Interview, Part 1: Gregory Doody, President and CEO of Vineyard BrandsAugust 17, 2020
Editor’s Note: Founded in 1971 by the late Robert Haas, Vineyard Brands boasts a portfolio of fine wines from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Germany, and South Africa.Operating from its home base in Birmingham, Alabama and its sales and marketing office in New York City, the company posted total dollar sales of around $130 million last year, importing 1.5 million cases of wine. The French lineup is led by the Perrin family wines, including Rhone icon Chateau de Beaucastel and the popular La Vieille Ferme label, among others, and also includes over 25 growers of estate-bottled wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chablis, the Loire Valley, Alsace, and Southern France. SND editorial director David Fleming recently caught up with Vineyard Brands president and CEO Gregory Doody for an update on progress.
SND: Where does Vineyard Brands fit within the larger context of the fine wine business and the U.S. market overall?
Doody: We’re not a large company, but our portfolio has an outsized importance. We have a great mix of wines, all family-owned, with a portfolio ranging from large, well-known retail brands like La Vieille Ferme and Marques de Cáceres to limited-production icons like Chateau de Beaucastel and our Burgundy portfolio. We represent the portfolio in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and we work with all types of accounts—including large national and regional chains to independents, both on- and off-premise.
SND: Vineyard Brands founder Robert Haas established an Employee Stock Ownership Plan back in the 1980s, when ESOPs were a relatively new concept. What does the ownership look like today?
Doody: Bob Haas was a visionary in so many ways, including in his establishment of the company structure. When he decided to depart Vineyard Brands to focus on Tablas Creek Vineyard (in 1989), he had the opportunity to sell out to another company. Instead, he chose to sell to his employees. Some of those employees may have changed, but the basic structure remains today. Every Vineyard Brands employee is an owner of the company through the ESOP.
SND: How did Vineyard Brands come to be headquartered in Alabama? What are the advantages of splitting your operations between shipping, compliance and other functions in Alabama, and then sales and marketing in New York City?
Doody: As you know, Vineyard Brands’ first “headquarters” was a barn-to-office conversion on Bob’s farm in Chester, Vermont. When my predecessor took over from Bob, he didn’t have the same affinity for Chester. But he did want to retain all the employees, and sought a more convenient location. He looked to a smaller urban area where the office staff would feel comfortable and Birmingham was a great fit. There are a little over 1 million people in the metro area, and travel from there is much more convenient than from Chester. Birmingham also has an amazing food scene. But even prior to the pandemic, I saw the importance of being flexible with work-from-home options, coast-to-coast. Adding that piece to the puzzle has helped us adapt, and we still find that having two very different locations works for us.
SND: How important is your relationship with the Perrin family?
Doody: Since we work only with family-owned wineries, our relationship with all our partners is important. But Perrin is our largest supplier, and thus our relationship with the family is especially important. We represent all the Famille Perrin wines in the U.S. market, including Château de Beaucastel, La Vieille Ferme, the Perrin Reserve range, and the Perrin Cru wines, as well as Château Miraval, their joint venture with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
SND: What areas of your portfolio are showing the best growth?
Doody: Like most everyone since Covid-19 arrived, we’ve been seeing tremendous growth in our off-premise business, particularly for our larger retail brands, but we’re also seeing good progress from smaller brands in the off-premise, as the initial shock of Covid-19 has worn off a bit. With fewer options to go out and mixed feelings about doing so, consumers are increasingly willing to try new brands and varietals from the comfort of their homes.Subscribe to Shanken News Daily’s Email Newsletter, delivered to your inbox each morning.