By Jade Helm
Talking with Gretchen Boock is like listening to a podcast at the 2x speed. “Rapid fire” is a term used repeatedly to describe this young CEO who motivates with compassionate leadership and “hammer in hand” collaborative work ethic. Responsible for a multi-label wine business and all the lives that it touches, Boock undertakes each challenge with gritty determination, a bit of honest humor, and a dial set to 11.
Boock grew up in Mt. Angel, Oregon where her first job was 5 a.m. broccoli harvesting – at 12 years old. She eventually graduated to work construction at her parents’ company, the Grant Company. The company built tasting rooms and wineries, first exposing Boock to the wine industry as a potential career. She found the industry encompassed her interests in farming and land, family and celebration, and her dual degrees in Ag-Business and Spanish from Oregon State University.
Boock started in the wine industry in 1999 with Joe Dobbes who then worked at Willamette Valley Vineyards. Dobbes recalls week one finding Boock, personal tools in hand, repairing pallets and commanding attention from the team in fluent Spanish. “I thought in awe, ‘who is this woman,’” Dobbes recalls. He learned she was the woman who would serve as his right hand for nearly 20 years, work with him every step to build his namesake business, Dobbes Family Winery, and eventually be entrusted with its operation. In 2003, Boock became the first employee of Dobbes Family Winery. She worked her way through Cellar Master to business operations. In 2017, Boock stepped into the role of CEO overseeing the winery’s three multi-tiered brands, Dobbes Family Winery, Wine by Joe, Joe to Go, plus Dundee Vintners, the robust custom crush channel of the business.
Having built the business alongside Dobbes, Boock was perfectly positioned and ready for the financial and leadership challenges. “I birthed this baby,” enthuses Boock with her trademark colorful speech. Her success is evidenced in the numbers. While the wine growth in the US is flat at .9% per Nielsen’s last 52 weeks, Wine by Joe has shown 22.8% growth and Dobbes Family Winery has outpaced with triple digit growth. “Our brands are on fire!” Boock says, again full of energy.
The winery is the largest wine company of the Bacchus Capital Management, LLC portfolio and the investment group could not be more pleased with Boock’s performance. “Her desire for self-improvement is exceptional, her energy is unparalleled, and she does a great job of managing the team so everyone feels ownership,” says Rob Rupe, Partner at Bacchus.
To Boock, the staff feels like family. But there is a barrier to entry – keeping up with Boock. “When I interviewed interns I took them on a cellar tour. If they could keep up, they were good candidates.” Those who can keep up are spurred on. “My dad always told me and my sisters, ‘My girls can do anything.’” Boock lives that mantra and grants the same confidence to her staff.
Michelle Bolliger-Olberding, Sales Operations Manager has worked with Boock 11 years. “She [Boock] has literally worked every position in the industry. From that knowledge she understands what each individual employee is doing and uses every opportunity she can to help that person grow both professionally and personally.”
Sarah Pearson, VP of Marketing and Sales, moved from Napa explicitly to work with Boock. “Gretchen leads with humility, recognizing her own strengths and weaknesses, and solves challenges collaboratively. She is transparent, people focused, and refreshingly fun.” Pearson shares stories from Boock welcoming every brand new intern to her jumping elbow deep into grape bins to create memorable experiences for industry tours.
A mentor to many, Boock fosters talent and promotes from within. Kari Mahe shares her story. “Gretchen hired me as an accounting assistant and has believed in my abilities and has grown me into a Controller and Human Resources Manager. Just like with her growth from the cellar to Chief Executive Officer, this is how she approaches all employees in the company.”
Two years into her new role as CEO, Boock feels she is in a position to give back with even more involvement in the wine industry. Among her many volunteer roles in the community and board positions with Oregon Pinot Camp and the Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association, Boock has recently taken on a tedious balancing act between her roles on the established Oregon Winegrowers Association (OWA) and the newly formed Oregon Wine Council (OWC). The OWC seeks to represent the entire industry in Oregon in initiating changes with the policies of the OWA and OWB to ensure they represent the industry today. Change is seldom popular upon introduction, yet Boock has dug in to understand and facilitate the highest common good within the Oregon Wine Industry. “I got involved, learned a lot, joined efforts to push for change, and am in a position to build collaboration – one of my core values,” shared Boock.
Boock is an Advisory Board Member for Assemblage Symposium, which seeks the advancement and education of women and diverse communities in wine. Founder/Executive Director Rachel Adams feels fortunate to have Boock’s input. “It has been inspiring to see how Gretchen puts the values of our organization into practice on a daily basis. Not only has she led her team to continued business growth and success, but she has done so while also prioritizing company culture and employee health and wellness, going beyond the call of duty to ensure her teams are fulfilled, valued, and advocated for.”
“I hire for a cultural fit,” explains Boock. “Then I am there to help with challenges. I want Dobbes to be a great place for the team so they can give it their all.” Two from Boock’s team will be attending wine industry professional training through Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad (AHIVOY). This organization supports future generations in the Oregon wine industry. AHIVOY Founder Sofia Torres McKay recognizes, “She [Boock] is extremely committed to improving the life of her people, believing in the benefits of a diverse and more inclusive industry.”
‘What’s next’ is an oddly timed question. With a plate this full, most would stop for a second to breathe. Not Boock. When asked what else is in store, she takes a deep breath and launches into her rapid fire description of her five year strategic plan. This plan honors tradition and embraces the changes that come with a new generation of winery leaders; is inclusive and works with a dynamic team; and is driven by an unrelenting commitment to produce a portfolio of standout wines. With Boock at the helm, all signs point to success.