These Key Hires Will Keep Your Winery Growing

As your business expands, adapting to meet growth-related needs can become vital.

Russ Weis, president of Silverado Vineyards in Napa Valley, said staying on top of things meant being both proactive and reactive when the situation calls for it.

Essentially, things like growth you can plan for, but things like pandemics might require you to call an audible.

“We have made several strategic hires over the past two years in addition to some key promotions,” Weis said. “While part of the reason is to stay ahead of the growth, it is also imperative to keep up with our rapidly evolving industry, shifts in consumer behavior, and a year of unexpected changes.”

Silverado found itself making some staff moves to meet various needs.

“On the sales side, we have seen a significant change in the channel mix. COVID was obviously one cause of this with restaurants shutting down and the off-premise and eCommerce business increasing, but the industry has been experiencing distributor consolidation and increasing competition at retail for years,” Weis said. “As a result we created a new VP of Sales position (which we promoted from within) and added some strategic new regional sales roles.”

To keep up with consumers’ demands for more technology, Silverado designed a new website, built a digital asset management system, launched a trade app and added features such as virtual tastings and videos.

“We knew the only way we could accomplish this was to bring on a strong marketing team with a range of experience and skills. So we created a new VP of Marketing and DTC position and a team consisting of digital, eCommerce, hospitality and wine club expertise,” Weis said.

In addition to technological tools, good old-fashioned networking helped Silverado find the people they needed.

“We are fortunate that our industry is very tight-knit. Word of mouth is a very effective way of finding good people at the executive level,” Weis said. “There are also some fantastic niche recruiters — especially for the C-level positions. For part-time or seasonal help, websites such as winejobs.com and organizations like Women of the Vine and Spirits are great resources.”

William Chris Wines in Hye, Texas, has been on the move since 2020, when it merged with Lost Draw Cellars in nearby Fredericksburg. The company recently created a general manager position and hired from outside the wine industry, prioritizing a professional whose career had revolved around hospitality and customer service. John Cedillo III is the new GM at the company’s tasting room in Hye, but his role extends to being responsible for all direct-to-consumer business and the end-to-end customer experience on the Hye Estate. He oversees the customer-facing aspects of the William Chris Vineyards estate and the entire guest experience for the brand, including the tasting room experiences, wine club program, and culinary program. 

Besides Cedillo, William Chris’s leadership has also made other strategic hires, co-founder Chris Brundrett said.

“We have absolutely made hires, and very key hires, to keep up with the growth,” Brundrett said. “Our biggest challenge has been recognizing when players on our existing team are ready to level up and when we need to bring in someone with more experience.  As far as specific positions are concerned, I think adding a full-time marketing chief has really changed our business.  

“Our growth begins and ends with the ability for new customers to experience what we are doing and having someone develop their own team to manage social media, consumer engagement, product positioning, and overall brand awareness has definitely helped us take the next step.”    

Brundrett said it was important to recognize that hiring without a plan can do more harm than good. He explained that growth in your team generally comes out of necessity to “divide and conquer,” so it’s important to create a clear role with expectations before pulling the trigger on a new member to the team. And it’s important for the existing team to understand what the roles of the new team members are when they get there.  

“One key to growing our team was defining our culture,” Brundrett said. “Onboarding our values and our vision has been crucial to our success. Our values act as our north star on our path to achieve our vision. Culture attracts talent.”

Before going out to search for talent, make sure to look within the organization, Brundrett said, but also be open to broadening your search.

“I definitely think that if the opportunity to hire or elevate an individual from within your company, it should be explored before hiring from outside,” he explained. “The advantages of the relationships and brand loyalty is something that’s difficult to recreate.  

“It is also very important to recognize when bringing someone in from outside the company may be the better option because putting someone in a position they can’t handle may leave you with needing two new hires instead of just one.  

“We have definitely made the mistake of taking someone that is really good at sales or really good at running the bottling line and trying to make them a manager and it doesn’t always work out. Then you no longer have your good sales team member and you still need a manager.”

Once you find the team members you need, Whitebarrel owner Richard Obiso said providing intensive training that’s based on job role is key.

Whitebarrel’s training consists of formal training videos, presentations, on the job training, tabletop exercises, and demonstrations.

“When you are hired with us, you get TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) training, ServeSafe training, OSHA training, customer service training,” Obiso said. “Then, we make sure you are trained on how to deal with difficult people, how to use a fire extinguisher, sexual harassment, how to drive a fork lift and all of the worker protection standards if they end up working in the vineyard.  

“Our training is extensive and iterative and based on job roles.”

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