Recruiting, onboarding keys to success for Cakebread Cellars

Since its founding in 1973, Cakebread Cellars has worked hard to gain a reputation for producing world-class wines. Oh, and the founding family also wanted to have fun in the process. No short order, but that was the idea nearly half a century ago.

Fast forward to today, and Cakebread Cellars says its success is built on quality, consistency and continuity, characteristics which apply equally to the grapes, the wines, the people and the operation of the California-based Napa Valley winery. 

One of the most important parts of that success comes in the people portion of that equation. That’s where human resources director Nicole Cummings comes in. She calls recruiting and onboarding “incredibly important” to the family-owned business.

“One of the things that we pride ourselves on and is also unique to our area is we are what I’d call a larger family owned and operated winery,” Cummings said. “In Napa Valley, a lot of wineries have become part of a bigger corporation but Cakebread prides itself on its family culture. When we’re interviewing and selecting talent, it’s more important to us that we find people that are absolutes.”

Recipe for business
What is an absolute? That’s where Cakebread has created a recipe of sorts for its business, Cummings explained.

“Do you have a passion for what you do? That’s one of four absolutes. Do you have a friendly yet professional approach to business?” Cummings said. “You’re an extension of the Cakebread family – and they are known for remarkable hospitality with a friendly yet professional approach. Everyone at the winery interacts with our guests – whether you’re a housekeeper, cellar worker or gardener. We strive to be friendly yet approachable.”

Another key absolute is integrity, Cummings said. Future hires and all employees have to be not only honest but committed to doing the right thing. In other words, you pick up trash off of the ground because you should, not because someone else might be watching.

The final one is respect.

“We all have respect for not just each other but also the facilities in which we work and the facilities they’ve built – the work they provide us,” Cummings said.

Absolutes in place
When Cakebread is bringing a new hire into the company, they seem to have an easier time with the onboarding process because those absolutes are already in place, Cummings added. But there still is a formal program to make sure everyone who joins the team gets brought into the culture and receives training to build their individual success within the organization.

One of the great things about working in a vineyard and winery is the seasonal changes – and that represents the way the job changes month to month, Cummings said. As the agricultural environment shifts, so do the daily, weekly or monthly tasks at hand.

For example, the season where they prune may feel slow, but it is an important time for the vines. It also is an important time for training and in-house education for the staff. In the spring, there’s new energy and everyone starting getting back into the swing of things with customers coming back on site.

Harvest time is the most challenging with the highest number of hires coming in, but that’s also a fun and exciting time, Cummings said.

Open, honest dialogue
“Everyone’s excited about grapes coming in and crushing those grapes,” Cummings said. “We pride ourselves on openness and communication at that time – we share what’s going on, what it is like to operate a press, see the grapes coming in and how they’re processed or what happens during fermentation.”

For businesses like Cakebread and others, hiring and bringing in new hires in the right way are key to long-term success. For example, one survey showed that 48% of businesses say their top-quality hires come from employee referrals. That is why companies such as Cakebread spend so much time setting up strong messages and culture for its employees.

The bottom line? Cakebread is about an open and honest dialogue between the business, the employees and the product.

“We’re somewhat of an open book for all employees so they know what’s going on – regardless of the cycle,” Cummings said. “We have 12 months of learning – so employees have to have that openness to learning about why we do the things we do.”