Mark Chandler bids farewell to Lodi Winegrape Commission

Most would assume that the departure of the 20-year leader of a group would be tough, but for those on the Lodi Winegrape Commission, it is a bittersweet farewell.

Former executive director Mark Chandler, 58, gave his final goodbyes to the commission and those in the wine community Friday night at his sign-off at the Wine & Roses Hotel and Spa.

But rather than long faces, there were smiles.

“He’s been a champion for us,” said Richard Lauchland. “He came to us when we were nothing, and he is leaving us and we certainly are something. We could not have asked for anything more.”

Chandler will not be straying far from the wine and grape-growing community, however.

He is going into the consulting business, serving as a guide of marketing and management for businesses and associations in the wine industry. And while Chandler said he will miss working with the commission he has been with for the past 20 years, he said he cannot hide the fact that he is also excited for the future.

“I took great pains to hire good people,” he said. “But I am looking forward to maybe more traveling and spending more time with my wife.”

Chandler’s wife, Jan Chandler, seconded his hope to spend more time together.

“Our schedules have never really jived,” she said. “When I’m busy, work is slow for him. When he is busy, I’m slowing down. Now maybe we can mesh a little more.”

Finding Chandler’s replacement will not be easy, said commission program manager Stuart Spencer. The group has hired Seattle consulting firm Karass to help search across the nation for someone who could fill Chandler’s shoes.

When Chandler started with the commission, Spencer said, the commission worked with 45,000 acres of vineyards and eight wineries, which were mostly industrial. Now, thanks in large part to Chandler, the commission works with over 100,000 acres of vineyards and more than 80 wineries.

“When kids go off to college, they leave the parents, and it makes the parents feel a little like they lost the kid,” said Spencer. “This time, it feels like we lost the parent … Mark has helped turn Lodi from a farming community into a wine community.”