"Having a good experience with the wine, and then coming back and having another good experience--that's what really creates a customer."
Suzanne Groth Jones '92 initially resisted the lure of the family business. Her parents purchased vineyards in Oakville, located in California's Napa Valley, as an investment in 1981 and opened Groth Vineyards and Winery in 1982. Just three years later, wine critic Robert Parker gave their very first reserve cabernet 100 points. It was the first California cabernet ever to earn a perfect score, and it put Groth on the fine wine map.
As exciting as it was, says Suzanne, "I really didn't want to do wine. That was my parents' thing. I wanted to work in museums and the art world--that was my thing."
As a student at Lewis & Clark, Suzanne says, "I was on a totally different path." She created a self-designed major in art history, which she studied while on an overseas program to France, and developed a love for painting. After college, she moved to San Francisco, where she volunteered in a gallery and found work as a hotel concierge.
"I got really good at giving people advice about where to go in Napa," she says. "After a while, people began asking me, 'Why aren't you in the wine business? You obviously love it.' After about the tenth comment like that, I swallowed my pride, called my dad, and said, OK, I'm ready to learn."
Suzanne's father introduced her to a distributing company in the Bay Area, where she went to work learning the art of sales. After four years, she came to appreciate how solid Groth's brand really was, and by January 1999, she was ready to join the family team.
"There's no real trick to marketing our wines," says Suzanne. "Our secret is simply to have a great relationship with our distributors and our customers." As Groth's first regional salesperson, she committed herself to maintaining the family's excellent relationships with its longtime West Coast distributors. "Some of them have been selling our wine since the day we opened, so I kept running into people I had met growing up," says Suzanne. "It was really cool, coming full circle and getting to work with them."
When Suzanne had her first child a few years ago, she moved into a public relations position at Groth so she could stay closer to home. One of the first things she focused on was fostering better relationships with the winery's best customers. Loyal fans were often disappointed when the reserve cabernet would sell out before they had a chance to buy any. Suzanne helped start a wine club that guarantees them an opportunity to buy. She also presents special events for club members, including bike rides through Oakville and wine-and-food-pairing seminars. "I really want to give them a taste of what we do," she says, "rather than just a tourist experience."
Groth's wines continue to get favorable ratings in the press, but Suzanne doesn't use ratings to promote the wines. "Our customers don't buy based on numbers," she says. "Having a good experience with the wine, and then coming back and having another good experience--that's what really creates a customer."
Working in the winery has allowed Suzanne to blend all of her interests. From her home studio overlooking a vineyard, she creates original paintings to announce each new vintage of reserve cabernet. She maintains cherished relationships with her customers--"I'll never give that up." And she is passing on her love of the family business to her son, Jackson. "If we succeed in showing Jackson that this is a thing worth keeping alive and being passionate about," says Suzanne, "I think that will be my greatest success."
Back to Summer 2006 Chronicle