. The wines have been so successful that Stolpman is considering making Fresh Wine a separate brand. Under Pete’s leadership the winery has also planted more than 150,000 own-rooted vines, because he believes they produce more nuanced fruit. He’s also having fun with obscure grape varieties such as Trousseau, Savagnin, Mondeuse and Poulsard.
Anthony Terlato II - Terlato International
Fourth generation Anthony Terlato II joined Terlato Wines two years ago and has made significant contributions as region manager of the Midwest market. His experience includes successful sales and management roles at Empire Merchants and Southern Wine & Spirits. As a young adult, Tony completed multiple internships at Sanford, Chimney Rock and Rutherford Hill wineries in California. He has studied both the production and retail aspects of winemaking. Tony brings the same entrepreneurial passion to his family’s business that his father, grandfather and great-grandfathers did before him.
Hailey Trefethen - Trefethen Family Vineyards, Napa Valley
The daughter of John and Janet Trefethen, Hailey and her brother, Loren, are taking the reins of the family winery. Along with managing the winery’s participation in the Napa Green and California CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE Winegrowing programs, she is actively involved in the winery’s vineyard and winemaking decisions. Hailey recently spearheaded the 2.5-year restoration of Trefethen’s 1886 winery building, which was severely damaged in Napa’s 2014 earthquake.
Alan Viader - Viader Vineyards, Napa Valley
Alan is the son of Delia Viader, who founded the winery in 1986. Since 2002, he has acted as both vineyard manager and winemaker of the Howell Mountain estate. Alan has spent the past seven years working to install and perfect a sophisticated combination of sap-flow sensors, weather station, and other cutting-edge technologies that provide invaluable information about the vineyards’ soil, vines, canopy, fruit and more. This lets him farm at a granular level, unavailable to previous generations of vintners. As a result, the winery has reduced water use by 50 percent.
Niki & Jordan Wente - Wente Vineyards, Livermore Valley
Both are the daughters of fifth generation winegrower, Phil Wente. Niki joined the family business in 2017 and is now the winery’s viticulture supervisor, in charge of buying and selling grapes and managing winegrower relations. Vineyard sustainability is important to Niki, and under her guidance, the winery has added more owl boxes in the vineyards and implemented the compost of lees solids and re-application to the soil. Jordan is Wente’s procurement project manager. She joined the business in 2015 and was instrumental in the recent winery and branding renovation of Murrieta’s Well. In her current role, she supports custom and private label projects.
Established in 1934, Wine Institute is the public policy advocacy group of nearly 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses that works to enhance the environment to responsibly produce, promote and enjoy wine. Wine Institute also supports the economic and environmental health of its communities through its leadership in sustainable winegrowing and a partnership with Visit California to showcase California’s wine and food offerings and the state as a top travel destination. Wine Institute’s membership represents 80 percent of U.S. wine production and over 90 percent of U.S. wine exports.