CEO of Sonoma winery Donum Estate seeks heart connection in marketing analytics
Angelica de Vere Mabray grew up in the heart of California Wine Country, but the heart of this Napa Valley native was more on a career in the language of its wine rival across the pond than in the industry that put California on the global map for the beverage.
“Wine was definitely not what I wanted to do,” said the CEO of boutique Sonoma winery Donum Estate.
In a circuitous route for this would-be French literature specialist and political scientist through rural France and the Paris fashion world, de Vere Mabray ended up back in California. She started working for Constellation Brands, one of the wine industry’s largest companies, on luxury brands connected to Robert Mondavi, one of the icons of the Napa Valley wine.
Now after four top management roles at California wineries and a wine club over two decades in the business, she’s applying lessons learned from direct-to-consumer and digital marketing at Donum, a luxury producer along Ramal Road on the Sonoma County side of the Carneros winegrowing region.
Though Donum is celebrating its 20th anniversary and it has 200 acres of vineyards, it has only had its own production for going on two harvests. Construction on the production facility started in 2016 but was delayed by the 2017 wildfires and challenges connecting utilities in the aftermath. The Donum House hospitality center opened in 2017. Wine had been made previously at Crushpad custom winery in Santa Rosa.
In the past two years, de Vere Mabray, 50, has been at the helm of the wine company, which is set to release 7,000 cases of its 2019 vintage this year.
“There were many opportunities to modernize the way the business was operating,” she said.
That included automation and bringing in new digital systems, including customer resource management software, an e-commerce driven website and online management of public visits at the reservation-only facility. These systems allowed for organizing information learned from visitor conversations and purchase patterns to better planning for tiers of experiences for their visits before they arrive.
These immediate changes she made now seem prescient.
“E-commerce was critical to our success in the pandemic,” de Vere Mabray said. “We were well-positioned in the digital channel with virtual tastings and online sales.”
Tracking the preferences of and details about Donum consumers also has helped with staff training.
“Our staff are incredibly good note-takers in conversations with visitors,” she said. “That allows us to know what they tasted and what they are interested in and when there is a special occasion. Then we do a personal follow-up post-visit, so when they come back they can have a richer experience.”
That may include offering them olive oil made from estate trees or tea, soaps and salts made from the several hundred lavender plants on the property. Such items can be sent in gift packs to them at home. Or if a visitor expressed a like of one of the 50 monumental sculptures on the property, a photo card could be sent to the visitor’s home.
“Wine is so much about community and bringing people together with shared patterns,” de Vere Mabray said. “We have partnerships with related businesses to commit to mining our own transactions and using analytics to understand customers, how they interact with us.”
It’s not just that she’s absorbed input from her husband, Paul Mabray, a Napa go-to consultant and entrepreneur in winery marketing and sales data analytics. These are lessons that came from her first roles in California’s wine business.
In early 2000, she started as a visitor programs manager at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, and she continued in that role for six years, through the company’s December 2004 acquisition by New York-based Constellation Brands for an at-the-time eye-popping sum of $1.3 billion.
“At Robert Mondavi, we had 500,000 people who would come through the property, and I told my team that the No. 1 important thing is to get contact information,” she said. “I told them that the power of DTC is not the single sale at the winery but the extension of that when they get home. When people tasted a wine and bought six bottles then their local restaurant has that wine, they remember the experience. It’s about creating points of connection that are large and small.”
de Vere Mabray pursued her bachelor’s degree in French literature and political science at Mills College then finished it at the American University of Paris in the early 1990s. That led to a French government job as a rural English teacher then jobs with fashion, hospitality and wine companies in Paris. In 1999 she returned to Napa Valley to be with an aging grandfather.
She took a role at Robert Mondavi, which was looking for young professionals with experience in other luxury goods. One of the first things that happened after she came on board was the winery’s controversial shift from free wine tasting, 90-minute tours and chef-made food pairings to paying $10 a person. Winery clubs were also coming into their own at the time.
At Constellation Brands, she moved into four years of management roles in retail operations and then overseeing direct-to-consumer marketing of luxury brands. From there, she spent a year in consumer-direct marketing at Napa Valley Destination Council, a year and a half working managing 1-800-FLOWERS's wine programs then nine years in top executive roles at Sullivan Vineyards, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Cornerstone Cellars and finally Donum Estate.
“My superpower now is knowing where the opportunities are to modernize and get up to speed,” she said.
Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at email@example.com or 707-521-4256.