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Q&A with John Grogan: Sunlit Oaks Winery owner will serve as new winery association president

John Grogan heads the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley

Published in the January 20 – February 2, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

John Grogan

John Grogan. Photo by Robert Airoldi

With the new year comes a new president of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley, the wine-producing trade association for Santa Clara County. Sunlit Oaks winemaker John Grogan has taken up the reigns of the organization, replacing Michael Sampognaro.

Grogan’s goal as president of the association is to continue to grow the reputation of the South Valley region for the quality of its wine and the experience people get discovering the oldest fine wine region in California. He also would like to develop the brand of the Santa Clara Valley which has wines that compete in quality with such wine-making regions as Napa, Sonoma and San Luis Obispo counties. Achieving that goal will require marketing and publicity to make people in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area aware that the wineries in the South Bay region can provide good value in wine-tasting outings.

Morgan Hill Life asked Grogan about his plans to help promote the South Valley region of Santa Clara Valley as a place for quality wines.

The South Valley has many great winemakers and wineries. What is your background in wine-making at Sunlit Oaks?

Like a number of other winemakers here, I worked in Silicon Valley for many years before deciding to re-invent myself. I had experience making my own wine since the ‘80s, so my son and I planted a trial vineyard and voila! Sunlit Oaks Winery was born. I have since expanded the vineyard and we currently have seven varietals of finished wine available for sale.

What are your plans for the association in 2016 as the new president of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley?

First, I plan to publicize to the whole Bay Area that there are more than 25 wineries making great award-winning wines here in South County, with more starting up every year. Many people, even some residents of Gilroy and Morgan Hill, don’t know that. Second, I plan to create in-depth collaboration between the wineries. There’s an amazing amount of camaraderie between the winemakers, and we need to make better use of the rich collective experience that we have to continuously improve the quality of our wines. By achieving these goals, Wineries of Santa Clara Valley will be poised to have a breakout year in 2016.

Wines from the Santa Clara Valley are starting to gain a regional (and even national) reputation for high product quality thanks to efforts by the winemakers to better educate themselves. Why might this increased quality reputation help the local wine region develop its brand to compete with other California wine regions?

Consumers are seeking better quality wines, and the wines in this appellation are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve, despite having been an important crop in this area for more than 150 years. Setting a perception of general high quality in the eyes of the public is an important first step in generating more of this positive recognition. Also, the experience people get here is often different than what they get elsewhere. The wineries here are mostly family owned and operated, and customers often get a chance to talk directly to the winemaker.

Why might you encourage local businesses and individuals to become members of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley, even if their enterprise does not directly relate to the wine industry?

We have a surprisingly large number of members whose businesses aren’t directly related to the wine industry because it allows them to network with other businesses and individuals. The Wineries of Santa Clara Valley also has extensive customer contact through its network of member wineries, so any business that partners with us will have an access channel to those consumers. These are typically locally based consumers, who are all loyal to their home turf and who will reward any business that supports the local wine industry.

What is your opinion on the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail and how might it be useful in developing South Valley as a wine region?

The Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail has been an excellent effort by the county to both publicize the wineries and provide an easy way for people to navigate. The trail itself is only an aid to visitors who want to explore. The responsibility for helping people learn about the Wine Trail is now in the hands of our individual wineries. To that end, our WSCV tasting rooms provide a free map based on the trail to all interested consumers.