Sonoma County

Hi Everyone

Hi everyone,

Well, things are changing fast, aren’t they? I hope you are taking good care of yourselves, your loved ones, and your neighbors.

It is quite the paradox, to be called on to support one another while also practicing social distancing.

I’m feeling nervous and unsettled and have turned to my husband, my best friend, and my family for comfort.

Being an entrepreneur, I am pretty well acquainted with the unknown, but this is next-level!

I feel sad receiving emails from many of our colleges that are looking for work.

wine country image for benchmark hr

I understand and identify with their struggle.

The fact is, Benchmark Consulting is a bootstrapped small business. We’re going to continue to do the best we can, but no matter how strong we are, I admit there are some things out of my control and this pandemic is one of them.

Benchmark Consulting is powering through these challenging times. Our team is working from home, together with their roommates, kids, partners, pets and in-laws, and following guidelines from the WHO on how to stay safe and protect the community.

I’m really proud of them for rallying. Benchmark Consulting exists for all of us in the wine industry who do it all – well now we’re doing at all at home, aren’t we? We got this!

Please know that Benchmark Consulting is in business. is open. We’re doing our best to keep the lights on for our team, and we thank you for your continued support.

We aim to be a source of good cheer, inspiration, and practical advice. I’ll also share my startup story and notes on what continues to keep me motivated to persevere through uncertainty.

Follow along with us on email and LinkedIn.


I’m figuring this out day by day, just like you, so please share and don’t be a stranger.


Dawn, Leslie, Kent- Benchmark Team


When Bad News Happens to Good Leadership

As is most often the case, we prefer to exist in a predictable world, where life functions almost like clockwork and without significant interruptions.  We say we understand that this is not a real possibility, yet we balk at delivering bad news or accepting the reality of adverse situations.  (Why me? Why now? Actually, why ever?)

In the ebb and flow of life (and business) each perspective provides necessary feedback to keep the entities vital.  News can contain some of both positive and negative, and effective leadership can see and convey the promise in the bad as well as the cautions inherent in the good.  Just as physical pain is ultimately a natural safety feature to prevent worse injury, working through bad news can stop an impending problem from becoming potentially worse.

A good leader will recognize and not shy away from difficult situations. Let the buck stop with you.  If you are delivering a message, say it concisely, clearly and compassionately.  If your company is at fault, own the responsibility.  Any specific plan in place to prevent reoccurrence or to compensate for any inconvenience should be addressed in a concise manner.  Then get out of the way, rather than belabor the effect of any negative situations.

When you detect incoming trouble, what is your response?  Are others comfortable sharing information without fearing a negative reaction from you?  Do you respond in a confidence-inspiring manner, whether or not it involves immediately addressing the problem?

Bad news can make for some amazing teachable moments.  A good leader appreciates the opportunity to help solve problems and to show others how to learn and grow from them.

Contact us for current wine industry career opportunities.

Hiring Great Talent


The key to hiring great talent is to cultivate a company culture that makes your company a place where talented people want to work.  Offering a great salary and generous benefits is all well and good.  However, talented people are that way partly because they love the work they do.  They also know, being talented, that they are in demand.  Hence they will be attracted to companies that cultivate this and empowers them to accomplish great things.

The first way to make your company a desirable place for talented people to work is to always give your employees respect.  That also means setting high, but achievable expectations.  Follow that example yourself and your employees will follow suit.

The next way to attract and hire talent is to always place your best employees in positions of power and influence.  This gives a signal to talented people that they will be able to grow in your company if they perform up to and beyond expectations. The sort of people you want to work with will consider this a challenge and will strive to achieve.

Finally, you need to be heavily engaged in the hiring process.  Many managers tend to slough off the drudgery of selecting and interviewing applicants to someone else, such as the human resources department.  The person applying for the job will be working with you, so you need to be involved in every stage of the hiring process.  You will be able to access the applicant’s skill set, intelligence and emotional intelligence in order to determine whether that person is the best fit for the position.

