Undercover Wine Boss

Kendall-Jackson president Rick Tigner gave viewers (and himself) a candid look at daily life in the vineyards and warehouses of a big winery
Jan 30, 2012

Kendall-Jackson president Rick Tigner made his reality television debut last night on CBS' Undercover Boss, in which executives at large companies pretend to be new low-level hires to get a look at a typical day in the life of one of their blue collar (or no collar) employees. Having met Tigner, I have to say that the makeup and disguise made him fairly unrecognizable.

For a first-time viewer of the show, it impressed me on several fronts, perhaps most because it embraced the inner workings of the wine business. Most shows that cover wine still portray it as a romantic endeavor. Not Undercover Boss.

Here are a few observations I jotted down last night:

• The show presented winemaking as mostly about farming and hard work in the vineyards. It also touched on production (the bottling line) and distribution (trucking).

• Without Hispanics, California wine as we know it probably wouldn't exist. Those who work in the vineyards, or cellars, or tasting rooms are by and large dedicated and loyal to their firms. But there is no perfect company to work for; Rene the truck driver told Tigner what he really thought. And while language barriers exist, most people I know who work directly with Hispanics at least know some Spanish.

• I was surprised that Kendall-Jackson is reportedly making 5 million cases of wine a year.

• Tigner's wife, Wendy, is delightful. I had the pleasure of meeting the couple recently. Wendy is bravely battling Parkinson's disease, and Rick gets emotional several times during his time away from his family during the episode.

Kendall-Jackson's late founder, Jess Jackson, put K-J in a great position for the future. He better than most understood wine as an agricultural business, with vineyards the key to quality and success.

• The segment in the episode on K-J's tasting room reminded me that tasting rooms really are like bars, where the emphasis is less on "tasting" and more on "drinking." Unlike bars, however, customers get huge discounts (something along the line of 50 percent at K-J) which makes them quite the draw.

Did you see this episode of Undercover Boss? You can check it out on the CBS website or buy it on iTunes if you missed it. What did you think?






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