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Interview, Part 1: Rick Tigner, CEO of Jackson Family Wines

January 7, 2019

Jackson Family Wines owns and operates more than 40 wineries worldwide in locations including Sonoma, Napa, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Mendocino, Oregon, France, Italy, Chile, Australia, and South Africa. Flagship label Kendall-Jackson has long been the U.S. market’s top super-premium brand at retail, with sales of $541.9 million on depletions of 3.24 million cases in 2017, according to Impact Databank. With total U.S. depletions of more than 6 million cases, Jackson Family continues to reinforce its presence at the higher tiers of the wine business. SND executive editor David Fleming recently caught up with Jackson Family CEO Rick Tigner to get an update on progress at the company.

SND: Jackson Family’s two hallmarks have always been innovation and premiumization. How does that manifest itself today?

Tigner: From a sales and distribution perspective, we’re focused on our mix—moving more of our higher-tier wines. The direct-to-consumer experience helps drive the higher-end wines, and we’ve put a lot of resources into our most exclusive labels such as Verité, Cardinale, and Lokoya.

SND: You’re noteworthy for owning and operating so many wineries—more than 40 in all. How would you describe the company’s management style of those wineries?

Tigner: All the Jackson Family wineries function independently and utilize their own local expertise. If you’re the general manager or winemaker waking up in Oregon, you approach the day from an Oregonian perspective. That’s true regardless of whether you wake up in Oregon, Italy, or Australia. It’s not a “California” perspective—it’s a local mindset that drives the business, including our go-to-market strategies. Each of our wineries has its own distinct imprimatur and style, driven by the terroir and our trust in the winemakers and vineyard managers. What the company offers is access to shared resources. We’re able to provide enhanced sales, marketing, distribution, and back-office administrative support.

SND: La Crema has expanded by nearly 70% since 2010. Is La Crema a model you would follow for other brands in the portfolio?

Tigner: We often talk about building the “next” La Crema. La Crema has tapped into a space where it’s evocative of a certain kind of elegant, cool lifestyle. We have several estate wineries that are also capturing that same adoration—Siduri, Brewer-Clifton, Cambria, and Penner-Ash, to name a few. All of them, along with La Crema, are attainable and produce consistently high-quality wines.

SND: The Kendall-Jackson brand retains huge importance to the company. How would you describe its role today, compared to two decades ago?

Tigner: Kendall-Jackson is the foundation for everything we do, and is still the heart of our business. Quality at scale is what drives its success. At our entry point for KJ, Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir continues to be a top-ranking wine in America. And of course, Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay has been the number-one (super-premium) wine in the U.S. market since 1992 and is holding strong. When Jess Jackson started out, he wanted everyone to have access to a quality wine, and we continue that vision today. We look at every step in the process to make sure we’re crafting a premium wine—including sustainably farmed grapes, barrel-aging, and hand-stirring the lees. Our Jackson Estate wines were created to tell that quality story—with our Outland Ridge Pinot Noir scoring 90+ points with the critics.

SND: What’s the latest on your activity in Oregon? Will you continue to expand there?

Tigner: It was natural for us to expand into the Willamette Valley, as cool-climate Pinot Noir is one of our specialties and there are some incredible wines coming out of the region. Since 2013, when we made our first land purchase there, we’ve been honing and expanding our Oregon portfolio. Today the Oregon lineup includes Zena Crown Vineyards, Gran Moraine, Penner-Ash, and WillaKenzie, as well as La Crema- and Siduri-made Oregon wines. We opened our winery in McMinnville last year, and continue to see a lot of opportunity there.

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