Jo-Anna Partridge, VP of Operations, Pernod Ricard
Jo-Anna Partridge relocated from New Zealand to Bennett Valley when she took the position of vice president of operations for Pernod Ricard in early 2017. Partridge is based out of Kenwood Vineyards in Kenwood, which is owned by Pernod Ricard.
Q: You took over your role at Kenwood Vineyards just two months before the fires. What has it been like to get to know the community during this period of time?
Something good always comes out of something bad, that's what my father used to say. And in that regard, being new to the community was actually a very good way to meet my neighbors and form a relationship with them, even though it was in the middle of the night in my pajamas. Everyone looked out for each other, everyone was knocking on each other's doors.
And then obviously there was a lot of work done after the wildfires to support the community [Jo-Anna and her team helped organize last November's firefighter thank you ceremony and community potluck] and that was another opportunity to develop relationships. I had a lot of confidence after that experience that we'd moved to a wonderful location with great people.
Q: How did you get started in the wine business?
I grew up at the bottom of New Zealand, on a sheep farm. I never intended to fall into the wine industry. I got a sporting scholarship and needed to travel to Auckland, and I ran out of money in Marlborough, so I got a job as a cellar hand for three weeks to earn money. And I just fell in love with the industry, working as a cellar hand with all the different people.
I had been trying to get to the Olympics. I got dropped from the Olympic squad, and I was feeling sorry for myself and I thought, “I'll give it a go in the wine industry.” And so they ended up with me these 20-odd years.
Q: What sport did you play?
Rowing. I watched the 1988 Olympics and the New Zealand women's coxless pair won a bronze medal. I was 14 years old and I thought, “Wow, that looks amazing.”
Q: What was it like to move internationally for work?
It's a massive decision to make, because you're consciously disrupting your family's life. I'd been here a few times and I knew my family would be happy living here; I thought the lifestyle would be suited to who they are and what they value. And I felt there was a lot to learn about other winegrowing regions in the world. As a 43-year-old woman, I feel like a teenager again because it's so exciting.
Q: Can you give us a sense of the behind the scenes of someone in your role?
I'm the general manager, essentially, so I'm responsible for running the business here: grape-growing, winemaking, packaging, supply chain. Today so far, I've conducted two site tours; we're making decisions about what grapes we're going to be harvesting over the next few days; we're checking ferments to make sure they're on track. And then tonight at 7:30, I've got a meeting to dial into in Australia, a monthly operations meeting with the whole global team.
The most satisfying work for me is when I'm intellectually stimulated as well as physically stimulated. That's why I was drawn to in the wine industry, because it utilizes both. As your career progresses, there's more sitting in meetings. But yesterday, for example, I spent all day out in the vineyards, tasting grapes, talking to growers, petting dogs. There's a famous coyote at our Lone Pine vineyard down in Sonoma and I met him for the first time yesterday, and I just love things like that.
Q: What's changed during your time in the industry?
We're a lot more environmentally sustainable and responsible. I've seen massive changes with gender diversity and gender equity in the last 5-10 years. We're a much more inclusive industry now than we used to be.
The art of winemaking essentially is the same, and it always will be. You can introduce new technology and conduct research, but the fundamentals of growing grapes and making wine will never ever change. It's about good grape farming practices. You're taking the wild yeasts from the grapes and using them to ferment grape juice into ethanol and carbon dioxide. It's quite simple really!
Q: Of the places you've lived for your career, how does Sonoma compare?
The fruit quality here is outstanding. Sonoma Valley, the terroir and the climatic conditions are ideal for growing grapes. It doesn't rain much during harvest; the weather's very predictable. This is going to be a great growing season in 2018.
Q: What do you love best about the wine scene in Kenwood specifically?
The authenticity of the people and the values of the people. I think there's a great community spirit in Kenwood. You really feel that with a lot of the Rotary initiatives we do, that people are supportive of what we're trying to achieve.
People reach out to Kenwood Vineyards for support by donating wine, and that's welcomed, but I really want our team to be more involved in community-based initiatives. So it's my vision. My team here are really keen to be a bigger part of the Kenwood community.
Q: What do you think we need more of in Sonoma Valley?
That's a loaded question. Speaking openly, I think our community needs more diversity. And when I say diversity I mean we need a more diverse demographic, we need more diverse agriculture. I do charity work through the Rotary Club down at Dunbar School, and it makes you think, “Have we got balance in our community; have we got enough younger families to help support the aging population in the community?”
Q: Has your New Zealand family visited?
My mom and my aunt are here now. They've really enjoyed seeing what American life is like. We've got a Walk-A-Thon this Friday at the school, and we've got soccer practice and running club and chess club, so they're immersing themselves in American culture through the kids.
People's values here are very similar, and that's why it's been easier for us to move here. At the end of the day, I've got a family and children to raise. I went to the kids' soccer on Saturday, and the enthusiasm from parents on the sidelines, the passion and love for their children was exactly the same. It's wonderful.