Women of Lodi's wine industry: Joan Kautz of Ironstone Vineyards
This if the first of several posts in which we will be profiling a few of the Lodi wine industry’s most powerful women, and letting them tell their own stories.
There are few women as significant as Joan Kautz, who serves as Sales & Marketing Manager of Ironstone Vineyards, which has been listed among the 20 largest wineries (in terms of cases sold) in the U.S. Although many wine lovers are aware that Ironstone’s winery and tasting room are located in Calaveras, in the Sierra Foothills, the Kautz family’s operations have always been primarily based in the Lodi Viticultural Area, where they farm some 4,500 acres of premium wine grapes as John Kautz Farms.
John and Gail Kautz – Joan Kautz’s parents, and founders of Ironstone Vineyards – also own Lodi’s Bear Creek Winery, a full-scale custom crush facility dedicated to high volume, value priced wines.
We caught up with Ms. Kautz last week, the day before she was to embark on a 2-week sales trip, which she described as “our annual European tour” – taking her through Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Oslo, Copenhagen, London, Brussels and Helsinki, where she has been conducting tastings and coordinating trade and public wine shows with Ironstone’s European importers and distributors. “Great events,” she tells us, “albeit very tiring!”
LoCA: Tell us more about what you do, and how you got started.
J.K.: After graduating from Cal Poly, I came home wanting to do something away from here – possibly internationally. I had done a couple of political internships in Washington, D.C., but that wasn’t the world for me. I knew I loved traveling, meeting people and learning about different cultures. At some point, while putting together a résumé for my job search, I realized that what I was looking for was actually sitting right in front of me. Although I originally was not thinking of joining the family business, we had recently started Ironstone Vineyards, which was not doing any export business at the time. Fortunately for me, my family let me take this on. I jumped into it feet first, starting with some trips with the California Wine Institute, then expanding my efforts internationally. Eventually I was able to grow it to where we now export to approximately 50 countries world-wide.
LoCA: Wow. As a result, have you been able to see the world, the way you always envisioned?
J.K.: That was the most important part for me! I made a point of traveling and learning the markets from the perspective of each culture. I lived in Paris, for instance, for about eight months, which helped me learn more about the European markets. I also resided in Toronto for a period of time. About three years ago I took over our domestic branded business as well. This was a natural fit for me, especially with all of the other areas of business my siblings were in. At that time, we were re-branding Ironstone, and now we are growing each year, both internationally as well as domestically.
LoCA: Tell us a little bit about the roles played by the rest of your family.
J.K.: We are truly a family business. My father started with nothing, living on his family farm, unable to go to college. He had to help support his mother and sisters, since his father had passed when he was just out of high school, and his brother was killed in the war. My mother is our rock and was amazing taking care of my three brothers and myself. Today, my oldest brother Stephen oversees the Ironstone Winery, which includes all of the events, concerts and activities there. Kurt runs the production side of Bear Creek Winery, on top of all of our family vineyards and company financials. My brother Jack is involved in property development. I am the youngest; married to Doug Johnson. We have a stepdaughter who is a junior at Cal Poly, and our daughter Madison who is a sixth grader. Madison keeps us very busy with all her activities – soccer, basketball, riding, etc. We also have many cousins and extended family members working throughout the operation.
LoCA: Besides the traveling, what do you love most about what you do?
J.K.: It’s has to be the diversity of people you meet, the changing cultures and the challenges of creating and building a brand. There is no day that is the same as the last, especially with our international business. We are always looking for ways to be relevant, and to grow our brand around the world.
LoCA: Is there one accomplishment that you are particularly proud of?
J.K.: In addition to opening up all those markets internationally? I would say it is having to overcome obstacles to recreate a distinctive brand that has a life, an energy, and the ability to grow in an environment that is becoming more corporate all the time.
LoCA: Has being a woman ever been a help or hindrance?
J.K.: Once, when I was with my father traveling through Asia for Vinexpo, I found that all the buyers would automatically turn to talk to him about distribution opportunities. The best part was that every time this happened, he would simply tell them that they needed to talk to me, as I was in charge of international business. I’ve always respected and appreciated my father for standing up for me like that. A lot has changed since then. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that being a woman was a factor; probably because I grew up with three brothers – you learn to never take things personally, and not be hypersensitive to comments or any feelings while working in a “mans world.” We just keep our focus on the goal of building our brand and opening up markets.
LoCA: Since you’re out there in the world all the time, what is it that people are saying about Lodi wines these days?
J.K.: The most inspiring thing is that people know where Lodi is, and that great wines come from there. This has not always been the case. For many years, I had to constantly explain where we are, what are wines are all about. Now that there are so many great, high quality brands selling wines with Lodi on the label in countries around the world, buyers and consumers know so much more. That’s exciting!
LoCA: Where do you envision yourself 10 to 20 years from now?
J.K.: Tough question! I want to be able to look back at what we have done, the good times and the bad, and simply be proud of what we have accomplished. I always say that I want to have Ironstone be an internationally respected brand, so I hope to be able to see this be the case.
LoCA: Where do you envision Lodi as a wine region, as well as a community, 10 to 20 years from now?
J.K.: From growing here, seeing where it is today, I can say that Lodi is completely different. I see it continuing to grow, expand and be recognized around the world. There are already so many wonderful tasting rooms here, and the culture of visiting Lodi is growing, so tourism will continue to play a vital part.
LoCA: What kind of advice would you give for younger women who might be interested in working in the wine industry?
J.K.: Just do it. The only way to achieve anything is by working hard and gaining respect, which is never a gender thing. I have always said that respect is never given, it is earned. More women will be coming into this business, which is great. But the most important thing they can do is never feel entitled, and be willing to do the hard work. This is how you make your mark; for yourself, and for all other women.