New leadership, a drive for transparency and fresh initiatives spur the next stage for the Dundee-based winery.
Wine by Joe and its recently appointed CEO, Gretchen Boock, are feeling inspired and charged by a new chapter in the company’s evolution. Though growth has been consistent in its 15 years of operations, the winery sees an opportunity to take its brand to an even deeper level of transparency.
“In today’s world, speaking your truth is what genuinely matters. We were looking at the fancy wineries up on the hill and we said, ‘We aren’t them, so why are we trying to be?’,” says Boock, who was named CEO last September.
“We’re a working winery on the other side of the tracks. We roll up our sleeves and bust our butts. Let’s be proud of who we are and tell the truth of our DNA. Let’s own it.”
This realization—partly inspired by the release of the company’s newest product, Joe To Go (wine in a can)—has sparked Wine by Joe 2.0: a newly launched campaign to develop a more honest relationship with its staff, peers and customers.
Wine by Joe 2.0 will make its public appearance this spring, when Joe To Go cans are released and distributed across 14 states. The can’s lightweight packaging lessens the carbon footprint of the product, which supports the company’s new commitment to sustainability. Most importantly, its design is reflective of the company’s original mission: to provide great wine to everyday people for all occasions.
Wine by Joe’s new Joe to Go wine cans reflect the company’s original mission to provide great wine to everyday people for all occasions.
In 2003, owner and founder Joe Dobbes spent his life savings of $50,000 to create a company that makes high-quality wine at an affordable price. He and Boock first connected in 1999 while working at Willamette Valley Vineyards. When Dobbes took his leap of faith by starting Wine by Joe, he chose Boock as his first employee, the winery’s Cellar Master.
The company grew at a rapid pace, at one point tripling sales over a three-year period. Along this trajectory, the focus was more on the product and less on the brand; as a result, the company drifted from its core identity. When Dobbes took a backseat role with the company, Boock was the obvious choice for his successor, who’s worked all but two vintages with him since they first met. As Boock takes over the reins, she’s determined to restore the company’s connection to its humble roots.
“The first 15 years we were in that ‘founders stage’,” says Boock. “We were so busy trying to get the winery established—ensuring cash flow, managing inventory and such. Finally, we’re now at a point where we can stop, breathe, dig in and ask: what really matters to us?”
Doing so began with her team—having transparent conversations and giving employees a platform to speak honestly. Management sent company-wide surveys that focused on the basics: what makes them happy? What would make them proud to come to work? How can we stand for what we believe in?
Transparent conversations with management have given Wine by Joe employees a platform to speak honestly, creating an atmosphere of trust and the opportunity to invest deeply within its team.
Results showed employees were yearning for ways to make a deeper impact, specifically within sustainability. “Our team was craving to stand for meaningful things, both personally and professionally,” says Kristin Rice, Wine by Joe’s Brand Marketing Manager and a driving force behind the 2.0 movement. “Although we’d been giving to charities for years, everyone felt we could take it to the next level.” The work ahead was obvious: management had to build trust from the ground floor up and invest deeply within its team. Or, as Rice puts it: “We had to get real”.
To start the new year, Boock brought in a consultant to identify gaps within the company: in the skill sets and leadership traits of managers and of Boock herself. This information, along with candid employee feedback, provided a more objective picture of where the company currently stood. “I saw opportunity. I saw a chance to make things better for our employees, and now, more than ever, we’re listening to them and creating a healthy, transparent culture,” says Boock. With this understanding, they assembled two teams dedicated to improvement: a management team, led by Boock, who meets every other week to tackle ongoing business challenges and address issues with complete transparency to financials; as well as a wellness team, led by Rice, who meets monthly to implement sustainability measures, explore ways to improve employee health and cultivate opportunities for engaging activities and ways to give back.
“Any great company has to evolve and reinvent themselves to stay relevant,” says Boock. “We still make great wine—Wine by Joe is just a newer, better version of what we were before.”
Though some changes have been immediate, both Boock and Rice acknowledge there is still much work to do. While this process of self-reflection and brutal honesty may not be pleasant to undergo, they both admit it’s a real and necessary step for growth. “We don’t have all the answers yet, and that’s fine,” says Boock. “We’re just everyday people trying to run an awesome business and make a difference in the world.” The future is exciting yet still unfolding, and it’s well within Boock’s character to admit to her uncertainty; after all, vulnerability is the first step towards transparency.
Wine by Joe has several events coming up, notably the release of their “Joe To Go” wine cans in March. To stay updated, visit their website (winebyjoe.com) or follow them on Instagram (@winebyjoe).