For more information, contact us.

Key Factors of Motivation

He who sees things grow from the beginning will have the best view of them. – Aristotle

Is motivation a plan, a state of mind, or an action? Motivation involves several key areas that start in the mind and move forward. First, in order to feel motivated, you need the energy of motivation itself. This energy can be found in the core of being where we find what matters to us.

Motivation for professional success, healthy living, and helping others all relate to one another because motivation increases with each area of life that we put energy into. The beginnings of motivation often relate to ambitions and the desire to accomplish, which is also what helps us maintain high motivation when we face problems and difficulties.

It takes time for motivation to turn into reality, yet through consistent efforts, we become able to actualize what we envision for ourselves. Motivation doesn’t stop when we accomplish one goal or one-hundred goals: it keeps propelling forward, feeding itself toward greater and greater accomplishments that lead to a profound sense of life purpose.

Another way to maintain motivation is to take pride in what you do. Jobs and tasks well done involve enormous attention to detail, awareness of extenuating circumstances, and knowledge. This process of attention, awareness, and knowledge doesn’t stop either: it grows as we grow. If we don’t take time to appreciate when we do a good job, then we in turn lose motivation. Whenever possible, congratulate yourself for the things you have accomplished.

Motivation and success mean little over time unless we care about what we do. In this sense, motivation becomes a way to create meaning in our lives. It involves understanding how and why you care about certain goals and aspects of life. Remember that no one can tell you what anything means to you, as you are always tasked with the responsibility of creating meaning for yourself. Everything you see and do has meaning, and other people only influence you as much as you allow.

When Not Everyone Agrees With You

The workplace can be a stressful environment, especially when people must work together to find solutions to urgent and complex problems.  Inevitably, not everyone in the workplace agrees with one another, and it can be difficult to propose new ideas when they carry the possibility of catalyzing disagreement and conflict.  It’s important to continue contributing new ideas even though not everyone may agree with you.  In addition, it’s equally important to know when to graciously defend your ideas, and when to allow for the possibility that you could be wrong.

Being wrong feels like being right.  In the workplace, and in life, it’s essential to keep in mind that being wrong can feel exactly like being right.  Kathryn Schulz explored this idea in a recent TED talk, in which she points out that there’s nothing that feels inherently different about being wrong compared to being right.  Thus, it’s necessary to accept that an idea that feels completely on-target could still potentially benefit from improvement.

What don’t others agree with, and why?  After accepting that not all of our ideas are right, or are the best solution to a particular problem, it’s important to take a moment to ask what it is that others don’t agree with.  Seeing our ideas from another person’s point of view can help us think critically and objectively about our ideas in order to determine whether we should continue to defend them, or whether we should let them go.

Ask for specific alternate solutions.  If somebody has spoken up in order to disagree with your idea, he or she should be prepared to offer an alternative solution.  It’s easy for others to criticize, but if they do so they should be able to back up their own ideas.  For example, ask those who disagree to tell you which solutions they think would be better suited to solve a particular problem.

To learn more about achieving success and improving your workplace environment, please visit our website or blog for a variety of articles.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us!

Are you building a tribe? Or just selling wine?? Lessons from our beer brewing friends…

Lagunitas Brewing Company tasting success


For a guy responsible for the creation of more than 14 million gallons of beer last year, Tony Magee seems curiously resistant to calling himself a brewer.

“I don’t think we’re in the beer business … we’re in the tribe-building business,” he said, standing among towering stacks of bottles ready to be filled in his warehouse at Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma. “Beer just happens to be the common currency” of the would-be members of the tribe.

In this case, he’s building the tribe of craft brew fans who enjoy the beer and the quirky, iconoclastic sensibility of his 20-year-old Lagunitas Brewing. That tribe has underwritten an astonishing burst of growth that has propelled the business from a struggling local bit player to a nationally-known brewery on the cusp of full nationwide distribution.

