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Wine Spectator: Straight Talk With Rick Tigner, CEO of Jackson Family Wines

October 12, 2020

Wine industry veteran Rick Tigner grew up in Modesto, California, and in the early part of his career worked for Modesto-based E.&J. Gallo. In 1991, he joined Jess Jackson at Jackson Family Wines, rising quickly up the ranks to become president and CEO. Today, the family-owned company produces more than 6 million cases of wine annually from 40 different wineries on four continents. Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews recently spoke with Tigner on Instagram Live series Straight Talk with Wine Spectator.

“What Jess Jackson taught me about was vision and leadership,” Tigner explained. “When I got there in 1991, they had just done 400,000 cases. The national sales meeting was 12 people around a dining room table. Jess’s vision was to grow by 50% that year. I thought he was crazy—but we ended up selling 700,000 cases. A year or two later we were doing 1 million cases. And what I learned was what a gambler and visionary Jess was. He had the vision to make world-class wine in California, and of course we later expanded to France, Italy, and now South Africa and Australia.”

Addressing the devastating wildfires in California wine country, Tigner acknowledged that the situation is getting tougher to manage, with fires impacting the region several years in a row. “The fire season has now been going on for almost two months, and if you talk to the fire folks, they’ll tell you we probably still have two more months in it,” he said. “The good news is that our winemakers have experience from the fires in 17, 18, and 19 to bring that fruit in, and then the hard work starts now. We’ll select out the fruit that we don’t think will make it for our wines.”

Asked by Matthews whether higher-end labels like Cardinale, Lokoya, and Mt Brave will bottle wines in 2020, Tigner said no. “If you drive up to Lokoya today [October 6] on Spring Mountain, what you see is fire all around us. But we did a lot of prevention work, and the winery is still there,” he said, noting that Jackson Family has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030 to do its part to address climate change, which has worsened the fire threat in recent years.

Tigner added that Jackson Family has pivoted hard to e-commerce this year amid the pandemic. “E-commerce is going to be a big part of our business,” he observed. “You have to take storytelling and put it on the digital shelf. When the pandemic hit we created YourWineStore.com, where you can go and buy all of our products. Historically you’d have to go to KJ, Cardinale, or Stonestreet separately. We’ve adapted in a very short period of time to adjust to the new normal.”

Tomorrow at 3pm, Straight Talk will feature Piero Antinori, honorary president of Marchesi Antinori, hosted by senior editor Bruce Sanderson. Antinori has led the 26-generation family business since 1966, and helped create the super Tuscan category with the first releases of non-traditional red blends Tignanello and Solaia. He has also launched wine projects from Chile to Napa Valley, and received Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999. On October 15 at 7pm, the guest will be Cristina Mariani-May, proprietor of Montalcino’s Castello Banfi, and president and CEO of Banfi Vintners, hosted by news editor Mitch Frank. In 1993, Mariani-May joined Banfi, the wine importing company founded by her grandfather in 1919, which rose to prominence as the importer of Riunite. She focused her early years on Castello Banfi, her family’s Montalcino winery, which played a crucial role in popularizing Brunello di Montalcino in the U.S. Since taking charge of the import firm in 2018, she has focused increasingly on premium wines from around the globe.—Daniel Marsteller

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