Who the heck is this guy, Gore?

New Sonoma County supervisor ran as a local boy back home to serve his people. But which people?

BY Dave Ransom
Image credit: Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

James Gore’s uncle Doug was one of the “industry leaders” who consulted on the wine Innovation+Quality conference in St. Helena March 4. Gore’s brother Tom likely attended. Gore may have put in an appearance himself.

Uncle Doug represents the extensive Washington and California wine operations of Altria Group, once known as Phillip Morris. Brother Tom oversees the Sonoma and Mendocino vineyards of Constellation Brands, the world’s largest wine producer.

James, of course, is newly elected to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
Gore got elected after campaigning as a local boy with a small family vineyard and a useful past at the Department of Agriculture — a family man who just couldn’t stay away from his beloved Sonoma County and was running for supervisor to serve the community.

Neither his campaign nor the Press Democrat said anything about the family connections to Big Wine, nor his history of representing it in Washington, nor for that matter his continuing close connections to some of its key players.

Neither his campaign nor the
Press Democrat said anything
about connections to Big Wine.

Gore’s father, Tom Sr., an avid outdoorsman who died in 2009, had managed vineyards that supply grapes to Mumm Napa, currently owned by Pernod Richard, another major wine and liquor conglomerate.

Both Tom Jr. and James worked for Mumm during their college summers, and all four of the Gores studied at Cal Poly, James graduating in 2001 with a degree in agribusiness. After a year in Italy studying international business, he went into the Peace Corps, where he worked on agricultural projects in rural Bolivia.

From Peru, Gore went to Washington, D.C., as do many ex-Peace Corps volunteers taking their next big step. He started out with a short stint at Wine America, pulling the industry trade associations together to expand their markets.

To get that job, it can’t have hurt that Wine America is chaired by Caroline Shaw of Jackson Family Estates, based in Sonoma County and a big player in its own right. Wine America’s board also includes two directors from Constellation Brands and one from Altria.

Gore already knew where he was headed. “James was pumped to represent California wines around the world and in trade through his first foray into the private sector,” his wife, Elizabeth, wrote for last year’s campaign.

From Wine America, Gore jumped to one of its contract lobbying firms, JBC International. “JBC” was James B. Clawson, who had been in the Nixon White House and represented U.S. wine in international negotiations. At JBC, Gore spent four years as (his words) “primary representative of the California Wine/Winegrape industry on international affairs and trade.”

Besides Wine America, Gore represented the (California) Wine Institute. Formed at the end of Prohibition, it is headed by the families and conglomerates that have since come to dominate the industry — Constellation, the Gallos, Fetzer, The Wine Group, the Franzias, the Wentes, Korbel.

With this on his resume, Gore made it into the USDA in 2010. He worked with USDA employee unions as a management rep. He iconnected USDA workers with federal border-security arrangements. He was a USDA interface with trade groups and state and local agribusiness.

Becoming assistant chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, he worked with agricultural landowners to “conserve, maintain, and improve” their acreage, including dealing with climate change.

While at the USDA, Gore took a master’s degree at George Washington University’s School of Political Management. Sonoma County wheeler-dealer Darius Anderson sits on the school’s board of advisors.

Whether Anderson and Gore had a connection, who knows? But the course of study is right up Anderson’s alley. It prepares students, “to succeed in the booming vocation of politics,” it says. “Upon graduation, you’ll be ready to assume decision-making positions as consultants, department heads, chiefs of staff, and even office holders.”

And, indeed, immediately upon graduation Gore headed home, ready to assume decision-making positions in Sonoma County — and perhaps beyond.

Reprinted from the New Press/Nueva Prensa (May 2015)

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