From Boardroom To Vineyard: Greg Doody On Leaving Corporate Law For Wine

Food & Drink

Greg Doody. President and CEO, Vineyard Brands

Doug Young

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This oft-repeated quote, a mainstay of self-help gurus and social media influencers alike, may be one of the reasons that so many people are working very hard to break into the world of wine. There are many paths to working in wine, including community college and university programs, culinary schools, and certifications from the likes of the Court of Master Sommeliers, Wine & Spirits Education Trust, Institute of Masters of Wine, Wine Scholar Guild, and Society of Wine Educators. In the 2017-2018 academic period alone, more than 14,000 candidates in the United States were enrolled in programs with the WSET.

Greg Doody joined wine importation company Vineyard Brands in 2013 and became President and Chief Executive Officer in 2016 as part of a transition plan put in place in early 2014. Doody, who is an attorney, certified public accountant and certified sommelier, earned his Juris Doctor from Emory University’s School of Law and worked in corporate law, where he led several high-profile corporate restructurings, including those of Charter Communications, Calpine Corporation and HealthSouth Corporation.

Founded in 1971 by Robert Haas, who passed away last year at the age of 90, Vineyard Brands represents over 60 wineries from the major wine-growing regions throughout the world, including over 25 growers of estate-bottled wines from Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chablis, the Rhône, the Loire Valley, Alsace, Provence and southern France. Based in Birmingham, Alabama and New York City, Vineyard Brands represents some of the most iconic wineries in the world, including Champagne Salon, Champagne Delamotte, Château Petrus, Thibault Liger-Belair, Vincent Dauvissat, Domaine Weinbach, Château Miraval, and Warre’s Port. In other words, Greg Doody landed in a really good place. We recently had lunch with him and discussed how he traded the boardroom for the vineyard, offering snippets of advice for those considering a career change.

Anyone considering a career in the wine business has to understand that while it’s an extremely cool business, it is still a business.  Don’t romanticize it.”

World Wine Guys: Can you tell us how you made a move from the world of corporate law into the wine business?

Greg Doody: When my last corporate restructuring was wrapping up, I knew it was time to move on to something new.  I loved restructuring companies, but if you’re doing it in the right way, it takes a lot out of you.  I tried retirement for a bit, but I was really terrible at it.  

I think to keep busy more than anything, I enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in New York. I loved everything about the program but soon realized that starting a career as a chef at 48 wasn’t reasonable.  When I heard that the FCI also offered an Intensive Sommelier Training program, I immediately signed up for the next session. For someone who had always been passionate about wine, the chance to be immersed in the world of wine for a few months was an amazing opportunity.

Throughout the program, many of the Master Sommeliers involved in the program thought I should pursue a career in the wine importation business.  Not ready to give up on retirement but intrigued, I called my predecessor at Vineyard Brands to try understand why my instructors thought I would be a good fit for the business.  When I walked in his office, he said “Do you want my job?”  So here I am.

WWG: Which skills that you acquired as an attorney and CPA do you utilize as President and CEO of Vineyard Brands?

GD: I’ve worked for a number of CEOs; some were successful and other weren’t. I tried to learn everything I could from all of them.  I tried to emulate the successful ones and avoid the mistakes of the unsuccessful ones.

It seems to me that successful CEOs had a few skills that the unsuccessful CEOs didn’t have.  First, successful CEOs have the ability to develop a vision for the company, focus on it and communicate it clearly. Second, they understand how their companies operate and the industry in which they operate.  Third, they know and listen to their customers and suppliers. Finally, but certainly not least, they seek out, hire and support a strong team. 

I hope I’ve acquired these skills, but you’d have to ask my colleagues, customers and winery partners for their thoughts.

WWG: What advice would you give to someone who is leaving a successful career elsewhere in order to work in wine?

GD: Anyone considering a career in the wine business has to understand that while it’s an extremely cool business, it is still a business.  Don’t romanticize it.  Most people think my colleagues and I sit around and drink wine all day. Obviously, that’s not the case. Everyone in the wine business is very passionate about wine, but they also work extremely hard. 

That said, we do have the good fortune to work with one of the best products in the world and with some of the best people in the world. In the wise words of Galileo, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” 

 WWG: Some of the French wines in Vineyard Brands’ portfolio are at the higher end of the price spectrum. How does the company balance that out with less expensive options?

 GD: One of our primary jobs as an importer is to curate our portfolio so that has the chance to speak to every consumer.  It’s a job we take very seriously.  We want consumers to have confidence that if they see “Imported by Vineyard Brands” on the label they are going to get a great bottle of wine whatever the price. 

It’s true that our portfolio has some of the most iconic, collectible wines from around world, but we also have more affordable wines that are within the reach of every consumer.  It’s the entirety of our portfolio that really sets us apart from other importers.

 WWG: What do you look for when adding a new producer to your portfolio?

 GD: In today’s market, consumers are more adventurous than they have been in the past. Of course, consumers are looking for good wines, but now, more than ever, they are looking for authentic wines with a story behind them.  At Vineyard Brands, we only work with family-owned wineries.  Since we’re owned by all of our employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, we are more aligned philosophically with family-owned wineries.

When you think about it, a winery plants new vines knowing that they won’t be productive for at least three years and won’t come into their prime for fifteen or twenty years.  Our winery partners think this way – generationally.  Since we are employee-owned, we have the luxury of thinking this way as well.

 WWG: Is there a single brand in your portfolio that has achieved significant growth since you came on board? To what do you attribute that success?

 GD: We’ve had a number of successes in our portfolio since I joined the company. We’ve launched Miraval Rosé, which has not only been a huge success for Vineyard Brands but also helped to supercharge the growth of the entire rosé category in the United States. 

But probably our greatest success story in terms of growth has been the growth of La Vieille Ferme wines from Famille Perrin. La Vieille Ferme is now the number one selling French wine in the United States.  The success of La Vieille Ferme is due entirely to the quality of the wine and the value it offers to consumers.

 WWG: What do you see as the best way for your wine brands to connect with consumers? Can you give an example?

 GD: As I said before, today’s consumers are increasingly looking for wines with authentic stories behind them.  Since all of our winery partners have stories that resonate with consumers, telling those stories is the best way to connect with consumers.  Winery visits and winemaker dinners are a great way to connect with consumers, but these are not always feasible.  Fortunately, the Internet and social media offer wineries a great platform to connect with consumers by simply offering them a place to tell their stories and provide information about their wines and wineries. 

The wines we import are made by families in some of the best places on earth.  Consumers are naturally drawn to any information they can find about these places and the people that make the wine there.  The Internet is a great source of this information, whether it’s in the form of photos, videos or just information.

 WWG: Vineyard Brands is owned by its employees via an ESOP. How does this contribute to the success of the company?

GD: It sounds cliché, but the best employees really are employees who are invested in their work.  At Vineyard Brands, all of my colleagues are invested not only in their jobs in the figurative sense, but they are also invested in their company in the literal sense. Everyone at Vineyard Brands is aware that their actions have a direct impact on the company they own, so they tend what’s best for the company and for our suppliers and customers rather than for themselves.  It’s an amazing thing to watch.

 

 

 

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