Vintner Mag Q&A: John Ware, Rocky Pond Estate Winery

In March, Washington’s Rocky Pond Estate Winery added John Ware as its new president. The winery, established in 2013, is looking to have an increased focus on high-quality wine making and vineyard management with Ware’s experience and knowledge base.

In a press release, owners and founders David and Michelle Dufenhorst said, “We look forward to John bringing his real-world expertise and proven track-record to Rocky Pond. All the pieces are here — a majestic setting, excellent terroir, top-notch vineyards, and a community-minded business built on integrity and excellence. We have global aspirations for Rocky Pond in the coming years and know that by enlisting John we can realize our vision for the future.”

Ware spent the past 20 years at Quilceda Creek Winery where he eventually acted as general manager, growing the brand throughout the Columbia Valley. Ware spoke to Brewer about his plans for the winery as its new president.

VINTNER: What led you to choose Rocky Pond?
WARE: After 20 years in the wine industry, I was looking to accomplish some of my personal and professional goals. David Dufenhorst, the founder and owner of Rocky Pond Estate Winery, was introduced to me by a mutual friend. After several conversations, I met the Dufenhorst family and we toured the property and I saw the vineyards along the Columbia River first-hand. David’s vision captured me, and I knew that the Rocky Pond Estate Winery would become a luxury wine destination and future resort located south of Chelan. Additionally, I was aligned with David’s commitment to sustainability and stewardship of the land and appreciated the fact that he had sought to successfully meet the rigorous standards to LIVE certify all of his estate vineyards.

VINTNER: What are upcoming plans for growing the brand?
WARE: My focus is on quality and maximizing our greatest assets — the vineyards of Chelan AVA and the Columbia Valley. I am not interested in case growth. Working with our vineyard consultant, we are focused on vine health and lower yields. Rocky Pond will be reducing the breadth of varietal offerings and will focus on elevating our Bordeaux varietal offerings. Additionally, we will continue to create club-only offerings for our clients that will include both single vineyard Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. 

VINTNER: What expertise are you bringing to the winery?
WARE: I have worked in all aspects of winery operations from the cellar, to the office and compliance, DTC/ecommerce sales, domestic and international sales. In addition I have developed an inclusive management style that is constantly looking for innovation and of course, results. I am so fortunate that David and Michelle had put together such a creative and passionate team.

VINTNER: How is the winery faring amidst the coronavirus pandemic? What changes has the winery had to make, and how has it affected production?
WARE: On March 14, the decision was made to close our Woodinville Tasting Room. My hope was that our Chelan tasting room would remain open. On that following Monday, Governor Inslee closed all Washington tasting rooms. Going back to the plan, Rocky Pond pivoted and focused on web sales, social media, virtual tastings and special wine offerings. I asked key tasting room personnel to start calling and check in with our customers. The team continues to do a great job. I enjoy hearing stories of how our customers are faring in these uncertain times. One of our team members even got a heartfelt thank you note from one of our beloved clients. My management team is taking this time to redefine our Mission Statement, our Core Values, and refine our brand strategy. We are moving forward on our new Woodinville Tasting Lounge that will open later this fall. With regard to production, there are no changes to our plan. Rocky Pond is fine-tuning the vineyards and preparing for a successful 2020 harvest.

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