by Laurie Wachter
The wine industry draws people passionate about their work, whether they are growing grapes, making wine or supporting those who do. These five wine industry women share that passion, providing high-quality products, equipment and services to enable wineries to do what they do best — create great wines.
Cheryl Durzy, CEO, Liberation Distribution
Founding Liberation Distribution (LibDib) was a natural progression for CEO Cheryl Durzy, who spent 20 years working at her family’s Clos LaChance Winery. She was part of building the winery from the beginning when her parents made initial deal to build the winery and plant 100 acres of grapes. She watched the vineyards mature, tasted the blends produced and helped overcome roadblocks like losing their first vintage to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and finding a route to market in the face of industry consolidation.
The fusion of those experiences, Durzy’s entrepreneurial spirit and her love for the wine industry led her to found LibDib to help wineries with their distribution.
“I recognized that smaller wineries and distilleries or bigger producers with innovations needed another path,” Durzy says. “LibDib is unique because wineries of any size can sell to restaurants, bars and retailers on our web-based marketplace and app. Even the smallest producer can digitally trade with buyers all over the country, and trade buyers can use our marketplace to discover and purchase unique brands and small production wines.”
Today, LibDib provides three-tier compliant wholesale services in 6 states, with plans to expand to most US markets, where a thousand suppliers offer over 10,000 SKUs to thousands of buyers.
“It’s been a rough year for a lot of producers,” Durzy adds. “I hope to help some of them find an efficient path to market.”
Leeann Froese, Owner, Town Hall Brands
Vancouver-based Leeann Froese loves connecting with people — and making connections between the people she meets. She is a wine industry cheerleader, social media influencer, speaker, mentor and the person everyone calls to find out what’s happening in British Columbia’s wine industry.
Froese co-owns Town Hall Brands, running the agency and using her 24 years of experience to consult with clients on branding, brand identity and storytelling. Froese builds brand strategies that bring success, and she counts each of her clients’ victories as her own.
“I love to help everyone from sommeliers to retailers to wineries,” says Froese. “We are super proud to have become a go-to for wineries and wine regions who want their brand to be noticed.”
Froese started at the British Columbia Wine Institute, then joined its executive director Christine Coletta when she left to set up a wine marketing, PR and events consultancy. When Coletta moved on to open the Okanagan Crush Pad, Froese and her husband started Town Hall Brands. Froese says she loves working in the wine industry because of the people who create the wine.
“No matter where in the world I visit to experience wine, one thing rings true: how friendly, passionate and committed wine people are,” Froese says. “This remarkable aspect of this industry makes me want to cheerlead and celebrate it every day.”
Mariella Ganau, President, Ganau America
Mariella Ganau is serious about the corks her family’s company makes for the wine industry. She moved to Sonoma in 2003 to build and lead the American arm of the company, carrying on the family’s 80-year heritage of cork making. Since childhood, Ganau has aimed to advance and develop the family business her grandfather founded. Today, she oversees the entire Ganau America operation, from quality control to production to sales.
“I believe that providing superior closures to our clients is crucial for the development of the wines they produce,” Ganau says. “My goal is to support the integration of modern technology into the cork industry. We aim to produce optimally performing wine closures while maintaining cork’s status as a renewable resource.”
Ganau believes in the sustainability of the traditional cork material for winemaking closures, maintaining a cork oak forest of trees that live an average of 200 years. Forests like this one have the world’s highest forest biodiversity levels, defend against desertification of the Mediterranean region and provide income for thousands of families who have farmed these forests for generations.
“It is our responsibility to operate sustainably and responsibly to support the wine industry and the community we live in,” Ganau says. “It is very special to work with people who share the same love for wine and the environment as me.”
Debbie Novograd, President, Advanced Beverage Technologies
As President of Advanced Beverage Technologies (ABT), Debbie Novograd leads a group of companies that includes ConeTech, BevZero and ABT&E, which provide services, products and equipment supporting the production of high-quality, innovative beverages.
“My passion has always been food and beverage (F&B), including having worked in several global F&B organizations before ABT —Marriott, ARAMARK and Starbucks,” says Novograd. “Beyond that, my passion targets organizations focused on understanding global market trends, the impact such trends have on consumer behavior and translating that behavior to the development of innovative programs and products.”
Novograd joined ABT’s ConeTech at a pivotal point in its life cycle. They recognized that new generations and consumer mindsets were changing the global consumer relationship with alcohol. ConeTech supported the wine industry with alcohol, VA and smoke taint removal and wanted to expand into new products and services and engage with new industries.
Six years later, ABT offers its services and equipment to wine, beer, cider, spirits and cannabis producers, supporting the innovative products and healthier alternatives consumers seek. BevZero and ABT&E are following in their footsteps.
“The wine industry’s history dates back hundreds of years,” says Novograd. “Yet opportunities for new concepts and products emerge every decade. The options are endless — old vines used in new products, non-alcoholic to traditional, and new varietals introduced to timeless processes.”
Vanessa Topper, Owner, TopNest Designs
Vanessa Topper’s company, TopNest Designs, curates a line of wine-centric gifts and accessories from a diverse group of artisans and importers. She works directly with wineries to identify and develop custom products for their wine club, VIPs, tasting room or special events that fit their brand and budget.
“People who start in the wine industry mostly stay in the wine industry,” Topper says, “so I’m still working with many of my original customers 20+ years later. We share a passion for the product each of us sells and a mutual appreciation for the story behind every product.”
Topper founded TopNest Designs in 2003 after working with her father in the ad specialty business, focusing on gourmet products for a Sonoma-based company. When she moved to Sonoma, her father suggested she reach out to suppliers to offer direct representation. Topper started by going winery-to-winery with samples of a hand-painted ceramics line. Today she represents a wide variety of local artisans, importers and manufacturing partners, working with them to develop products specific to the wine industry. She then builds on her relationships with wineries to find the perfect products to share with their wine clubs and tasting room visitors.
“I prefer this business model,” says Topper, “and appreciate the opportunity to visit my clients’ wineries face-to-face, to see their physical space and to taste their wine.”