How This Century-Old Family Business is Preparing for the Next Generation’s Leadership
Marissa Lange, LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards
August 10, 2021
Our family began farming in Lodi, California the late 1800s, when my great-great grandparents emigrated from Germany and began growing non-irrigated watermelons. From that humble beginning, the family grew their holdings and ultimately bought a vineyard in 1916. Each generation since has built on the efforts of the one that came before, continuing the legacy of stewardship of the land.
Our business, LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards, grew from that foundation, a partnership between my father and his twin brother, who bought land from their parents and launched their own viticultural company at the ripe old age of 25.
So, I’m a fifth-generation member of our farm family, but a second-generation operator in LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards. I’m the first of our three, but, really, the eldest of five. Let me explain. I have two brothers and two cousins on my uncle's side, and we were raised as a family of nine. Two sets of parents, five kids, living next door to one another in houses built 100 yards apart, in the middle of 200 acres of land without a neighbor to be seen.
Suffice it to say, my brothers and my cousins were my playmates and closest confidants as we grew up together—literally in the middle of our family business. Our bond began in the sandbox and was fostered through family dinners and days spent exploring the edge of the Mokelumne River, hiking, riding horses, and attending country schools together.
Our parents nurtured our connection further by taking us on backpacking adventures through the Sierra Nevada mountains and further afield. Our family travel, which included trekking trips in Nepal, Africa, and Patagonia, offered us experiences that deepened our love and respect for the natural world and for one another. “We are better together,” was our parents’ refrain.
Those experiences often put us in challenging situations together—climbing Kilimanjaro is no easy feat—and we learned how to support one another and how to communicate. We also learned one another’s strengths and weaknesses and how to navigate disagreements. Ultimately, we gained a shared passion and perspective, a family trove of insight and experience.
Our connection also grew through our shared daily experiences within the business. As the children of farmers, we lived the daily and seasonal rhythms of the family business together, very aware of the natural cycle of the growing season, the harvest season, and the celebration of the fruits of our labor. As a family, we were in the fields, in the office, and participating in the social and business development events related to the business. I distinctly remember sitting at the table in many discussions with Robert Mondavi and his team, talking about vineyards and grapes and wines. As cousins, we absorbed that essential informal education together.
After each leaving the area for college, all five of us came back to the family business with that foundation of shared experience and deep, inherent knowledge of one another and of our family’s values. We were very fortunate that, before we returned our parents had the foresight to assess what their perspective was on our generation’s role in the business. They understood that family businesses often capsize under the weight of misunderstandings and misalignment around the vision in the succession between generations, and they were determined to avoid that scenario.
They developed family governance, creating a family council and an advisory board and laid foundational groundwork to establish the rules of the road for our generation’s entry into the enterprise. Their goal was twofold: To maintain the integrity of the family relationships; and, to ensure that the contribution of the individual would be additive to the business. In other words, there would be no free rides.
With this foundation in place, there was a clear path for my generation to step into the company. Today, all five second-generation family members work in the business. People always ask us, “How did you decide who would be in charge? Who would have which role?” And for us, those questions never actually arose because we very naturally fell into a cadence of looking to expand on our individual expertise. There was never a wrangling for power because we had spent 30 years growing together, wrapped in the fabric of our family’s shared values and understanding what it takes to grow a business together.
In recent years, our generation has spent considerable time reflecting on our “why” and articulating our vision for the company, which is to cultivate a lasting impact, together. We know that one important aspect of cultivating that impact is to intentionally knit our children’s lives and experiences together, to strive to create the same bond and lasting connection we have in the next generation.
To that end, we’re continuing on many of the beloved traditions of our generation—backpacking, spending time on the land and in the business, sharing meals and family celebrations—but we’re also looking for new opportunities to grow and connect. We know that our kids will have different interests and passions, and we want to honor that curiosity and share experiences that allow us all to grow and learn together.
Just as our generation had freedom to explore and pursue our own path—we were never burdened by an obligation to return to the family business—we want to open the aperture on experience for this generation. I hope that if they choose to come back and work in the business, the work we’re doing now to sustain and deepen their bonds will provide a foundation of love and shared experience, the ability to collaborate, and a broad perspective that will foster the innovation that’s essential in an Evergreen® business.
Marissa Lange is President of LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards