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Interview with Judd Wallenbrock, CEO of C. Mondavi and Family, at 9th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival

Interview with Judd Wallenbrock, CEO of C. Mondavi and Family, at 9th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival
 
Interview with CEO of C. Mondavi and Family, Judd Wallenbrock, at 9th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival
Every year during the Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF), hundreds of local Napa wineries and restaurants participate as sponsors, offering their top quality wine and gastronomic creations. One of these benefactors is the first official winery of Napa Valley, Charles Krug (since 1861, owned by Mondavi family since 1943), who not only have sponsored the festival from its first edition in 2010, but also run NVFF events at their winery throughout the year, screening films that have premiered at the festival on their greens, serving wines and culinary delicacies. Shortly after the 9th edition of the festival, I interviewed CEO of C. Mondavi and Family, Judd Wallenbrock, about his career with Mondavi family and Charles Krug's vital role with the festival. 
 
Judd is a seasoned veteran of the wine business and has the scars to prove it. Yet after 40 years in the business, his excitement for the industry couldn’t be stronger, his love for wine more intense, nor his commitment to experience marketing more passionate. Judd cut his teeth in the 80’s learning the ropes as a wine retailer, restaurateur, broker, and wine educator for nine years. After a break to earn his MBA, he spent four years at Nestle, forging a marketing discipline in consumer packaged goods, and a very acute desire to bring that discipline back into the wine industry. He has served as a Vice President for Robert Mondavi, COO of De Loach Vineyards, President of Michel-Schlumberger Estate, President, CEO and Managing Partner of The Good Life Wine Collective (Jessup Cellars and Handwritten Wines), has experienced the thrill of the entrepreneurial world as proprietor of his own winery, Humanitas, and is now President and CEO of C. Mondavi & Family, home to Charles Krug, CK Mondavi and Purple Heart.
 
 
How important has the Mondavi family been to the legacy of Napa Valley?
 
JUDD: I have a simple answer for this – without the Mondavi Family, Napa Valley would not be what it is today! Most people associate the name ‘Mondavi’ with Robert Mondavi, and understandably so as he was a master promoter of wine and the Valley. However, most people forget that he got his start working with his brother, Peter, and his parents, Cesare and Rosa, from 1943 to 1965 at Charles Krug. Together, they brought innovations to the industry that are standards today, such as cold fermentation and French oak barrels. Prior to the Mondavis, these practices weren’t used. And now, four generations strong, all the Mondavis in the Valley continue to have an enormous influence on the past, present and future of Napa Valley wines.
 
 
How did you meet the Mondavi family and come to Krug to become CEO? 
 
JUDD: I started in the wine business 40 years ago (gulp!) and set out to walk a mile in the shoes of everyone who touched wine. I was a retailer, a restaurateur, a wine broker, a winery sales rep, a winemaker and ultimately left the business long enough to get my MBA and work for a large consumer packaged goods company (Nestle) to get real marketing experience. That bundle of background landed me the opportunity to be recruited by Robert Mondavi. I moved to Napa in 1992 and worked as a VP for the Robert Mondavi Family of Wines for 9 years. I left them in 2001 to start my own winery and ultimately was the COO at De Loach, the President at Michel-Schlumberger, and the President/CEO/Managing Partner at the Good Life Wine Collective (Jessup Cellars, Handwritten Wines & my own winery, Humanitas). When I sold Humanitas to my partners in 2017, that opened the doors to work for C. Mondavi and Family, the Peter Mondavi Sr. side of the family, with its flagship winery, Charles Krug. I had known the family personally, but not professionally. After an exhaustive series of interviews, the family gave me a chance, and I’ve been running fast and furiously ever since!
 
 
Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa. How do you manage to keep the spirit one of the youngest and most vibrant in the valley?
 
JUDD: Being the oldest can also translate into being sleepy and irrelevant. But it also translates into unparalleled authenticity and history, which I think plays well to all generations of consumers. The family is key to this vibrancy and we are fortunate to have both the 3rd and 4th generations of Mondavis active as ambassadors. And the physical estate is so stunning and just dripping with stories, that we do everything in our power to attract visitors there. And not only for the wines, but for cultural events of all types – musical arts, performance arts, visual arts, culinary arts, etc. to position Charles Krug as the cultural hub of Napa Valley. The days of sitting back and waiting for people to show up are long gone. We use cultural events to constantly keep things fresh and dynamic at the estate, and employ traditional, social, and digital media to stay top of mind. The result is a vibrant word of mouth endorsement of our wines and our physical estate that keeps things exciting, relevant and memorable for everyone.
 
