The Power of Conversations
Reflections of my lunch with an industry leader
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch (and some wine) with Jerry Lohr, the founder of J.Lohr Vineyards & Wines, while I was in Paso Robles, California for a few days. It was one of the most informative and inspiring conversations I’ve ever had!
Over 50 years ago, Jerry embarked on a career change and the results of this change have a lasting impact on his family, their community and the world of wine. Jerry is one of the pioneers of developing the Central Coast wine region and lead the way for making this one of the most prominidate areas to grow and produce wine - specifically Cabernet Sauvignon.
While this column is not about J.Lohr Wines, I want to set the stage for you. Jerry is in his 80’s, he works everyday and is active in the continuing growth of a multi-million dollar company - one of the largest in the world and an industry leader, to be exact. He is a community leader, an environmental activist and a beloved family man. He drives a Jeep, wears blue jeans and boots and is one of the most humble, down to earth men I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. He reminds me of GW Haworth - who I had the opportunity to work with and have multiple conversations with during my time at Haworth. Both of these men are truly the best of the best!
What started with 280 acres of vines has grown to over 2,700 acres producing a quality wine, at an affordable price while leading an industry in change and in caring for and supporting our environment. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Well, it did to me.
Never being one to shy away from meeting someone new, I jumped right into the conversation and started asking him questions about his journey - and what I learned has a direct correlation to our industry: Commitment to People, Quality and Environment.
Commitment to People
One of the most impressive things about any organization is the commitment they have to their people and the commitment their people have to the company - both are truly needed for any organization to have the ultimate success. However, this can often be an overused, hollow marketing catch phrase - but not a J.Lohr.
When I asked Jerry about his team, his face lit up! He talked on and on about how important people are to his business and without them, they would not have had the success they’ve enjoyed. And the people I talked to, echoed this. When the person working in the wine tasting room has been there for 30 years and talks about the company as if it were her own - you know they are a people first organization.
When the vineyard manager takes you on a tour of the vineyard and can’t stop talking about how much the company has meant to him and his family and how he started working there in the maintenance department and has been given the opportunity to learn, develop and grow into the important role he plays now - you know they are a people first organization.
Commitment to Quality
J.Lohr wines are not expensive - in fact, they are very affordable, which is one of the core principles of the organization. Just because it’s affordable doesn’t mean it's not a good product. Their wines are constantly receiving scores of 90 and above, but industry experts! Sound familiar?
“We never rest on our laurels; mastering our craft is a 24/7 obsession” as quoted on their website. They are consistently drawing on their experience and innovation to make them one of the country’s most trusted wine labels.
Low cost does not equal low quality and J.Lhor is a perfect example for all of us to follow. The same is true in our industry, but so many times, we get caught up in marketing and branding and think that just because the product is affordable for the masses that it has to be low quality. Not true - so before you pass judgement on a company or product - do your homework and investigate them - look at all aspects of who they are and what they do - I think you’ll be surprised at what you find.
Commitment to the Environment
This was likely the most powerful part of my conversation with Jerry - the winemaker. Why, because, as he said, “I’m a farmer” and being a good steward of the environment is critical to our success. Admitally, I was taken back. The founder and owner of one of the most successful wineries in the world just referred to himself, in the most proud and humble way, as a farmer.
As you can imagine, sustainability is a core value for J.Lhor and I’m not going to dive into all they do to support the environment, but it’s an impressive list. But there were two things that stood out for me. The first is their use of solar power. They’ve installed a solar field (removed some vines to do so) and that solar field generated 95% of the power used in their facility. Now, that’s impressive! It’s also an example that others should follow - in a lot of industries - especially ours.
The second thing that stood out for me was how nothing from their vineyard goes to waste - not vine, clippings, grass, or even removal of old vines - they are all composted and reused throughout the vineyards. Reusing products and materials for future grow or new products, is impressive and something our industry has struggled with. We could learn from a lot by listening from leaders of other industries - even a farmer!
As I wrapped up my lunch with Jerry, he was off to help his staff measure the wine tasting room to include more seating to create more social spaces! Then, he was headed to lead a committed on water conservation and how they are creating new innovations and leading the way to conserve water in their farming practices.
There are a lot of parallels between wine and furniture -that’s for sure and I guess it’s a good thing that I love them both!
The next time you get the opportunity to chat with someone - remember the power of conversations and how much we can all learn from each other.