By Leah McNally, WWS Blogger

Kendall Hoxsey, compliance manager at Napa Wine Company was one of the speakers at our latest event, Navigating the Legal Minefields of the Wine Industry. Kendall and I are both students in the Sonoma State University Wine Business MBA program. I took the opportunity to get to know her and ask her a few questions about her background and her responsibilities as compliance manager. I was impressed to learn that Kendall grew up in Yountville and is a 5th generation grape grower. She’s learned compliance from the ground up, which gives her a great understanding of the business side of wine.

Kendall Hoxsey, Compliance Manager for Napa Wine Company

Kendall Hoxsey

Tell me a little about your background.

I grew up in Yountville where my family has been growing grapes since 1904. I went to Santa Catalina in Monterey for high school and traveled on to Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA where I majored in history and film studies.

How did you get started in the wine business?

I basically grew up in the wine business, whether it was traveling with my parents to different wine regions or walking through the vineyards surrounding our house. While I was living in Pennsylvania, I would occasionally meet with some distributors as well as try to convince my classmates to try California wines rather than imported wine. I knew that it would be a long hard road, but continuing the work of my great-grandfather and father has always been a guiding force. I’ve found the wine industry to be a great place, filled with unique personalities. Plus the wine industry is a constantly changing atmosphere and younger generations are finding interest in the national wine scene, which is very exciting.

How did you ended up in the area of compliance?

Wines produced by Bonded Winery No. 9, one of the Hoxsey family projects.

While starting my business classes, the compliance manager at the family’s custom crush facility, Napa Wine Company, was leaving and my father felt that it would be a good place to get my feet wet. It has basically been a baptism by fire, but I’ve loved learning the production side of the wine industry. The compliance side of Napa Wine Company consists of checking weigh tags, tracking all lots of wine for all clients until bottling, making sure the lot compositions are compliant with label approvals, filing DBAs and Basic Permit Additions (fictitious business names) with Napa County Recorder and Tax & Trade Bureau, filing COLAs (certificate of label approval), filing taxes for bottled wines to the state and federal governments, filing Report of Wine Premises Operations, and end of the month billing. My job deals much more with the production side rather than marketing and sales. It’s a confusing field, but as long as you’re diligent and detail oriented you can handle pretty much anything it throws at you.

Tell me about your decision to enter the wine business MBA program.

After college I came back and decided the best thing to do would be grad school. I found Sonoma State’s Wine MBA and have found it to be an ideal fit.

You went from a studying film to getting an MBA and working in the family wine business. How did you go from film to business? They seem like opposites. Do you have any plans to put your creative background to work in the wine industry? (I was an originally an art major and explored some variations before I ended up in wine, so your transition piqued my interest.)

I had always known my path would lead me back to the family business, but I was never sure in what way or when. Films, writing, and history, have always been passions of mine, and they continue to be. I’m open to any way to one day utilize them in the wine business, but I think that will come with time and experience. I see my love of history working hand in hand with wine business/family business.

Right when I got out of college, I was a little unsure of the next step and compliance seemed like a good step forward. I felt that business knowledge would be valuable no matter what field I eventually entered. I soon found that I loved the production side of the wine industry. I loved walking out with our vineyard manager as well as learning all aspects of the business. The Wine MBA seemed like the logical next step. After I complete the MBA, I’m planning on moving to another wine region (could be WA, OR, or even Europe, not sure yet.) My favorite class so far was Professor Thach’s class Global Wine Business, which taught me so much about the increasing overlap in the global wine scene. So far I don’t have any concrete plans to bring in my love of film to the wine business, but we’ll see.

What do you think is the biggest challenge wineries face in compliance today?

I find the biggest challenge wineries face in compliance today is from the direct shipping side, as the U.S. basically consists of 50 different countries when it comes to attitudes concerning alcohol. Another challenge is with the appellation system. The public does not understand the appellation system (frankly it’s pretty confusing). The public doesn’t understand what makes an appellation unique, even more so when it comes to sub-appellations. The government is continually changing the boundaries and so many wineries/names are grandfathered. My best example would be how long it took for Calistoga to become a recognized sub-appellation.

There are more states open for direct shipping today and more compliance solutions- is it getting any easier?

Though my job does not deal with direct shipping it seems that even though there are more states opening up to direct shipments, there is a lot of hesitation on the part of the state governments and anger on the part of distributors and other businesses who enjoyed sole ownership of shipping into those states. I don’t think the states will all follow one system anytime soon, but I won’t rule it out completely.

Compliance trends you are seeing?

I like that more and more compliance is being performed on-line. It certainly is much more organized.

What is your personal goal regarding the wine industry? Will you stay in the compliance area, or are you looking at something broader?

I’m hoping to one day go into grape relations, which would combine viticulture with compliance.  My greatest goal would be to help the family business continue through to the sixth generation. Even though my great grandfather, Andrew Pelissa has been gone for twenty years now, I love hearing stories about him, and how he kept farming throughout the depression and World War II. I believe we can all learn a lot from the past. No matter what eventually happens I’m enjoying my time now and the road I’m traveling down.

I’d like to thank Kendall for taking the time to answer my questions and for speaking at the event. I’m sure we will hear more from her over the years as she puts her stamp on the industry.

WWS has two more great events on the horizon you won’t want to miss. We will celebrate the 21st birthday of Women for WineSense on Thursday, April 14. Just like any 21 year old we are planning to celebrate in style. Be sure to join us and raise a toast to 21 years as the premiere wine education and network organization for wine industry professional and wine enthusiasts.

Mark your calendars for Thursday, May 19. Women for WineSense will host its first networking event for professional members at Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena. 3-6pm. It is the perfect opportunity for our professional members to make connections with other like-minded people in the industry. This event will be for Professional Members of Women for WineSense only. If you are an Aficionado Member and want to attend, consider upgrading to Professional Member status.

See you there!