Kevin Buckler is simultaneously a race-car driver, CEO of The Racer’s Group, and founder of Adobe Road Winery. A colorful character with a unique story, Kevin’s path to the wine world wasn’t a straight one – more of a "racing curve," so to speak.
Buckler began his professional career as a race-car driver in 1995 at the California Grand Prix, where he entered his TRG-built Porsche 911 and won the race. For nearly 3 decades, Buckler built a racing legacy as a driver and owner with over 100 victories, including iconic wins at the 2002 24 Hours of Le Mans & 4 victories at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
In 2002, Kevin decided to switch gears and bring another one of his passions to life - winemaking. He and his wife Debra Buckler founded the Adobe Road Winery, and it has since become one of the darling boutique Sonoma producers, crafting small, handcrafted lots of select varietals and extraordinary, cutting-edge blends from both Sonoma and Napa Counties.
Last month, Buckler broke-ground on a winery and entertainment facility in downtown Petaluma, California, which will feature a state-of-the-art winery production facility, interactive tasting room, a motorsports museum and much more. I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Kevin Buckler himself about the Adobe Road Winery, his racing career and more on behalf of Sportskeeda.
You built a racing legacy as a driver and owner with over 100 victories. Is there a career accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Kevin Buckler: On our first try, The Racer's Group won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans with only a fraction of the resources of the bigger teams. I then went on to win the Porsche World Cup as a driver later that same year.
However, winning the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in that #66 car in 2003 will stand as out and my biggest career milestone. It was a true "David and Goliath" moment in the world of sports car racing, where a GT car beat all the other faster classes, including the prototypes. We ran the perfect race and I’ll always be so proud of that.
Was auto-racing the only sport that you ever considered a career in?
Kevin Buckler: No. I was a serious junior tennis player growing up in Newport Beach, making the varsity team as a sophomore and taking the number one varsity double spot as a junior. My partner and I were nearly unbeatable all the way to the CIF finals. I played through college for two years on a scholarship and then decided to put down my racquet.
I was also very serious about snow skiing, particularly moguls, and took a semester off school to live in Snowbird, Utah. Skiing every day at Snowbird really upped my game, and I skied on a circuit called the WAFA (World Amateur Freestyle Association), traveling to events throughout the Western U.S. We focused on three disciplines at the time, which were bumps, ballet and aerials. I was good at bumps and aerials but not so good at the ballet. I always used to joke that I spent a good chunk of 1979 upside down!
Do you still keep up with the auto-racing world as a fan? Talk to a lot of people from that era of your life?
Kevin Buckler: I am still actively involved in motorsports and running The Racer's Group, which I’m proud to say is the winningest privateer team in North American motorsports history! We will be running a strong three-car team again this year at SRO GT4 America. While I’m no longer professionally behind the wheel, I do still drive occasionally for fun and I can still get around the track pretty well.
Are there any sports or teams you regularly follow?
Kevin Buckler: I follow all of them. I love to stay up on things.
Who or what led you into the wine world?
Kevin Buckler: It all started in the late 90s as a hobby with a group of friends here in Petaluma. We’d make one barrel of Zinfandel, one barrel of Pinot Noir and one barrel of Cabernet annually to enjoy amongst ourselves. After three years, I decided that I wanted to take it to the next level, so I bought out my partners and gave the project a name with Adobe Road Winery.
From the beginning, I was excited about the business and eager to learn more. But now, with the successful launch of our new racing-inspired lineup of wines -- The Racing Series -- and a new winery and entertainment center under way, it’s seriously game on! My wife says that I get up in the morning with a total pep in my step exactly like I used to do when driving the racecar. We’re taking everything we learned in 27 years of professional motorsports and combining it with our process-driven mentalities, commitment to excellence, and dedication to always work harder and smarter.
Are there any other racers from your racing career that you've run into since finding success within wine?
Kevin Buckler: There are a few other racers turned vintners, but it varies in terms of how serious they are.
Your winery will have a motorsports museum on-site. What can be seen there?
Kevin Buckler: Yes, we are really doing something spectacular there. The museum will showcase our 27-year history on the track with over 250 trophies, posters, mementos and race-winning GT cars on display. The space will also be outfitted with high-tech simulators for guests to virtually race against one another. Most significantly, we are designing it all in the shadow of the monstrous 17-foot-high, 40-foot-wide section of asphalt, an exact replica of the 31° banking of the famed Daytona track.
What else is coming up for you in 2020?
Kevin Buckler: We’re gearing up for another solid season running The Racer's Group and a truly monumental year in the wine space with Adobe Road Winery. Construction on the new winery and entertainment center is set to be complete and officially open to the public in Fall 2020. The wine world is changing, and we are crafting a “New Paradigm” that answers consumers’ needs for an entertaining winery experience that goes above and beyond the typical tasting room.
Millennials don’t want to get in cars and drive north to Napa, but coming to a hip, fun waterfront winery in downtown Petaluma with a cool vibe is just what they’re looking for. We’ll have something for everyone – from the outdoor pizza oven, to the banquet room, to the motorsports museum and of course the killer wine bar. It’s going to be an epic year!
Finally, Kevin, any words for the kids?
Kevin Buckler: One, always work hard. It will open up many doors for you. Two, find a job that you’re passionate about. Three, we call it "The Endurance Racing Mentality" – spend time perfecting your craft. That is what wins major and epic endurance races.