Terry Wheatley, president of Vintage Wine Estates, delivers message of risk and success at Wine & Weed 2021
“At the end of the day … Weed is not a threat.”
As the first woman to take a multimillion dollar company public, Terry Wheatley, president of Vintage Wine Estates, knows a bit about business threats and opportunities. Her love for innovation and calculated risk are exactly why she is where she is today.
“Taking a company public is not an exercise for the faint of heart,” Wheatley says. But, this is a woman that thrives on risk, knows how to sell and still makes calls to major grocery chains like Target, Kroger, HEB and Safeway because “she loves selling truckloads of product.”
In that spirit of innovation, risk, and producing products interesting enough to sell truckloads, Wheatley proposed the idea of engaging in the cannabis industry to the company’s CEO Pat Roney. Although he indicated he had absolutely no interest—and, in fact, lawyers had advised Roney against investing in cannabis due to potential risk to his federal wine bond—Wheatley eventually convinced the benefits of crossing the wine-weed barrier far exceeded the challenges.
And so the relationship between Vintage Wine Estates and the self-proclaimed “pioneers of legal cannabis,” CannaCraft began. The partnership has been instrumental in helping CannaCraft in becoming the second largest cannabis company in the state of California.
“All they needed was guidance, elevated packaging and to move the brand forward,” she says, noting that both wine and weed continue to share similar hurdles: consolidation, brand marketing, the fight for consumer attention.
But, “With the cannabis business expected to be at $421 million by the end of 2021, at $1 billion by 2025 and $100 billion by 2030, who in their right mind would not be interested in that?”
Wheatley is definitely interested. Today, she sits on the board of CannaCraft as chairwoman.
Wheatley points out that California is specifically well positioned to excel in the cannabis business. The state’s backbone is in agriculture—the root of both wine and weed is farming.
Early forays in Canada, where many with the overhead capital plunged headfirst into the newly legal cannabis world, failed. “It’s all about the quality in raising the crop,” says Wheatley. “VC money didn’t understand that. You need a amazing farmers like you need an amazing winemakers in the wine industry.” Above all, quality weed takes expert farming.
But can wine and weed successfully intertwine? Wheatley believes so speaking to Vintage Wine Estate’s current project creating THC-infused beverages (contingent on federal legalization) as well as creating products with CBD.
The old “alcohol kills, weed heals” is simply rhetoric, Wheatley points out. “Legal cannabis is for everyone,” says Wheatley. “With moderation both are good for you, enhance food, allow social ease and ….and taste and quality are key.”
Barbara Barrielle was a longtime publicist in sports and wine before going to the other side as a wine, travel and entertainment writer. She also produces films and has a documentary “Crushed: Climate Change and the Wine Country Fires” releasing in 2021. Current publications Barbara writes for are AARP Magazine, Northwest Travel & Life, East Hampton Star, Napa Valley Register, Oregon Wine Press as well as Wine Industry Advisor. She lives in Healdsburg, travels extensively and studies wine and languages.