Wine Industry Executive Profile Clay Shannon by yaohongm


									  Wine Industry Executive Profile: Clay Shannon
               BY JEFF  QUACKENBUSH                         Mr. Shannon plans to eventually produce
                  STAFF REPORTER                        250,000 cases a year. He plans to continue selling
    CLEARLAKE OAKS – Clay Shannon’s love                grapes to a select number among his 40 winery cus-
of the outdoors has made him a big believer in Lake     tomers.
County. Now he’s helping to lead a growing effort           It’s getting to the point where Shannon Ridge
by county growers and vintners to make the lake a       will require a winery facility. At the moment, senior
sought-after fine-wine experience.                       winemaking consultant Marco DiGiulio and Direc-
    He first became enamored with the rust-red dirt,     tor of Production Mike Wood make the smaller-lot
rattlesnakes, brush and coyotes of the area about       labels at Bin to Bottle in Napa, larger lots at Francis
two decades ago while establishing the vineyard         Ford Coppola Presents Rosso & Bianco in Geyser-
program for the Napa-based Sutter Home brand on         ville and in-between labels across Clear Lake at
4,000 acres in the Central Valley and Lake County.      Wildhurst Vineyards.
    From 70 acres of vines on an 80-acre Lake               As chairman of the Lake County Winegrape
County ranch in the High Valley appellation a de-       Commission and a member of the boards of the
cade ago, Mr. Shannon, his wife, Margarita, 45, and     newly formed Lake County Winery Association
partners gradually amassed 1,300 acres of property      and the Clear Lake Community Foundation, Mr.
                                                                                                                     CLAY SHANNON
                                                                                                                     Title: President
in the county and have planted just more than 700       Shannon has been working toward creating more
                                                                                                                     Company: Shannon Ridge Winery & Vine-
acres of vineyards. He met his wife, a St. Helena       demand and value for local winegrapes and wine               yards, Shannon Ranches Inc.; P.O. Box 2037,
native, when both worked at Sutter Home, now            by increasing public awareness of Lake County as             Clearlake Oaks 95423; 707-998-9656; www.
called Trinchero Family Estates.                        a name for quality wine.                           
    They have about 8 percent of the 8,300 planted          Projects include advertising campaigns, road-            Age: 46
winegrape acreage in Lake County, according to          way signage to the dozen and a half wineries in the          Residence: Clearlake Oaks
the 2007 state Grape Crop Acreage Report. Com-          county so far and improving the lake itself as well          Family: three daughters, ages 21, 20 and 11,
paratively, Napa County has 46,000 acres of vines,      as the towns ringing it.                                     and one son, 13
Sonoma County 58,000 and Mendocino County                   “People need to get up to this lake and look             Professional background: Fairfield Homes;
17,000.                                                 around,” he said, noting the need for more hotels            partner, Shannon Bros. Custom Farming; direc-
    Many of the Shannon Ridge vineyards started         and restaurants.                                             tor of vineyard operations, Sutter Home Winery;
with preplant contracts from other early believers          Last year, Shannon Ridge set up a small tast-            president, Shannon Ranches Inc. and Shannon
in Lake County: Jackson Family Wines, which             ing room in Clearlake Oaks on the eastern shore of           Ridge Winery & Vineyards
started in the county and now is based in Santa         the lake and this year added picnic facilities and a         Education: Healdsburg High School
Rosa; Beringer in St. Helena; Kenwood Vineyards         demonstration vineyard.                                      Industry’s greatest challenge: “Imports. As an
in Sonoma Valley; and Robert Mondavi Winery in              Earlier this month, Shannon Ridge acquired the           industry we need to think out of the box and not
Oakville.                                               240-acre Rolling Knolls vineyard in Lower Lake.              always about protecting our own space. Now
    However, most of the large preplant contracts       The grapes will go into select wines, and the prop-          is the perfect time to be getting out there and
expired in 2005 and 2006 amidst a global surplus        erty is being enhanced with picnic tables overlook-
of wine and the two largest California winegrape        ing wetlands, hiking trails and rock walls instead           Toughest business decision: “Growing the
                                                                                                                     company and taking the responsibility for more
harvests ever, including large North Coast tonnage      of deer fences. Cottages on the property will be             mouths to feed.”
increases for cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon          used for entertaining the trade and special custom-
                                                                                                                     Favorite wine pioneer: “Fred Franzia, founder
blanc – Lake County’s primary varieties.                ers, and the old walnut dehydrator building will be          of Bronco Wine Co. He is a true farmer, is truly
    On top of that, three-quarters of the grapes        remodeled for a tasting room.                                all about America and supports family business.”
grown in the county have been going to Napa and             Mr. Shannon wants visitors to have an Old                Last book read: “Cowboy Ethics” by James
Sonoma wineries for brands that only until recently     World wine region experience in Lake County. Yet,            Owen and David Stoecklein
have been increasingly noting Lake County sourc-        a new wine experience is the draw of Lake County             Employees: 35 full-time, 200 seasonal
ing.                                                    wines, be they cabs from the Red Hills appellation
    “We were not going to see this perceived value      on the southwest shore or exceptional warm-cli-
in grapes go to hell, so we started a wine brand,” he   mate sauvignon blanc.                                     a year after leaving Sutter Home as director of vine-
said.                                                       In fact, he loves the rustic American life of         yard operations and a short-lived stint in almond
    The first grapes went into the Shannon Ridge         ranching, farming, watching wildlife, boating and         growing. The company reached 1,200 employees
Winery & Vineyards brand in 2002, and 1,500 cas-        confirming deals with a handshake rather than mul-         at one point but now has about 250.
es were released in 2004. After fits and starts, the     tiple draft documents.                                        Born in Santa Rosa, Mr. Shannon came to farm-
brand started picking up sales momentum the fol-            He lives on a working ranch with 80 head of           ing from homebuilding in 1981. He was working
lowing year following accolades from reviewers,         sheep that control weeds in the vineyards and sur-        for Fairfield Homes on the Oakmont community in
but annual production was still just 2,000 cases.       rounding land, plus horses, a registered bull and         east Santa Rosa when high interest rates brought
That grew to 14,000 cases in 2006, 43,000 cases         plans for raising grass-fed lamb.                         work to a standstill.
last year and an estimated 60,000 cases this year.          Mr. Shannon’s other business is Shannon                   He started Shannon Bros. Custom Farming and
Retail prices range from $16 a bottle for sauvignon     Ranches Inc., a labor contractor and machine har-         built the business to a couple hundred acres under
blanc to $24 for chardonnay to $30 for the rare         vester for vineyards mostly in the northern half of       management, but the margins were so thin he had
Rhone variety roussanne.                                the Central Valley. He started that company in 1994       to take the job at Sutter Home in 1985.

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