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Private Estate Vineyard Builder Creates Unique Winery Business Model
An Interview with the CEO of Post & Trellis Vineyards & Winemaker of La Honda Winery
A quasi-urban wasteland of industrial warehouses and technology business parks, Redwood City is, without a doubt, among the unlikeliest of locations for a producer of premium California wines. But it was in this very setting that I found myself during a recent visit to La Honda Winery, one of the increasingly numerous of its kind and part of the "urban winery" movement. Curiously, upon closer examination, I found some very significant differences separating this from other wine production facilities located amidst the metropolitan sprawl: a surprisingly inviting aesthetic reminiscent of more visitor-oriented wine regions and a compellingly unique business model based in barter with growers who are also clients. I sat down with CEO and winemaker Ken Wornick in the tasting room of his charmingly appointed winery to taste some of La Honda's recent San Francisco Chronicle award-winning wines, and to learn more about his singular approach to grape growing and wine production under the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation.
NM: From what little I know right off the bat, I would say that without a doubt, as a winemaker specifically and as a winery overall, you're atypical.
KW: Definitely! Although I think I'm very typical in the sense that I was like a lot of other people who were ensconced in another career and had an eye on winemaking for years and years, but who never allowed themselves the privilege of thinking that they could actually do it. I'm originally a geologist. When I was in college, trying to figure out a career, my mom literally said to me, "Well, you like to work outside. Why don't you look through the college catalog and see what disciplines let you work outside." I was already halfway through college, at the end of my sophomore year. So I got involved in geology, got a degree in it, and really loved it! I went to work for Bechtel [Corporation] in San Francisco, the largest privately owned construction company in the world. They built most of the infrastructure in Ryad and Dubai. They also built a number of nuclear power plants all over the U.S. Anyway, I was a field geologist with Bechtel for six years, and I loved it! I was young, I was flying all over the world and was putting what, to me, was a lot of money in the bank because I was getting paid a salary but had no apartment, no house, no car, no nothing. But towards the end of those six years, I was noticing that a lot of my colleagues drank too much, had too much family spread out all over the world, too many divorces — I had realized that it was just not the right life for me in the long term. So, I went back to school, got an MBA, and got to working in industry, mostly the food and beverage industry.
NM: You went from construction to food and beverage. I'm guessing that was a significantly pivotal part of your career, in that it perhaps laid the groundwork for your eventual work in wine. Was that per chance, or did an opportunity come up? Did something in particular spur you to take that new trajectory?