It is with great sadness that Giumarra Vineyards Corporation announces the passing of John Giumarra Jr. on June 30, 2019.
John was a talented leader and a powerful mentor. His many years of hard work, dedication, and passion for both Giumarra Vineyards, and as an industry advocate, will always be remembered. His ability to devote himself not only to his work life but to make his family a priority will serve as an inspiration for those following him. He worked hard, he played hard, and did it all with an admirable grace and zest.
John received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of California at Berkeley and a Juris Doctor degree from Stanford University. He was a Book Review Editor of the Stanford Law Review, and attended UCLA’s Graduate School of Business Administration. After graduation from Stanford Law School, John became an attorney with Rutan & Tucker, LLP in Newport Beach, California. He practiced there until he was asked by his father and uncles to move back to Bakersfield to help with legal matters at their family company, Giumarra Vineyards.
From the beginning of his tenure, John applied his legal education and experience to serve as Giumarra in-house counsel. He successfully negotiated many contracts with chain stores, growers, exporters, and licensees not only on behalf of Giumarra Vineyards and its related entities, but also impacted negotiations within the industry with government officials, foreign governments, and helped in the resolution of a historic labor dispute. He was known for being strategic in his thinking and very eloquent both in his speech and writing.
Corporate Attorney was not the only hat that John chose to wear at Giumarra Vineyards. While John’s cousin Sal Giumarra was President and led the farming operations, John became the face of Giumarra Vineyards to the trade. He was a tireless promoter of the Grape King and Arra labels, and even named the ARRA 15 Sweeties® variety. As a marketer, he formed business relationships with buyers and executives within the industry, and also forged many long-lasting friendships. He loved golf, and enjoyed the social opportunities it afforded him. He was also a wonderful host, and his dinner parties and celebrations have reached legendary status.
“John Giumarra provided me with many life lessons throughout our 35 year relationship. Among the most cherished memories were numerous firsts in my life. Playing golf for the first time, touring a vineyard, learning everything he imparted about grapes and a myriad of shared meals that became celebrated events will resonate with me forever.” Derrick Jenkins, Director of Produce and Floral, Wakefern Food Corp.
In the early 1980’s, John and his cousins saw the opportunity of Chile and the positive impact that importing Chilean-grown grapes in the off- season could potentially have on the U.S. market. John signed his first marketing contract with Frucentro S.A. in Chile, a relationship that has lasted to the present. Many other agreements followed, and steadfast relationships developed. Working as a team with Don Corsaro, former President and current Chairman of the Giumarra Companies, the Giumarra import program grew to become one of the largest in the industry, with arrivals on both U.S. coasts.
John’s father ran the Giumarra Vineyards Winery, and from an early age, John developed a passion for all things wine-related. From the growing and varietal characteristics, to vintages and food pairings, John was considered a wine expert and connoisseur. He was involved in the wine-making process, as well as the sales and marketing of bottled and bulk wine. He became actively involved in the wine industry, and was on the wine tasting panel of the Los Angeles Times newspaper for many years. His love for wine and great food led him to serve as Chairman of the Wine Institute from 1992-1993, and later to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Culinary Institute of America, the premiere culinary teaching institution in the United States, where he also served as Finance Committee Chairman.
In the 1990’s, John was approached by the Karniel family about the possibility of starting a grape breeding collaboration in California. The two families formed Agricultural Research & Development Corporation, which has grown to become one of the premier table grape breeding companies in the world. John was instrumental in working on the early licensing and contract negotiations for the ARRA™ varieties, and has been an advocate to the trade for Sweeties®, Passion Fire®, Passion Punch®, Mystic Dream® and Sugar Drop™.
In 2015, John became the President of Giumarra Vineyards, and actively began a program of vineyard rejuvenation and varietal renewal to position the Company for future success.
Perhaps John’s greatest legacy is the contributions he made to the table grape industry through his role on various industry boards and committees during his career. Kathleen Nave, President and CEO of the California Table Grape Commission called John a “Champion for the Industry.” John served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, and served on the Board of Directors of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, and the Produce Marketing Association.
