Next Gen Winemakers

Young vintners in the Napa Valley have found a way to make sure the quality and reputation of wines created here continue well into the future. The not-for-profit NG: The Next Generation in Wine organization helps Napa Valley’s next generation of family vintners navigate and thrive.

“NG was formed in 2007 by a group of friends that had been getting together to chat about their family’s wine businesses,” founding member Lisa Broman Augustine, director of sales and marketing at St. Helena’s Broman Cellars, wrote in an email. Broman is one of NG’s past presidents and is currently the chairwoman. “The NG provides support, education and mentorship to our members. Working at a winery is an interesting job on its own, but working with and for family adds a whole new dynamic.”

First-generation vintners agree that groups like the NG are important.

“I think that NG is a wonderful initiative,” wrote Ted Hall, founder of Long Meadow Ranch Winery and owner of the Farmstead restaurant. “It builds commitment and an owner's attitude among the next generation within our local wine families. Our wines and our Napa Valley identity are only real and authentic if connected to real people committed to the craft. Without the next generation our brands will just become vehicles for someone else's empty marketing and advertising slogans.”

Beyond providing a forum to share information and collaborative support, the group also holds tastings that showcase their wines, including both consumer and trade events such as one held last Thursday as part of Premiere Napa Valley. The event was held at the Farmstead restaurant and included 20 NG members who poured their wines with more than 300 wine-trade professionals in attendance.

“We’ve been holding tastings at Premiere for years,” said Garrett Busch, proprietor and CEO of Trinitas winery and the current president of NG. “Holding this event provides our members the ability to interact with the wine trade. It also provides the trade an opportunity to get a peek into the new releases and to get a sense of what is happening around the valley.”

Those in attendance at the event also were hoping to gain insight into the new generation of Napa Valley winemakers.

“We like to come here and see what the younger generation has to offer,” said Scott Litteral, co-owner of Il Forno Classico fine wine shop in Golden River, California. “The wines included here are from some of the best wineries in the Napa Valley, so it’s exciting to see how the new generation is approaching wine and thinking about wine.”

For the NG members pouring wine at that night’s event, the education was a two-way street.

“At events like this we are learning about the next generation of customers — both trade and consumers — which is a compelling and important aspect of our group’s mission,” said Chris Hall, son of Ted Hall. Chris is the executive vice president at his family’s Long Meadow Ranch Wine Estates and founding member of NG: The Next Generation in Wine. “For example, today we get access to over 300 influential trade people, each of whom considers the idea of the next generation of winemaking to be interesting.”

At that night’s tasting event Hall poured a few of his family’s estate wines, including their PNV auction lot — the 2014 Long Meadow Ranch Estate Merlot from their Rutherford vineyard. To say the wine was delicious would be both an understatement and also unfair to the reader because only five cases of this exceptional wine were produced, solely for the PNV auction that brought in about $5 million, with the five cases of Long Meadow Ranch Merlot selling for $10,000. (Last Saturday afternoon, 226 lots were sold at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the trade-only auction.)

“I’ve been a part of the NG organization for the last six years,” said Dalia Ceja, sales and marketing director at Ceja Vineyards and an NG board member. “As members of the millennial generation, we want to see how we can further our brands with the use of technology, social media, innovation and the creation of really fun events like this one.”

Beyond building an organization that helps next-generation vintners thrive, first-generation vintners are hopeful that the NG’s mission includes building a sustainable future, as Ted Hall wrote in an email.

“In addition to their current mission and goals, I hope NG will focus on the preservation and protection of our Ag lands through vigilant defense of the Ag Preserve and will encourage the placing of conservation easements on family lands through the Land Trust. At the end of the day, the key task is stewardship, first of the Ag lands and then of our authenticity.”

NG members understand that the future is in their hands.

“We named this organization so that it can continue on for generations to come and now we have over 30 members,” wrote Broman. “We hope to continue to help our members thrive and to help preserve the Napa Valley as well as the family aspect of many wineries. We also hope to bring more fun and a renewed interest in the valley as a whole. Napa Valley is not just for our parents and grandparents.”

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Originally published in the St. Helena Star, Feb. 2016