Many CEOs dream of jettisoning the constant pressure of their day jobs for the pleasure of running a business that indulges a personal passion. Owning or running a winery gives many top executives the opportunity to live that fantasy. It’s an industry that embodies social cache, glamour and lifestyle. And how many jobs justify the constant sampling of delicious wines as homework?
So perhaps it’s no surprise that a number of top executives, celebrities and business titans have built or purchased wineries. Well-known examples include the Firestone family, the movie producer/director Francis Ford Coppola, Tom Jordan of Jordan Oil and Gas, and Joe Phelps, the former Colorado construction magnate, all of whom proudly feature their family names on their wine labels. Other CEOs “retire” to run wineries, as did Lewis E. Platt, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who joined Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, one of
Because vineyard management, grape harvesting, winemaking, distribution and marketing can keep a winery executive in harness 24 hours a day, there are only a handful of CEOs who can run a winery in addition to their regular day jobs. T.J. Rodgers, founder, president and CEO of 6,500-employee Cypress Semiconductor, is perhaps the best example.
Seeking the Holy Grail of
Rodgers is a bundle of restless energy. His hobbyist interest in wine began in the 1970s with trips to
The fact that many winemakers around the world have tried without any great success to reproduce the taste of great red Burgundies did not deter T.J. Rodgers. “I view this daunting task as a lifetime challenge,” he says. “And I am willing to commit the time, talent and money to achieve this goal.” His initial
Dedicated to creating a Pinot Noir to challenge the best Burgundies, Rodgers has worked and studied hard to master the many facets of viticulture, vinification and maturation necessary to produce top quality Pinot. In the vineyard and in the winery, he uses the same techniques used at Romanï¿½Â©e-Conti, including the age-old custom of crushing the grapes by foot-methods he says, “translates to integrating new-world technology with old-world artistry.” Despite this diligence, Rodgers admits that his first vintage, while quite good, was the sort of lucky accident enjoyed by rookies. After two “cycles of learning” (admitted failures) in 1997 and 1998, and a “jury’s-still-out” year in 1999, he patiently waited and finally produced what he considers to be world-class Pinot Noirs from 2000 through 2005.
“I learned a lot from my failures, and I believe it has helped me enormously in developing the quality wines of the later years,” says Rodgers, who has vowed to sell 10,000 cases of Pinot at premium prices-and to do so in an unconventional way. “I have a very active mailing list from which I expect to sell most of our output.”
Will the tenacity and attention to detail that made Rodgers’
Christine Ansbacher (www.thewinediva.com), author and wine entertainer, conducts wine tastings at corporate events across the
From Boardrooms to Wine Barrels
T.J. Rodgers isn’t the only CEO who’s made the plunge into winemaking. Here are the backstories of a few more business execs-turned-vintners:
Back to Nature
Attention Wine Shoppers
A Segue to Chardonnay
Cultivating the Dream