Wine is often a family business, all around the globe, with one generation following in the footsteps of the next. Some fail along the way while others carry the family name to great success. There are many avenues one can take to get into the winemaking biz. You hear stories of vintners who left their successful careers as financiers, lawyers, and doctors to pursue their passion for winemaking, like Greg Doody, President, and CEO of Vineyard Brands who retired from corporate law was offered the position to take over the late Robert Haas’ Vineyard Brand wine importation company. The magnitude of new vineyards and wineries that are created by wealthy outsiders that have little to no experience in winemaking has created huge opportunities for winemakers. On the other hand, there is great value in generational winemaking.
As the pioneers and icons of the winemaking business start to age and pass away, who will take their place? Who will continue cultivating the family vineyards and handpick the grapes for the wines that we’ve grown to love? Enter the new generation of winemakers, an eclectic and diverse mix of men and women between the ages of 25 – 44 who’ve either grown up in the business or started their own small wineries. Although keeping up with family tradition, many of these young pioneers are exploring new varietal wines and techniques to attract millennials while keeping their customer base happy with their existing signature varietals. Some of them have even re-branded and re-labeled their families existing winery products to attract a modern consumer base
There are so many great new generation winemakers globally that are doing wonderful things throughout the world to keep their family legacy alive. Here at TriWine, we’d like to introduce 5 next-generation winemakers that are continuing their family tradition by taking risks and by pushing the wine industry in a new direction.
5 NEW GENERATION WINEMAKERS
MARIA RIVERO GONZALEZ of RGNY WINES, NORTH FORK, NY
Maria Rivero Gonzalez of RGNY turned her father’s homemade winemaking hobby into a successful business without her father’s consent, 10 years later at age 37, she is now CEO of RGNY wineries and stores located in both Monterrey and Parras, Mexico City as well as opening their new Martha Clara Vineyards in North Fork, New York.
RGNY is steeped in Maria’s family’s Mexican roots of the Parras region, which is the oldest wine-growing region on the continent. Her family has been growing vines in the region since 1998, starting with 1.7 hectares to planting 50 hectares 10 years later. The business is truly a family affair as she works alongside her three older brothers as well as invites her 13 nieces and nephews in Parras to help harvest and grow the grapes so that they can learn about the winemaking process with hopes that they’ll too one day join the business and continue the RGNY legacy.
BROWN SIBLINGS, BROWN ESTATE WINES, NAPA VALLEY, CA
Basset and Marcela Brown purchased a quaint, abandoned ranch in Napa Valley Hills in 1980 and transformed it into a vineyard, becoming the region’s first black-owned winery that sold viniferous grapes to local winemakers. In 1995, their children Deneen, David, and Coral Brown took over the family business and decided to make their own wine brand, debuting their first three vintages in 2000.
Today, Brown Estate Vineyard is still the first and only black-owned state winery in California’s Napa Valley and is hailed as the region’s highly regarded zinfandel producer.
MELANIE PFISTER of DOMAINE PFISTER, ALSACE, FRANCE
Melanie is the daughter of legendary sustainable wine producer André Pfister and is also the eighth generation of her family to work in the Pfister wine brand. Melanie took over from her father in 2006 because she wanted to attract a more modern clientele since Alsace is considered an Old World wine region that sometimes struggles to connect with younger wine enthusiasts. With the takeover, Melanie has re-labeled the names of the wines by changing them from “Riesling or Pinot Gris” to state names of the wine’s character and has also invited a mix of in-person selling with technology.
Alsace is mostly known for its white wines, but Andre had an interest in pinot noir so Melanie studied the varietal and now the family has one pinot addition to their existing wine lineup. With women in wine on the rise, Melanie created an association in 2011, diVINes d’Alsace, wanting to prove to the world that the Alsace wine region isn’t as male-dominated as it seems; she also helped to get the family winery legitimized by receiving the Fair n Green certification for the organic and sustainable farming practices.
PONZI SIBLINGS, PONZI VINEYARDS, WILLAMETTE VALLEY, OREGON
Second generation siblings Luisa, Michel, and Anna Maria Ponzi were embarrassed working in their parent’s Oregon vineyards as kids. All three left home with no desire to ever work in the wine business, having pursued different fields of study, all three found themselves being called back to the vineyard and the rest is history. Born and raised in California, where their father worked in an aerospace facility and one day he decided to drive back to Oregon so they could be closer to their grandparents. In 1970, Dick and Nanci Ponzi purchased 20 acres on a farm in Portland, planted pinot noir grapes, and became instrumental in placing Willamette Valley on the map in 1985.
In 2012, sister Luisa and Anna acquired ownership of their parent’s winery and became one of the few sister-run wineries as well as second-generation wineries. Continuing with the tradition that their family started 50 years ago, Ponzi vineyards remain one of the nation’s most beloved producers of award-winning Oregon wines.
BRIAN BENSON, BENSON CELLARS, PASO ROBLES, CA
Brian Benson is a second-generation winemaker who started making wine with his grandfather when he was in elementary school, creating his first Cabernet Sauvignon at the age of 13 in 1995. Hanging out in his grandfather’s vineyard and later in his fathers’ Paso winery in the ’90s, Brian learned the ins and outs of the business working part-time on the weekends. In 2001 at the age of 19, Brian created his own wine brand using the savings bonds his grandfather gave him and released his first Cabernet and Zinfandel vintage in 2003, dedicating the label and wines to his late grandfather.
Today, Brian is one of the top Rhone-style winemakers in Paso Robles, known for his unique, intense, complex yet refined and elegant wines.
These new generation winemakers from all over the world have exceptional stories of familial ties and traditions within generational winemaking values, bringing fresh new ideas to artisanal winemaking practices.
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