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Leaving Corporate America – Take 2

August 20, 2019

We caught up with two of Paso Wine’s leading entrepreneurs to hear how they took a leap of faith and fulfilled their dreams in wine country.

Michael Mooney

Proprietor/Winemaker, Chateau Margene

What was your role in Corporate America before you came to join the Paso Wine community? A varied and interesting mix of my jobs in the corporate world. In the early ’80’s I was a Branch Manager/Sales Representative at Minolta Micro-Graphics in Van Nuys, CA. I sold plain paper micro-film readers and printers throughout Southern California, primarily to title insurance companies. In the mid to late ’80s, I was an Investment Advisor at PaineWebber in Encino, CA. I  offered and sold stocks, bonds, mutual funds, limited partnerships, and business insurance.  It was not a lot of fun on Oct 19, 1987 (Black Monday) when the world stock markets crashed.  In the ’90s through 2003 I was the Western Regional Manager/Director Digital Cinema at Electrohome & Christie Digital.  I sold high-end video/data projection systems for military command & control rooms and corporate boardrooms.  I also worked with our management, sales, and R&D teams to develop the world’s first digital cinema projection system using DLP (Digital Light Processing chipsets) from Texas Instruments.  Early adopters of the new projection system included Lucasfilm, Pixar, Universal, and several post-production houses.  I was the lead on showcasing alpha & beta units at major tradeshows, exhibits, and movie theaters in the U.S., Europe, and Asia to build awareness and buy-in from industry decision-makers for our all-digital platform.  

What inspired/motivated you to leave corporate America? I had a strong desire to stop traveling around the world as I was spending too much time away from my family.  Also, I had this crazy idea that I wanted to own a vineyard and winery!

Did anyone think you were nuts?  Almost everyone thought I was nuts. as I had zero experience in any aspect of growing grapes or making wine.  I just knew I loved Cabernet Sauvignon.  My wife Margene and I enjoyed traveling up and down the Central Coast staying at nice B&B’s, eating out at good restaurants, and “looking” at different areas.  I don’t think she really ever thought I would actually pull the trigger.  It was an absolute culture shock in 1997 moving from Southern California to Paso Robles.

How did you come to choose Paso Robles for your new adventure? Driving through Paso Robles on our way back from looking at property in Napa and Sonoma we spent the night, checked out a few wineries, liked some of the wines and thought it was an area we should spend some more time looking at.  We came back a few times in 1997 to seriously check out properties all over the area.  Margene and I finally settled on one property near Creston, and our vineyard consultant was absolutely convinced it was a great area to plant Bordeaux varietals.  After having grown grapes and made wine here for over 20 years, we know we made the right decision.

If you had a warning label for those looking to make a similar change in life, what would it be? Stop, think, & plan carefully.  This is not the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it – they will come”.  There’s a damn good chance they won’t come (even though you’re probably a great person).  It was much easier with far fewer rules and regulations when we started in 1997.  We were the 32nd winery in Paso Robles, now there are over 300.  We have had over 20 years to carve out a small niche and sell our 3,000 cases annually, direct-to-consumer with no distribution of our wines.  Recommendation: If you do come, bring your checkbook, make really good wine, have a really good marketing plan, work your ass and hey, you too can “Live the dream”.

What has been your greatest reward? Fulfilling the dream of producing some pretty good wines while living in the middle of our vineyard.

Kevin Jussila

Proprietor/Winemaker, kukkula 

What was your role in Corporate America before you came to join the Paso Wine community? My role was (and still is!) a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch’s Private Wealth Division. Unlike perhaps some of my winemaking colleagues, I still need to maintain both careers to assure that I can feed the beast!

What inspired/motivated you to leave corporate America? What inspired me to do this was my love of developing properties and passion for wine and winemaking. It’s ultimately my retirement gig.

Did anyone think you were nuts? I haven’t done a formal poll, but I suspect half my friends and family think I am a bit nuts, and the other half are envious (Well at least those who have no idea how hard it is to start and operate a farming/winery business).

How did you come to choose Paso Robles for your new adventure? I chose Paso Robles because of my familiarity with the burgeoning wine scene here in the early 2000’s, because of my early on fascination with Rhône blends from France, followed by an unexpected conversation with one of the patriarchs of Château de Beaucastel several years later, and finally because the economics of Paso were far more compelling than a lot of other AVAs.

If you had a warning label for those looking to make a similar change in life, what would it be? Understand the meaning of a small hobby!!!

What has been your greatest reward? I have always been most drawn to the physical manifestation of work. I love being outdoors, building things, growing things, and drinking amazing wines. Sitting on the top of our property overlooking Adelaida at the end of the day, enjoying the fruits of my hard work, and watching the sunset is a pretty sweet reward!