Two years ago, his brewery, in a quiet industrial park on North McDowell Boulevard, was producing 161,000 barrels of beer, or around 5 million gallons, placing him a modest No. 17 on the Brewers Association annual list of craft brewers for 2011. A blast of growth brought that total to 254,000 barrels last year, enough to vault Lagunitas 11 places to No. 6 in 2012. It could pump out as much as 480,000 barrels this year, during which he expects to hire his 350th employee, a growth of about 100 in just 12 months. The expansion is almost certain to push the brewery even higher on the 2013 list.

And it’s hardly finished. Even as he continues to add equipment in Petaluma, Magee is preparing to join the rarified ranks of brewers with production facilities in multiple states, opening an outpost in Chicago this summer. The new brewery will start at about 300,000 barrels but eventually could produce 1.7 million, in addition to the 520,000 barrels from Petaluma when the current expansion is complete. The beer already is distributed in 34 states and the Chicago facility will allow Magee to spread to the rest in just a few years.

“I don’t know how big the company can be … The way it is is fabulously exciting, but we’re also growing this year at a 72 percent rate year-to-date,” he said. “I don’t know; there is something irrational about that, but yet it’s true.”

Lagunitas has staked out a reputation as quirky and irreverent, with a let-it-all-hang-out ethos including colorful and cheeky labels and promotional material drawn by Magee himself, featuring dogs, circus performers and burlesque dancers.

He dubs brews with self-deprecating names such as “Lagunitas Sucks,” a highly-hopped seasonal beer originally brewed as an apologetic substitute for the popular annual offering “Brown Shugga,” which the company couldn’t manage to get out on time one year.

“The packaging is unique in a lot of ways; it’s designed for intelligent people,” said Ron Lindenbusch, longtime Lagunitas marketing director. (In Lagunitas’ slightly twisted world, the title on his business card is “Beer Weasel,” while Magee’s cards often say “Imperial Warlord.”)

Another beer got the name “Censored” after federal authorities turned down the original name — “Kronik” — saying it was a reference to a popular slang term for marijuana.

Yet another beer commemorates a darker chapter in the brewery’s history: a 20-day shutdown by state alcohol officials in 2006 after undercover agents observed widespread marijuana smoking at the company’s weekly open houses in the days before the public taproom was built. Magee turned that into “Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale,” a seasonal beer that the brewery describes as “especially bitter … unforgiven … unrepentant.”

“I really do not want the press and beer geeks and chat rooms to tell that story for me,” Magee said, cheerfully admitting that marijuana was once a major part of the corporate culture. “I’ll just tell it myself so that we own it.”

And that’s where “tribe building” enters the picture.

“Another way to put it is story-telling,” Magee said. “A tribe gets built around stories, commonly-held stories that everybody agrees on … we want to tell our story” through the beers.

The success of Lagunitas comes amid an explosion of competition, with nearly 2,400 small breweries operating in the United States today, on top of traditional behemoths such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.

For all the hectic growth at Lagunitas, Magee is a relatively little-known figure, even within the tight-knit community of brewers.

“For a few years, he’s been something of a mystery man,” said Paul Gatza, executive director of the Brewers Association, a trade association of smaller brewers. “People in the industry didn’t know him really well.”

Magee admits he has little use for the chummy world of brewers, with its conferences, festivals and collaborative beers co-created by multiple breweries.

“If you’re hanging around with the crowd, you’re going to end up making the same beers, thinking you’re all special,” he said. “Me? There is something I like about the idea of taking chances.”

Magee, 52, was born and raised in Chicago, where he studied at New Bauhaus Institute of Design. He eventually dropped out to perform in a Chicago-based reggae band (he remains an avid musician today) and he held a series of menial jobs, none terribly successful, in his retelling.

He moved to California in 1987 looking for what he has described as a “new start,” and tried to apply his art and design training as a printer in the North Bay.

