Terry Wheatley innovates in old and new wine brands
On June 8, 2021, Terry Wheatley, President of Vintage Wine Estates, quietly took the business forward into the future. Representing portfolio brands such as Owen Roe, Viansa Sonoma and Girard Winery, the VWE team has launched a $ 690 million IPO on NASDAQ. These are all brands included in the Vintage Wine Estates portfolio, overseen and managed by Terry Wheatley.
Wheatley has dedicated his career to building brands and shaping careers in the wine industry. She has held leadership and management positions with E&J Gallo Winery, served as both Director of Marketing and Vice President of Sales with Trinchero Family Estates, and founding partner of Canopy Management. In 2018, after four years as vice president of sales and marketing for Vintage Wine Estates, she was chosen to become the company’s first female president.
Wheatley has founded charities, has lent his time, skills and expertise to various philanthropic causes, and raises funds and raises awareness of issues related to, but not limited to, social justice, entrepreneurship and social preventive health causes such as breast cancer. She is the founder of Wine Sisterhood, a 400,000-member lifestyle social media platform where women connect with each other through wine; Angels Share, a national initiative to fight food insecurity; and Tough Enough to Wear Pink, which powers rodeos and western events in the United States and Canada to plan breast cancer awareness fundraisers.
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Throughout his more than 40 year career in wine, Wheatley has been recognized by many organizations for his innovative vision, sales expertise and overall excellence in the wine industry. Speaking with VinePair, she shares information about her career, struggles and how she supports women in the wine business; as well as how Vintage Wine Estates helps small wine brands, wineries and wineries by preserving vintage wine brands while helping to shape their future.
1. Inform VinePair readers about Vintage Wine Estates (VWE) and what the company does.
VWE is a wine company with a portfolio aimed at all demographic groups and wine tastes. Our mission is to reinvigorate traditional wine brands and launch young brands while giving them the tools they need to succeed or continue their artfully honed winemaking profession.
When VWE buys a brand of wine, we are invisible but impactful. We’re here to make a struggling business thrive by eliminating inefficiencies it doesn’t know how to do. We generally maintain as much of the original business architecture, including the current staff. It is very important for us as a company because we do not want to homogenize the purchase. We want to be good stewards of the land we buy. We invite the family to stay on board and we try to keep the personality, the style of winemaking and the sourcing that attracted us in the first place. We can update the logo and polish or rebuild the existing property, but we always strive to keep the charm or magic of the brands we acquire.
2. You are about to lead Vintage Wine Estates to its IPO in June, making VWE a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ World Market. What would you say to the women who are now following your career?
Be prepared to work hard, then work harder. Surround yourself with people who believe in your vision and team up with a company that values the work and contributions of women. Second, live up to your word and live up to what you say you are going to do. Third, go ahead and set yourself some lofty goals. Know that nothing you dream of is insurmountable. Be prepared to give your all because this is where the real work begins!
3. VWE has a special program which allows consumers to become shareholders of the company. Can you tell us more about this?
When we designed the shareholder passport program, we were thinking about the people we do business with. Our suppliers, farmers, consumers who buy our brands or the general public. We wanted to give people who don’t have millions of dollars to invest in our brand a way to participate and enjoy our success. The Shareholder Passport is our “sharing” program which gives our supporters the opportunity to be partners or shareholders of VWE. It is a very accessible program where you own a portion of 52 brands of wine. Shareholders will also receive an invitation to the annual meeting of shareholders held in Napa Valley, among other perks and perks. It really is a great program.
4. What makes VWE so special as a company?
I am honored to be the first woman to run a multi-million dollar public company, but much more proud that more than half of the managers in our company are women. I work very hard to increase female representation in the organization. In fact, our CFO, operations manager, marketing manager, digital manager, manager of our wine clubs and all of our tasting rooms are all female-led departments within VWE. This happened because the founders and current leaders of VWE are all committed to increasing the presence of women throughout the company.
5. There has been a plethora of publications describing the experiences of those in the wine industry due to the combined effects of Covid-19, recent weather-related tragedies, and overall slim margins in wine production. It has been reported that independent or family-run wine producers are struggling to keep their doors open. Does VWE have a strategy to solve this problem and help small producers in difficulty?
The majority of our portfolio is made up of small wine producers who needed help to continue or successfully increase their reach in the wine industry. Now you have businesses that have, for example, been devastated by the recent wildfires that are now in a terrifying situation due to the effects of Covid. These are companies whose business plans were built on partnerships with successful restaurants, tasting rooms and wine clubs with little to no distribution plan, and they are now in serious trouble. This is where VWE can step in and help. We offer help to streamline / improve the winemaking process, marketing and distribution. We want to maintain the integrity of the company but bring our skills in marketing, finance and our extensive network of winemakers and suppliers to elevate the brand and continue their legacy in the wine industry.
6. Let’s talk about the companies and / or philanthropic platforms that you have created or managed. Why does Tough Enough to Wear Pink hold a special place in your heart?
There is a long history of breast cancer in my family. My grandmother died of breast cancer. My mom had a double mastectomy at 38 and I had one at 48. My daughter has also had several biopsies, so I have a huge interest in eradicating this disease. Early in my career, I knew I wanted to get involved in the fight against breast cancer. I supported local initiatives like City of Hope (a cancer research center in Los Angeles) but wanted to do even more.
I co-founded Tough Enough to Wear Pink to involve the sport of rodeos and the western community in the fight against breast cancer. To date, we are very proud to say that we have raised over $ 32 million for local and national breast cancer charities to launch awareness campaigns to raise awareness and encourage testing!
7. Why are philanthropy and D&I initiatives so important to you as a businesswoman?
2020 has been such a deep year with all that has happened with Racial Awakening and the Black Lives Matter movement. I contacted our communications manager and said, “We need to find ways to support black women in the wine business. Currently, we are exploring ways, such as scholarships or mentoring, to help them develop their careers in wine. We are also looking at some [BI]Brands of wines and spirits belonging to POC with which to associate or acquire. There will be more on this soon.
Separately from VWE, I am Chairman of the Board of Directors of CannaCraft. We are developing ways to level the playing field for people of color in the cannabis industry. Whether through variety development, agriculture or brand development, we want to move forward by meeting the needs of the community. Why are the African American and Mexican communities more incarcerated for cannabis offenses than other groups? It’s just plain stupid, which is why supporting the Last Prisoner Project with CannaCraft is so important to me. What’s the point of all this success if you don’t make a real difference in life?
8. Where would you like to travel to explore the excellence of wine when you’re ready to take a break from conquering the world?
I would love to go back to Florence, Italy! Maybe split my time between California and Italy. It would be such a good thing to do.
9. If you could share the success of the IPO with anyone, who would it be?
It’s simple: Ruth Bader Ginsburg! She was amazing, a trailblazer and a force of nature. I hope my career will be as long, impactful and successful as his was and continues to be.
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