For These Influential Families, Life is Like ‘Succession’—but With More Wine and Far Less Drama | Kanebridge News
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For These Influential Families, Life is Like ‘Succession’—but With More Wine and Far Less Drama

Some of the top companies in California wine are intergenerational concerns. How do these families manage to pass the torch gracefully, and what can we expect from the next generation?

Sat, Jul 15, 2023 7:00amGrey Clock 3 min

IN ITALY, THEY have a saying about family-run companies, shared by an Italian winemaker I know: “The first generation builds it, the second maintains it and the third destroys it.”

I’m happy to report that under the stewardship of this winemaker and his sister—the second generation to run their winery—his family business is flourishing. How do some families fit the personal with the professional to create successful intergenerational businesses, while others do not? I talked with three prominent California wine families who seem to have figured it out.

Ramey Wine Cellars, Healdsburg

It was never a given that David Ramey’s children, Claire and Alan, would take over the family winery. “You can’t force it. It had to be natural,” said the elder Ramey, who has been making notable wine in California for 45 years, for other wineries as well as his own.

Founded by Ramey and his wife, Carla, in 1996, Ramey Wine Cellars produces a range of high-scoring wines, notably single-vineyard Chardonnays. David Ramey said, “We had a defining moment in March 2020 when a French company wanted to buy the winery.” While both Claire, now 32, and Alan, 31, were already committed to the winery, by collectively choosing to turn down the offer, they reaffirmed that commitment to their parents.

Both siblings hold the title co-president; each focuses on different aspects of the business, though all decisions are made jointly and their duties often overlap. Both Ramey children and their father taste all the wines together with Cameron Frey, vice president of winemaking, and Lydia Cummins, associate winemaker, and make final blending choices. But David Ramey is no longer at the forefront and no longer has an office at the winery. The second generation is making decisions, from pricing to production to experimenting with new wines, and that’s fine with their dad. “If you are going to do it, you’ve got to start to cede control to the younger generation,” he said.

Bien Nacido Vineyards, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County

The Miller family has been farming in California’s Central Coast for five generations. When fourth-generation brothers Steven and the late Bob Miller planted the Bien Nacido Vineyards in 1973, the Central Coast wasn’t highly regarded. Today, the 640-acre vineyard is considered one of the greatest in California and the source of some of the state’s most notable Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Syrahs.

The Millers sold grapes to famous names such as the late Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupé and many others, but it took the fifth generation—Nicholas and Marshall Miller, together with their father, Steven Miller—to go ahead and finally produce their own Bien Nacido-designated wines and to open a tasting room. The family produced their first Bien Nacido wine in 2007, and just two months ago, the Millers opened the Gatehouse at Bien Nacido tasting room at the vineyard.

The younger generation continues to expand the business. For example, they just launched the nonalcoholic wine brand Hand on Heart, in partnership with Iron Chef Cat Cora. The secret to their success? “We are a very experienced team, and we understand each other deeply,” said Nicholas Miller.

K&L Wine Merchants

With three retail wine stores spread out between the Bay Area and Los Angeles and two more slated to open early next year, plus a large online sales operation, K&L Wine Merchants is one of the best-known names in retail wine in California and also one of its most dynamic.

K&L was founded in 1976 with one store and two partners: Clyde Beffa, Jr., a former dairy rancher, and Todd Zucker, who got his start in the insurance business. Today, the K&L empire is owned and operated by two generations of Beffas and Zuckers.

In the early years, the founding partners divided responsibilities, with Zucker in charge of liquor and Beffa handling the wine. As the wine side grew, Zucker transitioned to accounting and finance. Since joining in 1997, Zucker’s son Brian, focused on technology and marketing, has developed software critical to the expansion of K&L.

Beffa has turned much of the wine buying and wine-buyer oversight over to his son Clyde “Trey” Beffa III, who joined the company in 1997. The elder Beffa still buys a lot of the Bordeaux for K&L, however. “He’s kind of a control freak,” said Trey of his father. The two Beffas share a fondness for Bordeaux, but their tastes diverge. The father prefers older Bordeaux, whereas the son likes to drink Bordeaux when it is relatively young. “Before it begins to decline,” Trey explained. “I like a little more fruit in my wine.”


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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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