That business, too, was struggling in the 1990s when his brother gave him a home-brewing kit. He soon was hooked.

His wife, Carrisa Brader, quickly evicted him from their kitchen, where he was creating a considerable mess. So despite owing tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes to the state and federal governments, he begged and borrowed enough money to buy a tiny professional brewing setup and opened Lagunitas in Marin County in 1993. He quickly outgrew the septic system on the site and began searching for new locations, settling eventually on Petaluma.

The development of the brewery, outlined in his 2012 book, “Lagunitas Brewing Company: The Story,” seems to consist of a manic quest for growth while frantically trying to hold off suppliers, bankers and tax collectors, all eager for repayment of late bills.

He writes of the first 10 or 12 years of the brewery’s life as “like being chased down the street by a pack of wild dogs.”

Brader, who now heads production and logistics for the brewery (her business cards say “Prime Minister” or “The Plant Lady,” a play on words referring both to her job and to her love of the plants in the office), credits her husband’s tenacity and sprawling intellect for getting Lagunitas through those years.

“He just has this amazing ability to learn anything he needs to learn,” she said. “When you’re starting a business, you have to wear a lot of hats. You have to wear all of them, in fact.”

As the business has stabilized, she said, he has shown a talent for bringing in the right people who have more formal business education to build the brand.

The people he attracts “are independent thinkers, but they get what the brand is about,” so they don’t need close supervision from the top, she said.

Magee expects to generate about $90 million in revenue this year and he says all of those old debts are long-since retired.

“People are like ‘how did you do it?’ and I say, ‘I’m not sure,’” he said. “You try to put it out there, put it in a way that’s honest, not the way people think you should or the way you think people expect it to happen. And you find your own voice, you know?”

Magee credits some of his success to being able to spot future trends early. His flagship India Pale Ale, for example, came out in 1994, a time when the style was in the shadow of the milder pale ales made famous by Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico. While others dispute his claim to have pioneered the highly-hopped West Coast version of the IPA, he clearly was one of the first craft brewers to make it the centerpiece of his lineup.

The meteoric rise of Lagunitas has come at a price. The city of Petaluma has struggled to digest the burgeoning business, which has outgrown the city’s four-year-old sewage treatment plant. Magee has to truck his nutrient-rich brewing wastewater to Oakland for disposal.

City and county officials, however, say the benefits outweigh the growing pains. Not only is the business generating tax revenue and jobs, it is drawing new business to the area. Two smaller breweries are opening within a few hundred yards of Lagunitas, with several more in the works in other parts of the city, said Ingrid Alverde, economic development manager for the city.

The brewery, along with a few nationally-known competitors in the area, including Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg and Cloverdale and Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, are drawing new beer-loving tourists to the area, said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

The board is preparing to release a detailed report next month on the effect that the growing local beer market is having on the economy.

The dizzying expansion of Lagunitas also has forced the previously low-profile Magee out of the shadows. The process hasn’t always been smooth.

The blunt-spoken Magee, who peppers his conversations with casual profanities that are hard to reproduce in a newspaper, has riled up the beer world by pointedly criticizing several of his fellow brewers, often delivering his broadsides on his stream-of-consciousness Twitter feed.

Among other dustups, he has criticized No. 3 brewer New Belgium Brewing of Colorado for taking public financing to build a second brewery in North Carolina, funding he turned down in his Chicago expansion. He attacked the popular trend of putting high-end craft beer in cans, saying the mining practices necessary to produce the aluminum are harmful to the environment. He mocked a new beer glass co-designed by Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Sierra Nevada, comparing its shape to a sex toy.

He’s locked horns with the Brewers Association, criticizing its decision to change the definition of “craft brewery,” raising the annual production limit from 2 million barrels to 6 million, a move widely seen as a way of keeping Boston Brewing Company, makers of the Sam Adams line of beers, within the ranks of “craft brew” as it expands.

“Jim Koch is NOT a craft brewer, nope,” Magee wrote on his Twitter feed in late 2011, referring to the high-profile founder of the Boston Brewing Company.