John’s commitment to the industry can be best illustrated by his 33 year tenure of service and leadership with the California Table Grape Commission, where he served terms both as Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Executive Committee Chairman. He also served 23 years as Chair of the Export Committee, and sat on the Executive Committee for 27 years, and was a member of the Intellectual Property Committee. Nave notes “John has served continuously since 1985 and has led the Export Committee for most of his tenure, shaping the development of a worldwide promotion program. As a member of the Executive and Intellectual Property Committees, John has essentially served as in-house counsel on many issues for many years.” Nave continues:
“In his role on the commission he made a significant difference to the industry. I truly believe that the success the industry has had in exports is due in large part to his leadership. His focus on targeting promotion dollars, on reducing tariffs, on opening new markets…all paved the way for individual shippers to sell theirs grapes into a bigger, better, marketplace. He helped create the patenting and licensing program and was instrumental in helping us sort through legal matters of all kinds. He helped create the health research program and was a big supporter of it and its promise. He never worked on the easy stuff!”
John was an eloquent spokesperson whether he was advocating for the industry, a political campaign, or a charity. In his “spare time” he helped raise millions of dollars for Cal State University Bakersfield as Chairman of the Annual CSUB Athletics Spring BBQ since its inception in 1972. He had many friends within the industry, including suppliers, customers, as well as competitors, and also within the local community. He considered employees and many suppliers as part of the extended Giumarra Family, or in John’s words, “Team Giumarra”.
“John Jr. was very charismatic and a diverse leader. His skill set included being an attorney, and he also had a vast understanding of marketing and a vision for the future. This was exhibited by the strong breeding program fostered by Giumarra Vineyards and the varieties that are now in the ground. But at the end of the day, what I most admired about John Jr. was his dedication to his family despite a very busy schedule.” -John Corsaro, CEO, the Giumarra Companies
“John will be missed by so many. I will never forget how he taught us all how to treat people, with respect and a smile. In his kind and gentlemanly way he uniquely encouraged friendships between his growers and customers.” Tom Kovacevich, Owner/CEO TM Kovacevich
“John’s most admirable quality as a person was his ability to make everyone he met feel important, valued and equal. John’s willingness to share his vast knowledge and experience have become personal core tenets and I hope that I adequately expressed my gratitude to him in our relationship for cultivating this value in me.
John will be sorely missed as an icon in the Produce industry and more importantly in this world as a wonderful man. I am indebted to him as a role model and will do my best to pay homage to his legacy by emulating his character in my own life.” Derrick Jenkins, Director of Produce and Floral, Wakefern Food Corp.
John is survived by Pamela Giumarra, his wife of 53 years; five children, John Giumarra III: Randy Giumarra and his wife Barri: Juliana Houchin and husband Clayton: Jillian Houchin and husband Morgan: Joseph Cristopher Giumarra, and 15 grandchildren.
“On behalf of the entire Giumarra and Corsaro families, I want to thank all of our friends and partners in the industry for their incredibly heartfelt outreach of love and support in the wake of my father’s passing. It has been an overwhelming tribute to the man who impacted so many lives and it reinforces how blessed we are to be in this industry. I knew from a young age that my passion was to work with my dad, the man that I admired more so than any other. I am so blessed to have spent my entire career working by his side, learning so much – most importantly to treat every human being with an equal level of respect and to appreciate every day as a gift. His love for life was immeasurable, his energy near endless, his charisma infectious and his commitment to family, friends and the success of our industry his tireless goal. Our family is eternally grateful and we will miss him dearly.” Randy Giumarra, VP Sales, Giumarra Vineyards Corp.
He will be greatly missed by the members of Team Giumarra, and the Giumarra and Corsaro families. A visitation will take place Thursday, July 11, 2019 from 6:00-8:00 PM, followed by a celebration of his life on Friday, July 12, 2019 at 10:00 AM, both at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 900 H St., Bakersfield, CA 93304.