John Conover joined PlumpJack Winery as general manager in January 1999 to oversee the daily operations of the estate winery and vineyard, provide strategic direction for the newly-established property, steadily increase production from 1,000 cases to 10,000 cases annually, and create the image, awareness and global distribution channels that would ultimately support that level of production.
The critical and fiscal success of PlumpJack Winery ultimately inspired the purchase of a new 54-acre property on Howell Mountain. CADE Winery, founded in 2005 by partners Conover, Gordon Getty and Gavin Newsom, is nestled against dramatic slopes at an elevation of 1800 feet. The grapes grow in soil characterized by mountain ash and minerals, and the temperatures provide the perfect conditions for ripening, producing grapes with balance and density.
From the outset of this new endeavor, the partners were committed to building CADE as the first Gold LEED-certified estate winery. “No one had ever attempted this, even the contractors, so the responsibility fell to us to develop a completely original plan,” says Conover. “We used everything from recycled concrete to insulation made from blue jeans. We incorporated solar panels to minimize the amount of electricity we use on the premises and utilized renewable cork flooring. We also made the commitment to be extremely careful with water use. Since it’s opening, CADE has served as a model for those seeking this level of green building, from UC Davis to other private winery ventures,” Conover concludes.
With CADE’s success mirroring that of PlumpJack’s, the three partners were open to a third winery when the opportunity to purchase an historic property in Stags Leap was presented in the fall of 2011. Soon thereafter, in February 2012, they founded Odette Estate. Odette, which spans 45 acres and is currently in the late stages of development, will also be Gold LEED certified and farmed organically. The winery’s first vintage, a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, will be released in February 2015. Early critical reviews of this wine are hinting that Odette will follow in the footsteps of its celebrated siblings.
Of his partners, Conover says, “I’m exceedingly fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop these properties alongside Gordon Getty and Gavin Newsom. We share an absolute passion for these three properties, our wines and our people. This level of alignment can be very rare and it is the foundation of our success.”
Conover spends time at each winery each day. “Running wineries isn’t something one does remotely,” he says. “It’s an agricultural business and requires a feet in the soil approach to management. It’s also a very human business and that means spending time with the people who are the bedrock of our organization.
On the topic of what makes him eager to start each new day after 30 years in the wine business, Conover credits the team. “Not a day goes by that I do not acknowledge what an honor it is to work with our winemakers: Aaron Miller at PlumpJack, Danielle Cyrot at CADE and Jeff Owens at Odette. These are among the best, brightest and most passionate individuals in the business. Their talent and level of commitment to their craft and their teams make me proud beyond words.” And,” Conover concludes, “I think anyone who’s been to any of the three wineries would agree that our hospitality team provides experiences that are nothing short of magical.”
Conover lives in St. Helena with his wife, Ann Marie, having raised two daughters who are now in their twenties. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors of The Napa Valley Grape Growers and served previously on the Board of Directors of the Napa Valley Land Trust.