He’s also been vocal in opposing a bill pushed by the Brewers Association to slash federal excise taxes on beer, saying now is the wrong time to be taking tax money away from governments to give to well-off brewers.

“He’s a loose cannon,” said Larry Bell, head of Bell’s Brewery of Kalamazoo, Mich., the No. 7 brewer on the list last year, who has joined Magee in opposing the excise tax bill. “Tony says what he thinks, even if that goes against the mainstream.”

Other major brewery owners, including Koch and Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman did not return calls for comment on Magee.

New Belgium CEO Kim Jordan defended the tax incentives, saying it was an appropriate way to help reduce the risk of the huge investment in a new brewery while guaranteeing economic benefits to the city of Asheville, N.C. She declined, however, to respond pointedly to Magee’s criticism.

“Life is too short,” she said. “It’s up to us to make it sweet.”

Magee admits that he has a tendency to speak his mind, but he says he never intended to challenge or attack his fellow brewers.

Citing Ernest Hemingway’s oft-quoted line about his whole career being an effort to write just “one true line,” Magee said he is “just trying to find ways to say one true thing, through the beer, through the business.”

Not to say that he enjoyed the controversy. He compared the reaction to some of his comments to “having someone just tie you up to a stick and throw rocks at you.”

After several widely-reported Twitter controversies in the past two years, he says he’s become more guarded in his personal comments in recent months, fearing that it might reflect badly on the larger company, “because what you say has a megaphone on it” now that the brewery is so large.

Closer to home, Magee’s reputation is less contentious. Since its founding, Lagunitas has made a policy of supporting local charities, usually in the form of free beer or use of the brewery’s space for events.

“If you’ve ever gone to a fundraiser or political event in the last 20 years, you’ve probably drunk some of Tony’s free beer,” said Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who has known Magee since the early days of the brewery and recently supported him in his successful effort to get permits to build a small hop farm and distillery near his home overlooking Tomales Bay.

Although he turns down offers to join charitable boards and rarely gives cash donations, Magee has made a policy of giving nonprofit groups free access to his brewery at times it is closed to the public.

“It’s very simple: You live in a community and you need to participate in it,” he said. “Hell, you want to participate in it. You get to know people, they get to know you and the beer.”

Although Magee also opens his doors to political fundraising events, he is stridently apolitical, to the point that he says he has not cast a vote in an election in his life.

“Does that make me a bad guy?” he asked with a laugh.

He said the brewery gives away hundreds of kegs per month to worthy causes, and more cases of bottled beer, but he doesn’t keep track of the number.

Petaluma Mayor David Glass said the Lagunitas name is so ubiquitous at charity events and city festivals that “I am at the point that I am looking to see if the logo is missing from anything. And it’s not.”

Trying to maintain that sense of community is important as the business grows, to help maintain its soul, said Don Chartier, events coordinator at the brewery (“Mr. Nice Guy” on his business card).

“As big as we get, you push back against that corporate attitude and structure,” Chartier said. “But as long as Tony’s in charge, it’s not going to have that.”

Magee agrees. He said he has no intention of ever selling the brewery and he is working on grooming a new generation of leaders who can replace him eventually and carry on his quirky and stubbornly independent legacy, no matter how big the brewery may grow.

“I think we could be as big as Coors. I think we could be as big as Anheuser-Busch,” adding a shrug and an unprintable expletive. “It’s just a matter of being sure we’re in tune with people, that we’re recognizable and authentic and resonate.”

No matter how large he grows, he said, his guiding philosophy will remain the same as when he was struggling to put out 500 barrels of beer a year.

