Meet the curious, audacious Jean-Charles Boisset, CEO of Napa Valley luxury wine and spirits group
Jean-Charles Boisset believes taking risks contributes to his success in the wine industry as well as in other sectors of the hospitality industry. Taking risks, he says, is part of his DNA and he wants it to be part of his legacy.
Risk comes with creating a diverse portfolio of luxurious brands that includes jewelry on wine bottles, opulent chandeliers in tasting rooms, and a boutique hotel where room nights start at $850.
The 52-year-old French native has created a multi-million-dollar company — he declined to disclose the exact value of his holdings — in a manner that will continue long after he is gone.
While Boisset is the CEO of the family-owned Boisset Collection that is headquartered in St. Helena in the Napa Valley, it is a title he eschews. His approach is to give his more than 1,500 employees the tools to do their jobs without a heavy hand from him.
Yes, he has a vision he wants them to buy into, but he calls his management style collaborative, inspiring, energetic and passionate.
Below Boisset delves further into his world in a conversation with the North Bay Business Journal that has been edited for space and clarity.
What is your approach to making business decisions?
Intuition, collaborative work, input from others. And loving a sense of risk. Any decisions— easy or difficult — are easy as long as you're willing to take risk.
What keeps you up at night?
What keeps me up at night is the fact that we all need as farmers, as viticulturists, as growers is to be real stewards of the land and being the extension of Mother Nature rather than working against her. That's really my No. 1 worry.
What qualities do you admire in other executives?
I don't believe you lead from a tower, but by literally being in the trenches. (If) I would be a general, I would be the first on the battlefield. And being extremely present in every facet of what I do. What I love in leadership is people who think they act big and take risks and allow themselves to really live on the tangent of the circle as I was saying earlier and to allow risk to bring greatness.
What risks have you taken?
It's not easy to create luxury. And at every step, you take risks because you deal with very expensive raw materials or products, and you really push it.
We've been an extreme innovator in the wine world from packaging. You know, having jewelry on wine bottles, using clear glass for the most expensive wine … to using open top with fermenters, all techniques from the 16th century, using natural fermentation. We take risk and innovation in packaging … screw caps for very expensive wines to glass closures are very expensive.
We are creating a very unique destination in our wineries with experiences that are second to none, but very different than others. And for us to digress into jewelry making and fragrance. And during fragrance tastings in our wineries as well as candles could be a risk to the flavors of the wine.
We just bought the depot in Calistoga, and are taking huge risks where we are re-establishing the distillery and the work of Sam Brannan from 1868.
The last one is for a European coming to the United States, and doing business here is extremely risky because it's a big platform. America is the big table.
What was the hardest lesson you learned early in your career?
I made one decision one time when I was younger to not do what I was meant to do, and I will regret it forever. So, if I say to someone, you have a talent for something, go for it. Take the risk, you can always do something else which is more traditional.
Share with us what that one thing was that you didn't do.
I could have gone much further in sports and I chose the voice of reason and education rather than following my intuition. I was conditioned by my environment to go the safe road, which I did, and I believe it was a major mistake.
I had dreams of playing professional soccer, a story I allude to on my JCB No. 11, which was my jersey number.
Would you trade what you have today to be a professional soccer player?
If I were going back, I would have made a different decision. Yes.
Where will your business be in the next five years?
I think we will be greater, more passionate, even more complete. Even more thorough in adding phenomenal places to our portfolio and collection of wineries will tell even a greater story tomorrow than today.
Our vortex of energy keeps getting greater and greater and accelerating. It's not that we aren’t great today, but we keep inviting greatness into our circle, and our circle keeps getting better.
What concerns do you have for the business?
I have zero concerns. I'm 100% optimistic.