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News & Press

Sep 27, 2022

Wine Enthusiast's 2022 Person of the Year: Jeff O'Neill

After build­ing Gold­en State Vint­ners into the country’s fourth largest win­ery, tak­ing it pub­lic and then sell­ing it, Marin Coun­ty native Jeff O’Neill found­ed O’Neill Vint­ners & Dis­tillers in 2004. It’s steadi­ly grown into the 10th largest win­ery in Amer­i­ca, with 13 nation­al­ly dis­trib­uted brands and two dozen pri­vate-label wines — all amount­ing to more than sev­en mil­lion cas­es pro­duced annually.

We basi­cal­ly brought coastal wine­mak­ing tech­niques to the Cen­tral Val­ley,” says O’Neill of the val­ue-mind­ed wines he makes pri­mar­i­ly in Par­li­er, Cal­i­for­nia. We’re try­ing to please many con­sumers rather than a few upper lux­u­ry consumers.”

Pledg­ing a phi­los­o­phy of no dra­ma,” he’s proud of treat­ing peo­ple right. In an indus­try still dom­i­nat­ed by white males, almost half of O’Neill’s 350 employ­ees are female, 40 of them in exec­u­tive-lev­el roles. Along­side for­mer NFL star (and Inter­cept vint­ner) Charles Wood­son, O’Neill start­ed four-year schol­ar­ships for BIPOC stu­dents at Cal Poly-San Luis Obis­po and Sono­ma State. And this year, O’Neill Vint­ners became a cer­ti­fied B Cor­po­ra­tion, putting trans­paren­cy, char­i­ty and equi­ty above the bot­tom line.

O’Neill’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty ini­tia­tives may change the entire indus­try. He installed enough solar pan­els to pow­er the company’s bot­tling, cooper­age and stor­age oper­a­tions and cre­at­ed the county’s largest worm-pow­ered waste­water treat­ment sys­tem in the wine indus­try. He’s test­ing the effects of large-scale regen­er­a­tive farm­ing at Robert Hall Win­ery in Paso Rob­les, which he pur­chased six years ago, and just launched ingre­di­ent-label­ing on his Harken Chardon­nay. By 2024, 100% of the grapes that they pur­chase from more than 200 farm­ers across 15,000 acres of vine­yard will be cer­ti­fied as sustainable.

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