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Luxury DNA: The experience and cultural mindset



Ross Halleck of Halleck Vineyard embodies diversity of domain expertise we at Harvest Summit celebrate. He’s a marketing guru who applied his acumen to creating Halleck Vineyard, an acclaimed and highly allocated winery.

In 1980 he founded Halleck, Inc., a preeminent brand and marketing agency in Silicon Valley. His clients included HP, Agilent, McKesson Corporation, Beaulieu Vineyard, St. Supery Vineyards, Kendall-Jackson, Iron Horse Vineyards and Jordan Winery.

In 1991 he and his wife moved to Sonoma County to develop a truly special and personal Pinot Noir vineyard. A one acre site, Halleck Vineyard is perched above the Russian River watershed and flanked on the west by the slopes to the Pacific Ocean. The primary intent for this vineyard was to serve as a college fund for their three boys, an innovative way to support a college education.  

Today, Halleck and his ex-wife Jennifer have succeeded in not only putting their sons through college, but established Halleck Vineyard as a well-regarded, niche, luxury wine brand garnering high point scores and medals around the country.

Halleck is now putting the finishing touches on his upcoming book, Luxury DNA. 

What follows is a sneak peak at the perspectives shared in the book.  

When one thinks about innovation, the term luxury rarely comes to mind. In fact, using it in the same sentence is almost a non sequitur.

Luxury often connotes history. Many luxury brands have been around generations, even centuries, intent on maintaining perception and increasing penetration. These two tactics taken together (high perception/broad penetration) are the holy grail of creating a luxury product that is sustainable over the long term.

As a boutique, artisan winery, Halleck Vineyard is intent, in fact, dependent on this. We are an infant luxury brand. This has required a fair amount of innovation in a marketplace that is changing at the speed of thought, with new and powerful tools, but increasing difficulty to resonate.

In my upcoming book, Luxury DNA, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with the senior executives of some iconic luxury brands like Four Seasons, Breguet, and Lamborghini. Each has shared perspective on creating a luxurious experience for their customers. Tonini Lamborghini suggests, “luxury is about delivering excellence: efficiency in the product line, continuous systemic innovation, and a global way of thinking. A luxury company is capable to understand, before others, the needs of the market while maintaining an original and uncompromising style.”

This is a primary insight that pervades: whether the product is hospitality, a watch, a car or a fine piece of jewelry, luxury is about excellence. Even a cup of coffee can be luxurious.

As Barbara Talbott, former Executive VP of Marketing for the Four Seasons cites, “The innovative definition of luxury developed over the past 45 years by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is based on service excellence, melded with top-notch facilities and operations. Four Seasons began by focusing on what was then a small segment of the market—the affluent frequent traveler—and in the process, built a global luxury brand. Four Seasons’ success depends on choosing employees who provide service that is genuine and innovative, on developing standards that are both meaningful and flexible, and on maintaining a unique culture that makes delivery of both possible.”

So innovation is critical in creating excellence for elevating perception. Further, in a digital world, communication represents the other half to achieve penetration. This is a constantly changing landscape that requires innovation.

At Halleck Vineyard, our raison d’être is “Building Community Through Wine”. This is a fairly simple mission, easy to communicate and understand. When people drink wine together, there’s a feeling of community that’s concomitant. But the challenge is creating an excellent experience that imprints, is meaningful, and is not just momentary, but truly builds community. 

 We‘ve identified three legs of a stool on which to build community, each mutually supportive. This has been tough in a commoditized industry where there are tens of thousands selling “juice in a bottle”. It’s daunting to develop ideas that are unique.

The first is that we invite people into our home to taste with us. This is not a hospitality center or restored winery out-building; this is our home. We start on the vineyard and tour through the house to our dining room. People taste with me, Jennifer, my ex-wife and partner, or my son Adam. We share the same last name that is on the bottle. It reinforces our logo, which aside from an “H” represents one-to-one: we want to have a personal connection with everyone who enjoys our wine. This is not a scalable model, but at our size it works.HLK_Vineyard_Logo high res copy

The second leg for building community is providing shared experiences. We support our Inner Circle community through curated adventures that we organize, all including our wine. These have included things as diverse as a safari to Kenya, excursions to Italy (including Tuscany, Rome and Carnivale in Venice), and trips to NY where we work with top chefs in creating vintner dinners at places like Gramercy Tavern, Per Se, Union League Club, and Eleven Madison Park.  

The third, and perhaps most important leg, is giving back. We turn directly to our Inner Circle to support the causes and charities that they value most. This is a Benefit of Membership, you have a cause; we’ll support it.

This aligns with the other two legs. We create experiences offered at live auctions. We partner with our community in delivering these events. Our most recent included lunch for 6 on a remote beach, accessible only by kayak, with full wait staff and a gourmet lunch paired with our wines prepared by Chef Austin Perkins of Nick’s Cove. It raised $28,000. In the past years we’ve raised almost $500,000 to support our community.

Individually, none of these are particularly unique. But bundled they represent an innovative solution to elevating perception and increasing penetration, our mission to support and sustain our modest family effort to deliver luxury into our member’s lives.

Mike Nelson, the Brand President of Breguet, the oldest watch company in the world, sums it up: “Luxury is a product or service that elevates your experience of everyday life.”  That is the link between Halleck Vineyard and Harvest Summit, the idea of bringing people of such diverse backgrounds together for a day of “mind melding” is refreshing and innovative.

In an initial meeting with the Harvest Council, we were treated to lunch at the estate where Harvest Summit will be hosted. This is a private home, not a hospitality venue, where food will be prepared by some of the most talented chefs in Sonoma County, served with some of the finest wines in the world. Let’s raise a glass to luxury and innovation in Sonoma County. We’re grateful to be a part.


Published in Blog

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