The PlumpJack Group

A premier Napa player continues to expand its fine wine holdings.

PlumpJack partner John Conover says the company's expansion of Cade Estate on Howell Mountain (pictured) will elevate quality and increase product availability.
PlumpJack partner John Conover says the company's expansion of Cade Estate on Howell Mountain (pictured) will elevate quality and increase product availability. (Photo by Thomas D. Percival/Envision Photography)

The PlumpJack Group, a wine and hospitality company co-owned by California Lieutenant Governor and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom, billionaire philanthropist Gordon Getty, and partner John Conover, has steadily expanded its winery and vineyard holdings in recent years amid a wave of generational change across the Napa Valley wine business. The company—which now owns 220 acres of vineyards in Napa—most recently expanded its Cade Estate on Howell Mountain with the 2016 purchase of an adjacent 82-acre vineyard and gravity-fed winery. The purchase will help boost Cade’s production by about 50% beginning with the 2017 vintage. Market Watch recently interviewed Conover on the changes at Cade, sister properties PlumpJack Winery and Odette Estate, and the outlook for Napa overall.

MW: How will the investment in Cade create new opportunities for the brand and the winery?

Conover: Cade’s 2016 vintage is the first to see some of the fruit from Howell Mountain. With the 2017 vintage, we’ll be drawing from the entire estate. We think it will be an elevation of quality, and we’ll have more availability of the wines, which tend to sell out rather quickly. We’ll go from around 12,000 cases for the 2016 vintage to about 18,000 cases for the 2017.

MW: Are you still looking for more vineyards?

Conover: We are. We position ourselves as estate wineries, which can be limiting from an availability perspective. But with the generational change occurring in Napa, we’re improving our quality and consistency through vertical integration and controlling our own resources. If more acquisition opportunities arise, we’ll definitely be interested.

MW: Is there further room for expansion at your other estates, PlumpJack and Odette?

Conover: PlumpJack is at about 12,500 cases and is as big as it can be, as is Cade with the new expansion. Odette is about 12,500 cases as well, and there we have a little more room.

MW: How big is your direct-to-consumer business compared with three-tier?

Conover: About two-thirds of our wines go through the three-tier system, with one-third shipping direct to consumer. Within the three-tier business, about 80% is restaurants and 20% fine wine retailers, with Sherry-Lehmann being our top retail account.

MW: How is the tourism aspect evolving in Napa?

Conover: Consumers are increasingly looking for more intimate, knowledge-based experiences, visiting two or three wineries in an AVA rather than running around everywhere. We’re actually seeing our headcount down—it’s around 7,000 a year—but our revenue is up. There’s never been a more curious, knowledgeable wine consumer than there is today, and that’s a good thing.

MW: How do you see the outlook for Napa wines overall?

Conover: Competition has never been stiffer, but quality and accessibility have never been better. Napa sometimes apologizes for our pricing, but I think we deliver a great value. We’re in the game internationally in terms of quality, often at a fraction of the price of other great wines. One opportunity I see for the future is the new generation of craft beer drinkers. They’re another set of consumers who are interested in every step of the production process, they’re willing to pay for premium quality, and over time they’re naturally going to progress to wine.