“If people like what we’re doing, they will drink it,” he said. “And if they drink it, I will replace that one so they can drink it again.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or

Sonoma County Winegrowers Announce New President

Sonoma County Wine Growers Announce NeKarissa Kruse says one of her top priorities when she assumes the position of president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers is to continue the joint marketing effort developed by the organization and the county’s vintners and tourism groups. Kruse, who had been hired as the Winegrowers’ marketing director in August 2012 has been picked by the group’s board to replace outgoing president Nick Frey, who will officially retire May 1. With the industry associations in Sonoma County already linked by the same marketing strategy, Kruse said the next step is to leverage that cooperation to elevate the reputation of the county’s wine and grape industry both nationally and internationally.

“What a win for the growers to have such a strong relationship with the vintners,” she said. Getting to know their neighbors Kruse will also continue to implement the group’s community outreach program to help Sonoma County residents who don’t work in the wine industry gain a better understanding of it. “They often don’t even know as much about our vineyards and wineries as our visitors,” she said. And while the county’s wine and grower groups have improved the region’s reputation in the wine trade and press, Kruse admitted the same isn’t necessarily true for the people living in the group’s own backyard.

“We haven’t done as good of a job of relating to our community,” she said. Some of the tension between growers and county residents has stemmed from vineyard development. Just recently, Sonoma County and conservation groups worked out a $24.5 million deal to preserve 19,652 acres of land, of which nearly 1,800 were to be developed into vineyards in a plan backed by the state employee retirement fund CalPERS, according to a report by the Santa Rosa, Calif., Press Democrat newspaper. Kruse said the proposal and deal were worked out well before her transition into the president position, but she views it as a “win-win” agreement for conservationists and growers. Simple supply and demand economics indicate there’s benefit to not having a large amount of new acreage getting planted with vines. Kruse said the winegrowers are focused on producing the highest quality fruit and improving the region’s reputation for fine wine. “It’s nice that it doesn’t have to go into development,” she said. Keeping the transition smooth Nick Frey joined the county’s grape growers association in 1999 and led the group through its reformation as a state commission in 2006. He will stay with the group through the end of the year to help ensure a smooth transition. When the change is complete, Kruse will oversee the roughly 1,800-member group, which recently changed its name from the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission to the Sonoma County Winegrowers. The organization has a small staff including a grower programs manager, winery and sponsor-relations manager and a part-time bookkeeper and part-time web developer. Growers pay $1.2 million to the group in assessments collected from grape sales.

“Karissa has been a great addition to the commission staff in just six months,” Frey said in a statement released by the group. “She is quick to learn and motivated to represent growers’ interests to the wine trade and local community. Karissa’s experience and energy are what is needed to continue moving the commission to new heights.” The promotion came at the end of an 18-month recruiting and succession-planning process, during which the group’s board identified Kruse as someone who could first help the group’s marketing efforts and then follow Frey.

Kruse earned a master’s degree in marketing and a bachelor’s in economics from the The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the winegrowers, Kruse worked for General Mills, Universal Studios and the Dairy Management Inc., a national marketing group for the U.S. dairy industry. Kruse came to Sonoma County in 2007 to purchase a vineyard and pursue a career in wine. She owns a 25-acre parcel in Bennett Valley AVA, of which 5 acres are planted to Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The grapes are used for Kruse’s Argot Wines, a company she owns with a partner. Kruse said she makes about 2,000 cases with fruit from her vineyard and also buys grapes from county growers. “I’m not just the president, I’m a client,” she said.

Original Article Here


HarvestDirector John Beck’s new feature-length documentary follows five family wineries – Foppiano, Robledo, Rafanelli, Harvest Moon and Robert Hunter – along with an amateur home winemaker and a rare all-female picking crew from Mexico, through what many would call “the toughest harvest” in their lifetime.
“Harvest” could care less about vanilla oaky finishes or fruit-forward quaffs. This is a gritty film that picks up viewers and drops them in the vineyards at 2 a.m. to see dark night picks illuminated only by tiny headlamps, 24/7 machine harvesting and the impact of 3 inches of rain on a cluster of grapes.
If you love wine and want to know how the grapes are harvested, you’ll want to see this film!