 
What kind of events does Charles Krug put on that are in combination with the arts?
 
JUDD: The mantra of Napa Valley in general is the story of wine, food and the arts. Why?  Because they complement each other so well – it is all a part of ‘the good life’, but one that is accessible to everyone, not just the elite. As a result, we feature culinary programs designed to enhance the enjoyment of wine, but not be a restaurant. Food is an element to our experiences, but only as a complement to the wine. There are so many outstanding restaurants in this valley – we don’t want to compete with them. Rather, we want to complement them and encourage our guests to buy our wines at these great restaurants to really complete their Napa Valley experience.  
 
To supplement the culinary aspect, we also feature other activities designed to enhance that experience culturally. A little over a year ago, we started a stand-up comedy program one Friday per month. Lo and behold, we discovered that in addition to the out of towners visiting, the locals were dying for something to do and absolutely love that we offer this. The side benefit is that so many had either not ever been to Charles Krug or have not been in years. People re-discovered Charles Krug.  
 
Our partnership with the Napa Valley Film Festival expanded from the one week in November, to a Summer of films shown outside on our Great Lawn. Visitors and locals alike grab their beach chairs, blankets, and picnic baskets and enjoy award winning films with award winning wines. We also partner with Music in the Vineyards, Festival Napa, and others to showcase local and internationally acclaimed artists, again pairing world class entertainment with world class wines. And let’s not forget the charitable arts. We firmly believe in giving back to the community by offering up our beautiful estate for charitable events such as Hands Across the Valley, Mentis, Scouts and a host of others.  
 
 
Why do you think it's so important to mix the culture of wine and food with arts and culture?
 
JUDD: Wine, food and the arts are the foundation of living a good life, and we believe everyone should be able to have a slice of the good life, no matter one’s financial or social status. Providing access to the arts opens those doors, and the truth is, wine tastes better with good food and good entertainment. Additionally, the food and entertainment are better when paired with good wine! This synergy simply helps make everyone’s life just a little bit better.
 
 
You recently participated in the 9th annual NVFF. How has the festival grown through the decade and how was this years’ experience?
 
JUDD: Each year, the NVFF gets better and better. Aspiring to be the ‘cultural hub’ of Napa Valley, what better demonstration of this than hosting films and events of the NVFF on Napa Valley’s most historic and storied estate?   
 
 
Does the film festival bring more traffic to the valley each year? And if so, do you think these numbers will continue to grow?
 
JUDD: Not only does the film festival bring more traffic to the valley, but it brings people in November, a traditionally slower month for visitors. Additionally, the quality of the attendees is stunning. This results in hotels and restaurants being full, wineries buzzing, and stores jammed with shoppers. I see this growing in the future as the Festival becomes more and more recognized as one of the best in the world.
 
 
What can we expect to see from Charles Krug in the near future?
 
JUDD: We’re working on a rotating art program to feature primarily local artists. This is not limited to paintings on the walls, but could include sculpture outdoors, photography, and possible some interactive programs. You’ll soon be able to see Shakespeare performed at the Estate, as well as a unique music series in development to complement our other musical programs put on by partners such as Music in the Vineyards, Festival, etc. We are also about to start Phase 1 of an enhanced outdoor tasting experience on the lawn outside our historic Redwood Cellar. This will feature private cabanas and hosted tastings, as well as the continuation of our home-made pizza offerings.  
 
Most importantly, you can expect to see some incredible wines! Our winemaker, Stacy Clark, is a total rock star and with each vintage, her art gets better and better. And don’t forget bubbles! So many people confuse Charles Krug with Krug Champagne of France. We finally started a small sparkling wine program available only at the winery to satisfy those needing some fizz.  We named it ‘Carolina Bale’. Carolina was the wife of Charles Krug, and her dowry included the land where Charles Krug winery and estate now stands. Thank you, Carolina!
 
Interview with CEO of C. Mondavi and Family, Judd Wallenbrock, at 9th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival
 
Interview by Vanessa McMahon

 

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