Bringing wine sense to cannabis marketing: Terry Wheatley of Sonoma County’s Vintage Wine Estates
Finding the perfect blend is something wine marketing executive Terry Wheatley knows all about.
A rarity, Wheatley not only runs Vintage Wine Estates as president, she serves as chairwoman on the board of directors for CannaCraft, a cannabis producer, also based in Santa Rosa.
But Wheatley has always looked ahead for opportunities.
She kicked off her career at E. & J. Gallo Winery, before landing a senior vice president job at Trinchero Family Estates in the Napa Valley. From there, Wheatley’s entrepreneurial spirit led to the launching of her own wine brand marketing company — Canopy Management — which Vintage Wine Estates bought out in 2014 and made her president. As the head of Vintage Wine Estates, she spearheaded the company going public this past June.
“I’ve been in wine all my life,” Wheatley told the Business Journal. With Canopy Management, sales rose to 300,000 cases in five years.
Wheatley introduced the Middle Sister and Purple Cowboy wine labels to the public. At the same time, she created a loyalty-building tool called the Wine Sisterhood, a social media platform designed to create a community for women enthusiastic about wine.
Wheatley was named Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2018 Innovator of the Year.
In 2019, she became chairwoman to CannaCraft’s board of directors as a result of her affiliation with the cannabis company founders.
Wheatley has also mixed the professional with the personal. A breast cancer survivor herself, she co-founded Tough Enough to Wear Pink, a campaign intended to help families deal the issues surrounding this form of cancer that afflicts one in eight women in the United States.
And as a way of giving back more, Wheatley was also instrumental at forming her company’s Angels Share program, which fights food insecurity in partnership with the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
For all her involvements, Wheatley comes across as a woman grounded in her intents, goals, philosophy and the ability to reinvent herself.
At age 68, she’s come a long way, having grown up outside of Red Bluff in the Central Valley, where ranching is king. Her love of agriculture and a retired professional rodeo cowboy husband, eventually resulted in a move to Hughson, a community located southeast of Modesto where she has lived for the last four decades.
Proving her appreciation of many interests, Wheatley has set up a roping arena in her back yard — something her grandson now uses.
As part of its ongoing Inside the C-suite series, North Bay Business Journal asked Wheatley to provide a glimpse into this multi-faceted professional’s life.
Is there a time when your experience in both industries, wine, and cannabis, has helped with a project and/or effort?
The time is now. Vintage Wine Estates is exploring innovation beverage projects that put the worlds of wine and cannabis together. Where I think I can really make a difference in my role in the cannabis industry is in the areas of marketing, sales and distribution. I would love to see cannabis be marketed, merchandised and sold using a wine model, and I believe there will be opportunity for both industries to collaborate in the future.
Are there any crossover opportunities?
There are endless crossover opportunities with a little creativity. Wine-flavored edibles would be fun. Wine and cannabis pairings — winemaker-dinner style — are already a bit of a thing. Infused beverages with de-alcoholized wines are growing. We’re just on the horizon of possibilities.
What kind of advice would you give young people wanting to follow in your footsteps at either a startup or to advance to the upper echelons of management in one of those industries?
My footsteps might not be anybody else’s footsteps, but here are the fundamentals in my humble opinion:
Be educated. Sometimes that means “formal education”, but sometimes it doesn’t.
I’ve been in the wine business for 40 years and been involved in the cannabis business for three. I did a real-life crash course in cannabis, courtesy of the founders Ned Fussell and Dennis Hunter, and now I’m chairperson of the board of Cannacraft, California’s second largest cannabis business.
Pat Roney, founder and CEO of Vintage Wine Estates, took my knowledge to another level about finance, mergers and acquisitions, and I became the first female president of a wine company to take the company public in June of this year. One of my personal values is mentorship, especially to young women coming up in the wine and cannabis businesses.