Did you know that family businesses comprise 90% of all business enterprises in North America (www.amserv.com) but only 30% will be passed to the next generation? Forty-seven percent have no succession plan and by the third generation, only 12% are still viable. And there is no business like a family business, Ron Goerler, Jr. of Jamesport Vineyards, will tell you.
“Any time you are involved in a family business, if the family is close-knit, you know you can depend on individuals to guarantee things get done. It also means that there are sacrifices made along the way to make sure things succeed. When you work for someone else, you work and go home. We work and live on the property, constantly worrying about the crops, making it to the next year, to the next generation.”
Sitting in their gorgeous tasting room—a stunning combination of rustic wood and huge glass panels that allow visitors to watch the wine-making process, Ron Jr. takes a moment from his busy schedule as Vineyard Manager and Winemaker and President of the Long Island Wine Council to reflect on how he got to this place.
“My dad was a visionary,” Ron Jr. says of Ron Goerler, Sr., now 87 and still actively involved. “He looked at a piece of property in 1980, bought the land and started planting. What can I do to improve it, he asked, to build for the future?” With four brothers and one sister, not every one of Ron Jr.’s siblings was destined to continue the dream. They chose to pursue the other family business, plumbing. But Ron Jr. was an outdoors kind of guy. He went to school for agricultural business.
“I chose to work for my dad and I have learned from my father to be patient…I loved the idea that you plant something, wait three years, process, and then people enjoy it. That’s the pleasure…and if you make something of the highest quality, that will carry you into the future.”
Ron Jr. has four children. His son Alex is studying chemical engineering and this summer Sarah may start helping out at the winery. “I want to get it into my kids’ hands—growing grapes. Farming is physical. I want them to learn that it’s not always fun…you have to enjoy what you do. If the kids want to work for me, they have to learn how it works.”
These days, Ron Jr. is very interested in sustainability. According to the EPA, “sustainability” is based on the simple principle that “everything we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment; that humans and nature exist in productive harmony fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
“Sustainability for a winery,” Ron Jr. says, “means you have to be profitable at what you are doing. We strongly believe that we got the land in a certain condition. We have to continue to improve it… What are the steps we need to move it to the next generation?”
To this point, Jamesport Vineyards has been actively involved in SPAT, (Southold Project in Aquaculture Training, Cornell Cooperative Education of Suffolk County) an initiative to teach residents how to raise their own shellfish in the bays of the East End.
“People take a lot of pride in helping, with over 50 volunteers. We believe in giving back to the community.” Their East End series of wines helps support the program. “The food and wine come full circle.”
“My dad had his vision, and now I have mine. The key to all farming is listening to new directions. If you get stuck one way, you will get run over.”
Ron’s vision for the future includes food and entertainment. Jamesport opened a private room for small parties in 2011 and is developing a pairings menu. On winter weekends, they feature blind tastings. “We pour from all over the world,” says Jake Perdie, tasting room manager. Their summer oyster bar is a big draw and they recently opened a seasonal tasting room on Shelter Island.
“And we offer great service!” says Ron Jr. “That’s what brings them back.” And keeps it moving forward to the next generation.