Ste Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE), the Pacific Northwest’s largest winery, announced today that CEO David Dearie has resigned. Going forward, the company will realign into three commercial divisions – one each for Washington, Oregon, and California.
“We’re confident that this structure provides the leadership for the united company and, at the same time, enables us to move with agility and speed to unlock the growth of each of the three distinct business units,” says Ryan Pennington, vice president of communications at SMWE.
Toby Whitmoyer will now serve as president, Washington. Whitmoyer joined Ste Michelle as chief growth officer in February. Going forward, he will oversee the entire Washington business, as well as sales across the rest of company’s portfolio
Amy Prosenjak will serve as president, Oregon. Prosenjak joined the Ste Michelle team last month after the winery acquired Oregon’s A to Z Wine Works and Rex Hill. Prosenjak previously spent 15 years at A to Z, most recently as President and CEO.
David Bowman will serve as president, California. He joined the Ste Michelle team late last year in that role.
Finally, Mike Lee will serve as chief financial officer and president of operations and supply chain. Lee was previously CFO, having joined the company in January. Lee brings 30+ years of experience at Constellation, Gallo, and other beverage companies.
“We’ve got three distinct business units with three distinct sets of challenges and opportunities,” says Pennington. “We’ve got three strong leaders to lead each, with a fourth to offer shared services to support all of them.”
Dearie had served as president and chief executive officer since October 2020. He is leaving the company to move closer to family and pursue other interests.
Pennington says there are no immediate plans to replace Dearie in the CEO role. Rather, the four presidents will now serve as the executive leadership team, reporting to the board of directors.
This board is composed of three people. Two of them are from Sycamore Partners, the New York-based private equity firm that purchased SMWE in 2021. The third is Brian Vos, former CEO of The Wine Group.
Dearie had replaced Jim Mortensen, who served as CEO from fall of 2018 until November of 2020. Prior to Mortensen, Ted Baseler had served as CEO at the company for 17 years.
Overall, it has been a tumultuous series of years for SMWE. The company saw its annual wine volume decrease by 1.2M cases between 2016 and 2020. This led former owner Altria to declare a $292 million inventory write-off and $100 million in losses in 2020. The company was subsequently purchased by Sycamore in 2021 for $1.3B.
Additionally, earlier this year, Ste Michelle listed its flagship Woodinville property for sale. This came after the decision to move white wine production, which had been taking place at this site, to eastern Washington starting this harvest to help conserve fuel costs and decrease environmental impact.
The company says the goal is to use whatever money might be gained from selling all or part of the property to reinvest in growing the brand. Even if that happens, Pennington says that the company remains strongly committed to Woodinville.
“We’d like to figure out a way to unlock some capital currently in the property to fuel growth,” Pennington says. “But we’re committed to maintaining a strong presence in the area regardless.
Any changes to the Woodinville property would not be in the immediate term. Ste Michelle has committed to its 2023 concert series at the winery. Additionally, Ste Michelle will host the Auction of Washington Wines again next August.
Overall though, recent years have brought numerous transitions at the winery. Now comes a series of changes at the top. Still, Pennington says the company remains firmly committed to plans to grow its brands in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
“Change is hard, right? There’s no doubt about that,” he says. “We really do think that, on every front, we’ve got the plans in place and the people in place to be successful. We need to execute on those plans to deliver the growth that we expect. This change is really just one more step in that direction.”
Image of Chateau Ste Michelle by Richard Duval.
Four leaders? What could go wrong?
Is Stuart Mcnabb still involved? I though he was COO