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Napa Valley Vintners President and CEO Linda Reiff on Protecting Brand Napa

by Kerana Todorov
August 21, 2019
Linda Reiff, president and CEO, Napa Valley Vintners
Attorney Richard Mendelson, of counsel with Dickenson, Peatman and Forgarty, left, interviews Linda Reiff, president and CEO, Napa Valley Vintners, at the 12th Annual Impact Napa conference in Napa. Photo by Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly

Linda Reiff learned the value of hard work early in her life growing up in a fifth-generation farming family in Yolo County.

Reiff, president and chief executive officer of the Napa Valley Vintners, watched her dad work seven days a week, week after week, as he grew tomatoes, asparagus, alfalfa and wine grapes. The family also opened a small winery. At 9, Reiff was sorting tomatoes on the back of a harvester.

“All of us children were required to work on the farm from a very early age, after school and during the summer,” Reiff told attorney Richard Mendelson during a keynote event at the North Bay Business Journal’s 12th Annual Impact Napa conference.

She also learned during her formative years in Yolo County to have “great respect and love” for the land, open space and natural resources. And it also taught her the challenges facing a multi-generational family business, which she added, is “very relevant” in her work today at Napa Valley Vintners, an organization she has led since 1995. The organization celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

Reiff was hired to lead the Napa Valley Vintners after living eight years in Washington DC, where she worked for former U.S. Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., whose legislative efforts led to the establishment of the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area near Sacramento. Fazio was a “fantastic boss” and a “true statesman,” said Reiff, who was Fazio’s chief of staff, communications director and district representative.

Settling in St. Helena after eight years in Washington DC was a “shock,” Reiff recalled. Yet she loved the challenges, including professionalizing the Napa Valley Vintners and growing its membership base.

The member organization had 100 wineries members in 1995 and put on three marketing programs. It now has 550 members and sponsors 80 programs. “I’m very proud of what we have been to do,” said Reiff, who praised the staff at Napa Valley Vintners.

About two-dozen men and women work for the Napa Valley Vintners. Still, the vintners members are the ones who remain and engaged in the organization and address fellow members about various issues. “And that collaboration is key,” Reiff said, adding it was the principle on which the organization was founded in 1944.

Reiff discussd the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, the first agricultural preserve in the United States as she spoke on the Napa Valley Vintners’ commitment to the environment. The vintners recently agreed to sign the Porto Protocol to fight climate change. Seventy-five percent of Napa Valley Vintners’ members participate in Napa Green, a voluntary environmental third-party certification program for wineries and growers.

Napa Valley Vintners continues to put on educational program as well as fundraisers such as Napa Valley Auction, which has raised $190 million for the community since 1981. Reiff said the Napa Valley Vintners are “just extremely proud of that event.”

During her tenure, Reiff has led efforts to protect the Napa Valley brand in California, Europe and China. The Napa Brand has value, she said. “And unfortunately, there are some who have tried to trade on our good name,” she said.

The Napa Valley Vintners have successfully led legal battles to protect the Napa brand from wine companies that wanted to produce wines labeled “Napa” with fruit from outside Napa County.

In 2007, Napa Valley was also the first wine region outside the European Union to receive geographic indication status in Europe. Mendelson, who has represented Napa Valley Vintners, said there was no application process in place. However, Reiff was undeterred. She decided to fly to Brussels to meet in person and argue the Napa case with European Union officials.

She thought it was worth a try, she said Tuesday. “I don’t like the answer ‘No’.”

The Napa Valley Vintners a few years later in 2012 also managed to obtain geographic indication status in China.

Efforts to protect the Napa Valley brand continue.

Napa County Supervisor Ryan Gregory on Tuesday spoke at the 12th annual Impact Napa Conference about wildfire preparedness before he left the hotel to chair a meeting during which a cannabis initiative was going to be discussed. The supervisors placed the initiative measure on the March 3 ballot. The wine industry has been following developments in Santa Barbara County, where cannabis mega farms now operate close to vineyards and other crops.

The Napa Valley Vintners’ task force on cannabis is meeting Thursday to discuss the issue, Reiff said. “We don’t have an official position on cannabis yet,” Reiff said. “However, I can tell you one thing and that is that we are paying very close attention to what has happened in other wine regions on this topic, including Santa Barbara. And I think here in Napa County, we’ve got to get this right. We’ve got a lot at stake.”

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