A Leader Not Forgotten: A Tribute to John Giumarra, Jr.

The most precious gifts are those handed down to us by the people who have left this world. These gifts are those memories that compel us to reside within them, they are the words our friends have graciously shared, and the impact they have had on our lives—an impact that we will forever continue to carry as we walk through our days. Memory is malleable, and that is a gift in itself—allowing for those who have moved on from this life to continue to change, evolve, and grow and find new spaces to live within us.
For me, John Giumarra, Jr. will forever occupy that space.

He was John to many, John, Jr. to some, and Mr. Giumarra to all. To me, he was always a consummate gentleman: generous, confident, optimistic, and incredibly hardworking—the gravity of a great man.

It would be an understatement to say he was known for being strategic in his thinking, very eloquent both in his speech and writing, and versatile in his roles as well.

While Mr. Giumarra led a fast-paced lifestyle selling Giumarra’s produce and grew the company’s reach to Chile, Peru, Mexico, Europe, and beyond, he always found a way to  return home. It was home that encapsulated the moments that grounded him in family—whether that be his children’s sports tournaments, family dinners, holidays, or telling stories. His ability to devote himself, not only to his work but to making his family a priority, will always serve as an inspiration to me. He worked hard, played hard, and did it all with admirable grace and zest.

That rare ability to achieve balance while remaining passionate is one I continue to learn from every day. He was a mentor by nature, someone who did not hunger for recognition or acknowledgement. I thank him every day for that gift.

You cannot utter Mr. Giumarra’s name without mentioning his passion. His gregarious nature and love for food, wine, work, and family was what drew me to him years ago when I was a young man. He was a natural storyteller, another rare gift that seemed as instinctive to him as inhaling and exhaling.

The Mark of Good Taste; a phrase that says it all

I remember one of the first dinners I had with him, his son Randy, and some of their clients back during PMA Fresh Summit in Anaheim, California, in 1998. This was the 75th anniversary of Giumarra Companies. The memory resonates because, in hindsight, this was my first PMA experience, and he welcomed me into his family without question and without judgment.

Mr. Giumarra was always positioned at the head of the table. He shared his stories, almost as a tribute to the bottle of wine he was about to open so that we all felt, as we took that first sip, that we were imbibing a drop of that story as our own—a gift as we broke bread together. The stories I heard and the things I experienced, opened my imagination to what was possible if only you could learn how to be a passionate storyteller.

Valedictorian, John Giumarra, Jr. with U.S. President, John F. Kennedy

It’s easy to share his triumphs and tribulations, his handshakes with the five past U.S. Presidents, his part in the Bob Hope Tournament with Lee Trevino and Jerry Weintraub, or his Valedictorian speech for his class at UC Berkeley (where he essentially opened for John F. Kennedy). But, what I learned from him most is how he carried those experiences proudly, yet gracefully. As the boxing term goes, if someone is baiting you, you do not have to answer the bell. And he never did.

Mr. Giumarra’s negotiations with Cesar Chavez left an impact after what was a historic event for our industry and our country had transpired. And while these were challenging times for both sides, I never heard him utter a negative remark about the man and his cause. Turning the tide for the discussion was no easy feat, but how he did it was both admirable and professional.

While the industry was struck by Mr. Giumarra’s passing on June 30, 2019, we can choose to remember him as individuals, as a community, and as an industry. His many years of hard work, dedication, and passion for both Giumarra Vineyards and advocating for the industry will always be cherished.

John Giumarra, Jr. with his Sigma Alpha Epsilon (∑AE) brothers at UC Berkeley UC Berkeley

Mr. Giumarra received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of California at Berkeley and a Juris Doctor degree from Stanford University. On top of a range of accomplishments, he was also a Book Review Editor for the Stanford Law Review and attended UCLA’s Graduate School of Business Administration. After graduation from Stanford Law School, Mr. Giumarra became an attorney with Rutan & Tucker, LLP, in Newport Beach, California, where he practiced until he was asked by his father and uncles to move back to Bakersfield, California, to help with legal matters at Giumarra Vineyards, their family company.

The industry veteran applied his legal education and experience to serve as the Giumarra in-house counsel during his tenure and successfully negotiated many contracts with chain stores, growers, exporters, and licensees on behalf of Giumarra Vineyards and its related entities. These moves also impacted negotiations within the industry with government officials, foreign governments, and helped in the resolution of a historic labor dispute, as mentioned earlier.

