John Ledbetter stopped by a friend’s office in March to catch up and talk shop about grape harvesters.
Instead, after a few pleasantries, Claude Brown, president of the San Joaquin Historical Society, paused.
“He said, ‘I got something I need to tell ya,’” Ledbetter said.
That’s when the president of Vino Farms learned he would be honored at Notably San Joaquin, a wine auction, dinner and dance to celebrate the major contributors to Valley agriculture and the local community.
“It’s obviously a great honor,” he said. “I was totally surprised and shocked when I was informed of it. I’m very pleased to be named among the people they have in that group.”
The event, formally called Legends of California, has honored Robert Mondavi, Michael and David Phillips and their family, John Kautz and other notable names. It also serves as a fundraiser for the San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum.
“We look to honor anyone who has made a difference in the wine industry,” said Julie Gillespie, society member and museum docent. “There were several people we thought of, but John was just exemplary.”
The News-Sentinel conducted an interview with Ledbetter. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
This used to be called Legends of California, and now you are one. How do you react to the title?
It’s humbling. It’s very humbling.
What do you consider your legacy?
I was very involved in putting the Lodi Winegrape Commission together, which was very rewarding because of the success it has had.
I was chairman of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, and my daughter followed in that position 20 years later as the first woman to hold it.
I’m on the Lodi Community Foundation Board, which we worked very hard to get off the ground. We seem to have gained traction over the last three years.
What do you enjoy about your work at the head of Vino Farms?
Seeing the next generation take over the business. Right now, the main players are all 40 and under. I can now see the pride that I saw in my dad when he saw his two sons takes the business and run with it.
That’s the thing that’s exciting. My kids are hiring folks that will be with them in 20 or 30 years and starting to put their own footprint on the business.
Today I take more pride in the community outside of the business, because I have more time available. Lodi has been very good to my family, but the community is only as good as those folks who put something back into it.
Do you prefer the “hands in the dirt” work of running vineyards, or the business side?
It just sort of evolves as we built the business. As you get started, you spend a lot more time in the dirt.
As you start to get bigger, pretty soon you realize you’re in the people business and your success is measured by the success of your employees. You have to give up some of the stuff you enjoy, like being in the field on a spring day, or being out in the vineyard in the middle of the night.
In your experience, what makes the Lodi area special?
It’s the people. We farm all over the state, but Lodi is a unique little community. The people here get what it takes to make a good community. The ag community is really a leader of that in Lodi, and it should be because it is what supports Lodi. They take their responsibility seriously.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.