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McClain Cellars Harvests an Expanding Wine Operation

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On a summer getaway in 2016, Jason McClain threw a contract for his own television talk show about entrepreneurship into a fire pit.

Becoming the next Dr. Phil would never create the significant impact he wants to make in people’s lives, or build a legacy for his family, he thought.

Not like an independent winery would.

To Jason and his wife, Sofia, wine is a catalyst to meaningful conversations, stronger bonds and enduring memories.

The entrepreneur, who has been building companies for 30 years, decided to sell his tech companies and pursue a dream with Sofia and their three daughters.

They decided McClain Cellars would be a winery built upon four pillars: family, faith, friends and freedom.  

In three years, McClain Cellars went from a pop-up speakeasy in their own backyard to three locations and counting, with one in Laguna Beach and two in Santa Barbara County.

“As long as the product mission is 100% true to your core, success, money and opportunity is all easy,” Jason McClain said.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, “making money in the wine business is the easiest thing in the world,” he said.  

His decision was lauded at the Business Journal’s 22nd annual Family-Owned Business Awards on Aug. 26, when McClain Cellars received the Up & Coming award, one of five winners.

 

Laying Roots  

McClain Cellars’ wine is harvested from vineyards that he owns in Central California’s Santa Ynez Valley.

Each wine is vetted by McClain Cellars’ wine club members and assigned a meaningful name.

“Sofia’s Star,” a Syrah, immortalizes Sofia’s mother, whom she lost at age 12.

“Kiss of Life,” a grenache blanc, echoes the Sade song that played when Jason and Sofia had their first kiss.

He said he met Sofia, a registered nurse from Russia, on Match.com. They were one of the website’s first matches.

“We still host Match.com events at all of our locations to give back and show you can fall in love online,” McClain says.

McClain Cellars’ industrial décor at its locations is a nod to the days of Andrew Carnegie and Harley Davidson, who went on to create legacy family businesses during the Industrial Revolution, Jason notes.

Their three daughters, ages 12, 14 and 16, work the harvest in the fall.

While they’re young, they’re beginning to see the value of their parents’ efforts and feel relieved knowing what their future holds, he said.

“I tell them to study business—and discover how you can make it even better.”

 

A Business Background  

The myriad titles McClain has held in his 30-year career—dot-com entrepreneur, public speaker, and author, to name a few—have culminated into building McClain Cellars.  

During the dot-com boom, he sold 14 companies and employed hundreds throughout the U.S. and internationally.  

In 2017, Jason self-published a 13-episode talk show about entrepreneurship “Life Can Change;” it was picked up by Amazon Prime.

Yet, he said McClain Cellars has been his most rewarding venture because it allows him and Sophia to forge lasting relationships with its customers and wine club members—some of whom were among the 152 attendees of its first speakeasy pop-up.

To ensure the best customer experience, all wine ambassadors must earn a score of 90% or above on the company’s “platinum” training program before working the tasting lounge. It’s dubbed platinum because the Ritz-Carlton has a gold standard Jason said.

The company has sold 8,000 cases of wine thus far this year, said Jason, who expects to sell 17,000 more cases in the next two years.

Barreling Forward

While McClain Cellars has received numerous awards by mail—including a double gold award for wine from the OC Fair earlier this year—the Business Journal’s Up & Coming Award was its first-ever in-person award.

“It was a very emotional and moving experience for us—receiving this award in front of a live audience of individuals,” Jason said.

While McClain Cellars are up-and-coming, these awardees strive to return.

“We want McClain Cellars to be the only business that has won all five OCBJ awards in the course of our lifetime.”

McClain Cellars’ Coto de Caza location, expected to open next winter, will be its first wine lounge and full restaurant.

It will serve varied dishes that pair well with wine, from eggs benedict and crab hash to jambalaya and oysters.

The next location under contract is in Temecula, which is on track to open within the next two years.

A third OC location is also “hot on the trail,” and will be close to its warehouse in the Irvine Spectrum area. 

Audrey Kemp
Audrey Kemp
Audrey Kemp is a staff reporter and occasional photojournalist for the Orange County Business Journal. Her beats include — but are not limited to — healthcare, startups, and education. While pursuing her bachelors in literary journalism at UC Irvine, she interned for New York-based magazine Narratively Inc., wrote for Costa Mesa-based lifestyle magazine Locale, and covered the underground music scene for two SoCal-based music publications. She is an unwavering defendant of the emdash and the Oxford comma.

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