Mr. Giumarra was always surrounded by the best people and the best friends

Mr. Giumarra became the face of Giumarra Vineyards to the trade. As a tireless promoter of the Grape King and Arra labels—who even named the ARRA 15 Sweeties® variety—Mr. Giumarra made strides to elevate the company brand and, in turn, the industry. 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 reached legendary status.

Nearly 40 years ago, in the early ’80s, he and his cousins saw Chile’s opportunities as well as the positive impact that importing Chilean-grown grapes in the off-season could potentially have in the U.S. market. With that knowledge, Mr. Giumarra signed his first marketing contract with Frucentro S.A. in Chile—a relationship that still lasts today.

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.

The Bob Hope Golf Classic brought John Giumarra, Jr. together with individuals like the unforgettable Lee Trevino

Mr. Giumarra’s father ran the Giumarra Vineyards Winery where, from an early age, he developed a love for all things wine. From the growing and varietal characteristics to vintages and food pairings, Mr. Giumarra 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 passion for wine and great food led him to serve as Chairman of the Wine Institute from 1992-93, and later to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Culinary Institute of America, the premier culinary teaching institution in the United States, where he also served as Finance Committee Chairman.

During the ’90s, Mr. Giumarra was approached by the Karniel family about the possibility of starting a grape breeding collaboration in California. The two families formed the Agricultural Research & Development Corporation. Mr. Giumarra was instrumental in working on the early licensing and contract negotiations for the ARRA™ varieties, and was an advocate to the trade for Sweeties®, Passion Fire®, Passion Punch®, Mystic Dream®, and Sugar Drop™.

Mr. Giumarra became the President of Giumarra Vineyards in 2015 and actively began a program of vineyard rejuvenation and varietal renewal to position the company for future success.

Randy Giumarra, currently Vice President of Sales, joined Giumarra Vineyards in 1998 with a deep admiration for his father’s work, the way he lived his life, and the leadership values he bestowed upon him. As the current Chairman of the Board for the California Fresh Fruit Association, he continues to bring leadership to the company as the operation grows.

A PMA Fresh Summit dinner in 1998 including Randy Giumarra, John Giumarra, Jr., Pamela Giumarra, and Robert Lambert

“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,” Randy shares. “My father shared with me all of the wisdom that he had gleaned over his tenure and experiences in the table grape category—from logistics and strategic marketing to the politics of trade, the nuances of the industry, and the challenges that come with the territory. 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 was his tireless goal. Our family is eternally grateful and we miss him dearly.”

Mr. Giumarra’s commitment to the industry can best be 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, sat on the Executive Committee for 27 years, and was a member of the Intellectual Property Committee.

Here are some of the words and stories that our industry’s finest have chosen to share about Mr. Giumarra...

Reggie Griffin, Founder of Reggie Griffin Strategies and Former Senior Vice President, Kroger

“I met my friend and industry leader very early in my career. I’ve enjoyed his stories of the industry, watched his innovation and leadership over the years, and have enjoyed some fabulous wines with one of my industry mentors. I have many great memories of my time with John, but a short story that truly illustrates his character, leadership, and mentoring is one I hold dear. Many years ago, our company wanted to discover more about growing regions and operations in Chile and beyond. Some programs sound great on paper, but making them happen in the international world of fresh produce is considerably more daunting.

I called two industry leaders who both had domestic and international operations and asked to meet with them with some of our senior leadership and officers. I then rang John and asked to meet with him as we were in California for other business. Without question, he accepted and drove down from Bakersfield to Los Angeles and met us at a restaurant. Needless to say, John’s information, guidance, and experience helped inform ‘non-perishable’ people of how complicated and potentially expensive it is to acquire, transport, and manage foreign-grown product into the U.S. supply chain.

As usual with John, we had a great dinner, wine, and conversation. Plus, he knew Wolfgang Puck and asked him to come visit us after he finished in the kitchen! Typical John. He knew everyone and everyone was his friend. He took time out of his schedule to help me assist our company and make a better decision. He was a mentor and a friend and he will be missed, but not forgotten.”

Kathleen Nave, President and CEOThe California Table Grape Commission

“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. 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 their 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!”

Randy Giumarra, Vice President of Sales, Giumarra Vineyards

“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.”

Derrick Jenkins, Director of Produce and Floral, Wakefern Food Corp.

“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 have 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.”

John Corsaro, CEO, The Giumarra Companies

“John, Jr. was very charismatic and a diverse leader. His skillset 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.”

It is with the deepest and most humble gratitude that I have had the opportunity to write this for a man that I deeply admire and to give thanks for moments that I will always treasure. This is for Mr. Giumarra and his family. A gift to him, as he was a gift to us.