Jeff Crank oversees winery relations, sales and operations for AgIS Capital along the Central Coast of California. He attended Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo where he studied agribusiness and earned both an undergraduate and graduate degree.
I grew up across the United States – everywhere from the Mid-West to the West Coast. I currently live in Paso Robles, California.
When I graduated from Cal Poly Tech at San Luis Obispo, my focus became the healthcare industry and I worked in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. However, I was drawn back to agriculture and in 2005 I went back to school to earn a Master’s degree.
While I was in graduate school, I began to pursue opportunities in the wine grape sector. I connected with EJ Gallo and continued to work for them as a vineyard manager from 2005 until 2010. In 2010, I started a wonderful tenure at Constellation Brands US, which extended until mid-2019, when I joined AgIS Capital. My role at Constellation included serving as Grower Relations Manager and ultimately as General Manager of internal vineyards. Both EJ Gallo and Constellation have high-performing cultures and are well respected within the wine industry. I am grateful for the relationships, experience, and knowledge I was able to acquire working for those organizations. I am now employing the skills I acquired in those prior roles for the benefit our clients at AgIS Capital.
General management of wine grape assets involves either directly managing the vineyards or overseeing the work of third-party managers. It depends on the nature and structure of the investment. Either way, my goal is to ensure that our assets are performing in accordance with how they were underwritten. This entails maintaining constant communication with my colleagues concerning everything from grape growing conditions to markets. Our goal is to meet our investment expectations by striving to ensure that we are hitting our operational targets and optimizing access to our sales channels. In addition, I am also heavily involved with monitoring local and statewide water regulations and trends so we can use that insight to make good, strategically focused business decisions. When I am not attending to the assets we already manage for our clients, I am usually working closely with our Acquisitions Team to source and analyze new, prospective investment opportunities in the wine grape sector.
I enjoy what I do. I especially like having close interaction with our staff, associates and consultants. I see part of my responsibility as creating a cohesive and team-oriented environment where we are all working together for the benefit of our clients. I guess the other thing I enjoy about my work is being involved in the asset valuation process because it is all about measuring your capacity to create and capture value – and at the end of the day, that’s why our clients engage us. I also love living and working in the Central Coast region of California – and being involved in the wine industry. It is a fascinating business sector – one that offers new and different challenges every year. Right now, we’re dealing with the operational impacts of COVID-19 and the smoke taint issues arising from all of the forest fires that have plagued California. We also are navigating through a difficult regulatory climate, particularly as it relates to water access and usage. On top of all of that, the wine industry is going through a period of consolidation – and that poses additional challenges. Working in this environment requires a focused strategic orientation. It also requires the ability to build and maintain relationships with a variety of stakeholders – from employees and contractors to buyers of our grapes, regulators and the communities where we operate. I am a very relationship-oriented person, so I think this really plays to one of my core strengths. I think it is one of the ways I add value for our clients.
The Future of the Wine Industry
For the reasons I just mentioned, I think 2020 will go on record as one of the most difficult the wine industry has ever faced. In addition to the water, smoke taint, labor and COVID-19 challenges, industry consolidation and over-supply are factors that are causing wine companies and wine grape growers to re-think their business and sales strategies. For instance, consumers are adapting to buying wine through e-commerce channels. This will force many sellers to consider how they execute their business plans. I also see water regulations having an impact on high-risk areas, which will, at some point, force some growers to re-evaluate the financial feasibility of their businesses. Finally, I see winery consolidation re-shaping the competitive environment in the future. The economic barriers of entry for independent grape growers and wine producers are vast and keep getting higher. Larger companies will be able to withstand the luxury crop’s cost to produce. At AgIS Capital, we are analyzing these trends and weighing their potential impacts every day with an eye toward limiting investment risk and capitalizing on the opportunities that will inevitably develop as a result of them.
I love spending time with my wife and two daughters. We enjoy living in Paso Robles, California, and we spend a lot of time at the ocean, at the region’s lakes, visiting its wineries and ranches and hiking and boating. In my spare time, I enjoy playing chess with my daughters and inviting friends and family over for barbecues – something I hope we’ll be able to do again once the pandemic is under better control.