Preparing for a future in the family business

Two local groups designed to help young farmers, winery operators
2010-01-25T00:00:00Z Preparing for a future in the family businessBy MIKE TRELEVEN Register Staff Writer Napa Valley Register
January 25, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Two agriculture-oriented organizations are doing their part to build the future of the Napa County wine industry.

One is called NG: The Next Generation In Wine, a group of 20- to 30-year-olds who meet to discuss the dynamics of handing off a family winery or vineyard from one generation to the next. Another piece of their mission is to talk about hot topics like better targeting their generation of wine consumers.

The other organization, Young Farmers and Ranchers, grooms young adults to lead county farm bureaus and to take top roles in talking about agricultural issues in their communities.

“The overall purpose is to groom future leaders for Farm Bureau, and in addition, we are a social networking group. It’s kind of like Leadership Napa Valley — creating future leaders,” Eric Pooler, co-chair of Napa’s Young Farmers and Ranchers, said.

Pooler, 32, is the youngest member of the Napa County Farm Bureau board. He describes Young Farmers and Ranchers as a way to ensure fresh blood will continue to play a role in farm bureau leadership. “It gives Farm Bureau a resource pool” and helps sustain the organization.

The group is open to anyone who is between ages 18 and 35 and affiliated with agriculture in Napa County.

“We have members who work in tasting rooms, winemakers, cellar rats and someone working in sales for a cork company,” Pooler said. “There are between 15 and 20 active members participating on a regular basis.”

Young Farmers and Ranchers members meet monthly and are updated on state and county issues ranging from land use to “water, which is a concern everywhere,” Pooler said.

In an effort to give back to the community, the local group also takes producers’ excess fruits and vegetables and donates them to a food bank.

“We’re a relaxed group,” Pooler said. “It’s an opportunity to have a good time, socialize and at the same time learn something.”

Johnnie White, 25, a member who also serves on the Young Farmers and Ranchers state board, said the group is important for the future of agriculture in the state. White said he is a fifth-generation Napa County farmer, “so this is in my blood.”

Humble beginnings

NG: The Next Generation In Wine began with three members. Today it has at least 20 members, all of whom work for family wine businesses. They meet six times a year to network on topics such as succession planning at family wineries.

“You just don’t flip a switch one day. It is a process,” Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch said. “Over the years, there have been plenty of successes and problems.”

Hall said the group is diverse: Some are winemakers, others are involved in wine sales and marketing and others are grapegrowers.

Next Generation members also talk about how to effectively target wine consumers in their own age bracket, the 20s and 30s.

“We collaborate on marketing ideas, talk about industry issues, have seminars on topics we need to know about in our daily business activities and there is also social networking,” said Hall.

Hall is one of the three founding members, along with Lisa Augustine of Broman Cellars and Elizabeth Marston of Marston Family Vineyard.

Augustine said that any transition includes effective ways of children and parents communicating about business and career decisions. “We felt we were in unique situations working for family businesses,” she said. “It has its own set of challenges.”

She describes Next Generation as a support system.

“Family situations are all so different. The dynamics vary in everyone’s personal situation and family relationships,” Hall said. “All of us are looking to promote our family wineries and preserve them for the next generation.”

Marston cited a 2008 survey, by Silicon Valley Bank and Napa-based management consultancy Scion Advisors, that ownership of about 51 percent of California’s 2,400 wineries are set to pass from one generation to the next, transition into professional management or be sold, “which creates a timely opportunity for NG Napa Valley to educate its members that may be faced with these decisions,” she said.

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