Home Wine Business Editorial Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018: Wine Business Educator and Influencer

Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2018: Wine Business Educator and Influencer


By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

Ray Johnson
Ray Johnson

Ray Johnson’s love affair with wine dates back to 1984 when he worked at a restaurant in the eastern U.S. and recognized that it was the wine part of wine and food pairing that really intrigued him.

Since then, his more than three decades long career in the wine industry has taken him all over the globe and back to where he currently resides in Northern California and directs Sonoma State University’s highly esteemed Wine Business Institute.

In between, Johnson has worked as a sales rep, tour guide, wine department manager, consultant, instructor, leader of professional seminars, wine judge, wine competition manager/director and accomplished author of a book and numerous scholarly articles on a vast array of subjects related to wine.

Ray Johnson’s life and career in wine has touched the lives of thousands. Here is just a snapshot of comments from a few people who have been inspired by Johnson as a teacher, mentor, colleague and friend.

“I never anticipated the influence Ray would have on my career when I signed up for his class ten years ago. His energy and enthusiasm spilled over to all of his students, and he quickly became a mentor and a conspirator. He was a major force in establishing The People’s Choice wine competition in Lake County and greatly contributed to the marketing efforts of our region. Ray’s willingness to think outside of the lines combined with his tenacious work ethic was very inspiring to me, and to everyone that worked with him. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from Ray over the years has been to never give up, and to always look for ways to improve. These traits are inherent in Ray and have led to the well-deserved status that the Wine Business Institute has attained.”

Matt Hughes, Director of Winemaking, Brassfield Estate

Ray Johnson accepting WINnovation Award on behalf of Wine Business Institute

“Ray Johnson’s contributions to the wine industry will have a lasting impact. As the Executive Director of Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute (WBI), he has been at the helm in growing the WBI to its position as the global leader in wine business education and research.

I hired Ray into that position because he brings both deep industry knowledge and genuine passion and enthusiasm for the industry. Industry leaders are willing to invest time in meeting with Ray, because they learn something each time they sit down with him. And his excitement about the work of the WBI is contagious. He has been able to engage people in our work, to the benefit our students and university. He has helped raise over $20M to support our students, faculty, and programs, and build a Board of Directors for the WBI that includes many wine industry icons.”

Dr. William Silver, Professor of Leadership and Management, Sonoma State University

“Ray Johnson and I have been friends and colleagues for almost 20 years. 

Ray’s influence on the Sonoma County wine industry has been immense. He has tirelessly promoted wine studies and the wine industry in general through Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University and his travels to promote Sonoma County wines and the University. His influence has led to many new and innovative ways to educate and enhance wine business knowledge throughout the industry.”

Elizabeth Slater, Founder & Owner, In Short Direct Marketing

Wine Spectator Learning Center Groundbreaking (L-R): Ruben Arminana, Congressman Mike Thomson, Dr. William Silver, Ray Johnson, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Marvin Shanken, Gery Heck

“For over ten years, Ray Johnson has been an excellent Executive Director of the Wine Business Institute. He is goal driven and possesses a high degree of motivation and energy. His passion for our mission has been unwavering and he has been able to motivate and inspire others, including the board members. I am truly grateful that Ray has been ever present as we move the Wine Business Institute forward.”

Gary Heck, Korbel President and Owner, Chairman of the Board of The Sonoma State Wine Business Institute

“Ray and I met quite a few years ago while he was teaching a Wine Entrepreneurship course at Sonoma State University that I was attending. The entire class was immediately impressed with Ray’s passion, professionalism, and ability to inspire. We stayed close over the following years as the Wine Business Institute at SSU grew significantly in enrollment and prestige, largely due to his directorship. Ray’s vision, hard work, and foresight have been critical elements in creating a much needed world-class wine business curriculum in the heart of Northern California wine country, and his dedication and indefatigable enthusiasm will no doubt be critical to its future success as it takes its rightful place on the broader wine education stage. Without a doubt, as the Executive Director of the Wine Business Institute, Ray is clearly one of the most influential people in the California wine industry today.

Neil Bernardi, VP of Winemaking, Duckhorn Wine Company 

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