We are due to have lunch in his office – his assistants tell me he doesn’t have time to meet in a restaurant. I have also been warned that he will have already eaten something and won’t be having much because he wants to devote his time to answering questions rather than eating, which might make this encounter an unusual take on Lunch with the FT.
His office is smaller than I expected but packed with Disney and Pixar paraphernalia. There are sketches on the wall from Susie the Little Blue Coupe, an animated short film from 1952, as well as a framed drawing from Dumbo (1941), Lasseter’s favourite Disney film. There are plates laid out with sandwiches and a bottle of red wine.
The bottle lifts the spirits. US executives are usually characterised by their abstemiousness, which makes for practical but rather dull lunches. “I don’t know if you drink wine,” says Lasseter after greeting me. “But my wife and I have a winery so I thought we’d open one of our bottles.”
He is known for his loud Hawaiian shirts and does not disappoint today, although the shirt is comparatively sombre. He is wearing a wristwatch released to promote the Pixar movie Cars (2006).
As he pours the wine, a Saint Emilion blend with a label bearing the Lasseter name, he explains how he and his wife Nancy began making wine. After he was fired from Disney, they moved to northern California. Nancy worked at Apple as a computer graphics engineer and he went to work for George Lucas’s Lucasfilm group, where he joined the division that would evolve into Pixar. “I was commuting north and Nancy commuted south and we started having babies.” The couple eventually had five sons. “We had so many babies that she decided to retire.”
The Lasseters often visited friends in Sonoma County, one of northern California’s finest winemaking regions. They liked it so much they moved there. “The woman who was cleaning our house was heading off one day to pick wine. Nancy went with her and came back splattered and covered in red wine.” He mimics his wife, breathless with passion. “She said: ‘We made wine! Make love to me!’” That started a hobby, which quickly became something more: the family bought vineyards in Glen Ellen in Sonoma County and now bottles and sells its own-label wine.