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Incoming CEO David Dearie On The Ste. Michelle Game Plan

October 29, 2020

On Tuesday, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates announced that industry veteran and former Treasury Wine Estates CEO David Dearie will become its next chief executive on November 1, replacing the retiring Jim Mortensen. Speaking yesterday with SND, Dearie said his agenda for the company includes furthering premiumization and raising the profile of Washington and Oregon wines, while revitalizing SMWE’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and 14 Hands labels through innovation and targeted programming.

“I definitely think Washington wines are underrepresented in the U.S. and they’re underrepresented globally. So I’m very keen to figure out how we can make them more accessible to people,” said Dearie. One idea is to work with other wineries throughout the states to position Washington and Oregon wines more prominently on shelves and wine lists across the U.S.

For Chateau Ste. Michelle, Dearie intends to build on the strategic reset begun by Mortensen, which has included more focused marketing programs and greater price discipline. Dearie looks at 14 Hands’ foray into canned wines—and Chateau Ste. Michelle’s aluminum bottles—as examples of innovation that can lead the way forward.

While most of SMWE’s portfolio is from Washington, the company also has a number of California brands including Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (with Italy’s Antinori family), Conn Creek (Napa Valley), and Patz & Hall (Sonoma) as well as Impact “Hot Brand” Erath from Oregon. Dearie said he’s fairly confident that SMWE’s brands will have enough supply to grow despite the widespread wildfires this year up and down the West Coast.

Dearie acknowledged the challenges ahead, but also pointed out growth opportunities for the SMWE portfolio as more consumers discover the Washington and Oregon categories. “This week is made up of meeting the senior management team, getting to hear their thoughts on the future, listening to the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. “Collectively we’ll get together and decide on the future.”—Shane English

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