20 Questions with Lisa Mazzoni

Getting to Know Lisa Mazzoni, MBA '04, who cofounded a California winery on the rise.
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BY CHRISTOPHER ANKNEY

PHOTOS BY ALEXANDER RUBIN


Lisa Mazzoni, MBA ’04, is living the dream many business students think about when they are sitting in class. Get some practical experience working for others, plus some experience in an academic setting where a sharp mind can explore and experiment while learning, and then strike out and start a real passion business that revs up the heart every morning.


She has gone from working in the hospitality industry at Marriott Hotels, to Michigan Ross, to a post-grad consulting role at Deloitte, and now entrepreneurship — starting a California winery that’s an outgrowth of a long-held family vineyard and named for a beloved aunt.

Hearing Mazzoni talk about Zialena, the winery she started with her brother in 2011, and the combination of skills and experiences she calls on to run the business, one can hardly help but see the parallel found in the complex processes and factors that go into producing the fine cabernet that is at the center of their brand.

“Having experience in hospitality coupled with a lot of consulting experience has set me up to create amazing customer experiences while also running a successful business,” Mazzoni says.

As a new generation of millennial consumers starts to discover wine, the ability for a business owner to successfully create those meaningful experiences is more valuable than ever.

“This new generation of wine drinkers expect to engage with products and brands differently,” Mazzoni says. “That translates into more unique experiences with Zialena. It’s no longer a simple tasting, but maybe a vineyard tour to understand where the grapes came from, or a farm-to-table food and wine night. Our space is designed to adapt to those changing needs.”

Mazzoni said she fondly remembers sitting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while at Ross, as she answered 20 Questions, so she was ready to tackle the challenge herself.

 

  1. What is a book you’ve read recently?
    My mom bought me Albright’s Prague Winter for Mother's Day, and I've enjoyed reading it, picturing this fascinating woman who sat before me over a decade ago.
     
  2. First Album?
    Footloose soundtrack. I saved my money and had my older cousin drive me to the music store.
     
  3. What’s most played on your MP3 player?
    Black Eyed Peas. Maybe a bit dated, it's motivating running music.
     
  4. Most adventurous thing you’ve done?
    I spent the summer between first and second year of business school traveling around New Zealand and Australia by myself. Lots of adventures along the way including the Skyline Luge in Queenstown and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.
     
  5. What is your guilty pleasure?
    I can't believe I'll admit it, but I still watch The Bachelor/Bachelorette series. It debuted when I was at Ross and we used to have watch parties. The drama always entertains.
     
  6. Describe your first job.
    I worked as a cashier in a local pharmacy that also doubled as a gift shop. It's where I learned my love of customer service.
     
  7. Best business decision?
    To start Zialena winery!
     
  8. What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
    Save your money!
     
  9. The one thing you learned in business school that you’ll never forget is…?
    Investing is about hope.
     
  10. Favorite comfort food?
    My Zia Lena’s raviolis. This is where the starburst on our label comes from: her ravioli stamp. I make them now once a year at Christmas. It is a three-day process!
     
  11. Three people living or dead you’d have over for dinner?
    My Zia Lena, so we could tell her about the winery (she'd never believe it!). Both of my grandpas because I never asked them enough questions while they were here.
     
  12. Best trophy or award you’ve ever won?
    I was Rookie of the Year for our region my first year with Marriott. It gave me confidence to try new things.
     
  13. What did you want to be when you grew up?
    I thought I wanted to be a pharmacist based on my job at the pharmacy and I actually went to pharmacy school. Fortunately, I learned before graduation that what I really loved was running a business and customer interaction.
     
  14. Favorite sport to watch?
    Michigan football followed closely by Cubs baseball (I married a Chicagoan).
     
  15. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
    Literally, my three-year-old. But my motivation truly is Zialena and interacting with our customers. I love the anticipation of who I will meet in any given day and get to share a piece of their vacation.
     
  16. Where is your ideal retirement spot?
    Can I split my time between the Sonoma Coast and the Colorado Rockies?
     
  17. What are you afraid of?
    Snakes. And all the things that could go wrong in the next five years as we grow.
     
  18. Most influential Ross professor?
    Gautam Kaul. His passion was inspiring.
     
  19. Favorite thing happening in the wine/beverage industry right now?
    Diversification. Wineries are into beer, and breweries are into spirits. It feels like the industry is finally recognizing that we all share the same customer and there's room for everyone.
     
  20. Favorite place to drink a glass of Zialena wine?
    In the vineyard after a long day – a glass of Zinfandel.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE CONTENT

For our online readers, we asked Mazzoni a couple follow-up questions:

What is your favorite recipe using wine?

We make short ribs with our wine left over from tastings. Always experimenting with new recipes, but this is a favorite. Don’t rush it – the longer it takes to reduce and roast, the better (even if you need to add a little extra wine to keep it moist).

It pairs well with Zialena Estate Grown Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Any tips for the perfect wine tasting experience?

Make it yours. Use hotel concierges, bartenders, and wait staff for suggestions based on your preferences. There are also small tour companies that specialize in customizing your experience. Don’t be afraid to call the winery directly and see what special experiences they can create for you. There are hundreds of wineries in Sonoma County alone so there’s really something for everyone.

Red Wine-Braised Shortribs

Red Wine-Braised Shortribs