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Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2023: Terry Wheatley — Cowgirl Grit & Wine Sisterhood


By Laura Ness


Terry Wheatley, Vintage Wine Estates
Terry Wheatley, Vintage Wine Estates

You have to admire the gumption of a newly married, fresh out of college woman, who tells her rodeo cowboy husband as he’s leaving on yet another 4-day road trip, “Honey, I’m going to be employed by the time you get back on Monday!” 

The year was 1973, and the woman was Terry Wheatley. As the daughter of ranchers who moved to Red Bluff from Southern California when she was in second grade because her mother had TB, she was accustomed to making the best of any situation. But frankly, as a young bride living in Stanislaus County (just outside Modesto), she was bored.

“How did you look for a job back then? You called an employment agency,” recalls Wheatley. 

There were only two employers in the area, Gallo and Tri-Valley Growers, and she scored a job interview that afternoon with the former. “My backup plan, being a journalism major, was to be a court reporter, because I could type very fast and do shorthand.” Those skills helped her pass the requisite tests that afternoon, after which she found herself interviewing with the senior vice president of sales for Gallo. “I had great references and test scores, but they wanted to put me off until Monday. So I said, ‘If you don’t hire me now, I might not be available then!’” 

And so she began working for Ken Bertsch, who would be her boss at Gallo for 17.5 years. Initially, she worked in PR and pricing, then moved to marketing and finally, to the promotions development.  She never thought she would leave Gallo, but in 1990, was recruited by Sutter Home, and off she went to create marketing campaigns, including the wine cube for Target. There she would stay for 14.5 years.

Think Pink

In 2000, Wheatley was diagnosed with breast cancer, a victim of heredity. “My grandmother had died of breast cancer,” says Wheatley. “I had a double mastectomy, which was not common in those days.”

At the time, she recalls, “Vera Trinchero also had breast cancer, so it was top of mind at Sutter Home. We created the Sutter Home for Hope and started using pink corks.”

In October 2004, she created the Tough Enough to Wear Pink challenge, which was the first crossover venture that combined her family’s cowboy lifestyle with her corporate life. “On the rodeo circuit, they drink Jack Daniels and Coors,” says Wheatley. “I was determined to sell Sutter Home White Zin, and decided to sponsor a night at the rodeo. 

“I asked my son, Wade, what he thought about challenging the cowboys to wear a pink shirt. He said, ‘Mom, I don’t even own a pink shirt!’” She immediately called the special events person at Wrangler, Karl Stressman, and asked if they had any pink shirts; turns out, one was in the pipeline for Spring. Wheatley had them FedEx 100 shirts to the rodeo and the challenge was on. To date, Tough Enough to Wear Pink, sponsored by Wrangler, has raised $38 million for breast cancer research. 

Getting Things Done

Driven by the desire to bring more of her “whackadoodle ideas” to fruition, in 2005, she left Trinchero to do brand consulting. In 2008, in the middle of a recession, Wheatley founded Canopy Management, a brand creation entity. “All of us who’ve been in the wine industry for 40 years have gone through a recession,” she says of the launch timing. “People drink when they’re happy and when they’re sad.“ 

Tim McDonald, of Wine and Spirits Spoken Here, has worked for Wheatley both at Sutter Home and Canopy, and he now handles PR for Vintage Wine Estates.  “She’s a powerhouse brand creator,” he says of Wheatley. “Middle Sister was a brilliantly successful example of moving from ‘critter’ brands to ‘attitude’ brands. When she wanted to get Purple Cowboy [which donates 100% of proceeds to Tough Enough to Wear Pink], on the wine list at Delmonico’s in Las Vegas for a National Rodeo event, it was easy, because everyone knows and respects her. She’s a great mentor and always does the right thing.” 

From the get-go, Wheatley and her partners had agreed to either sell Canopy within 5 years or she would buy them out. In 2014, Pat Roney of Vintage Wine Estates saw the value and the talent — and was especially impressed with Wheatley’s 400k-strong Wine Sisterhood community on Facebook. Wheatley the innovator became VP of marketing, and then sales, and in 2018 was named president of VWE. In June 2021, she helped Roney take the company public. 

Says Mary Ann Vangrin, VP of communications at VWE, “Terry has a brilliant leadership style. She’s direct in the best kind of way. Her secret power is putting together creative, cohesive teams with winning chemistry. She fosters a high-performance, collaborative culture based on trust and respect.”

Success and Acquisitions

Under Wheatley’s tenure, VWE has made 23 acquisitions, among them Cameron Hughes, Kunde Family Winery and ACE Cider. She also created the Angels Share program, which fights food insecurity in partnership with the Redwood Empire Food Bank (in Sonoma County, Calif.) and other food charities. 

In 2016, Wheatley was among the “Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink” by both Fortune and Food & Wine magazines, and in 2018 was named “Innovator of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast

Always looking for the next opportunity, in 2019, she became chairwoman to CannaCraft’s board of directors as a result of her affiliation with the cannabis company founders. Founded in 2014, CannaCraft is among the companies leading the legal cannabis revolution, representing multiple brands for both recreational and medicinal uses.

“The honor I am most proud of is to be among WORTH magazine’s ‘50 Women Changing the World,’” says Wheatley.  “Life really does begin at 50. You have the experience and wherewithal, and you just naturally do your best work.”  She plans to heed the advice of her first boss at Gallo, who told her, “Never retire!” Forced to retire when he turned 65 — that’s the way it was back then — he died shortly thereafter. Gallo was his life. 

This Is Real Life

For Wheatley, the love of work is strong, but so is the love of her husband and the cowboy life. “I am a kite,” she says. “I love to bob and weave, and he holds the string so I don’t fly away. He’s a cowboy and a rancher; he’s salt of the earth. We have that type of home life that has kept me growing and thriving. You get on a plane and you go off to work, and then you come home, and you say to yourself, ‘This is real.’” 

The couple still lives in the same home they moved into when first married, and will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2023. Sounds like fodder for a country music song.


Laura Ness

Laura Ness is an avid wine journalist, storyteller and wine columnist (Edible:Monterey, Los Gatos Magazine San Jose Mercury News, The Livermore Independent), and a long time contributor to Wine Industry Network. Known as “HerVineNess,” she judges wine competitions throughout California and has a corkscrew in every purse. However, she wishes that all wineries would adopt screwcaps!


Wine's Most Inspiring PeopleAbout Wine’s Most Inspiring People: Each year, Wine Industry Advisor chooses 10 individuals from within the wine industry who showcase leadership, innovation and inspiration. For the first time in 2021, WIA opened submissions to the industry at large, and the success of this new nomination process was quickly recognized, as honorees came from more diverse wine regions and had more distinct stories to tell. With more than 100 nominees in 2022, the editorial team selected the top 10 individuals who, they felt, had truly positively impacted the U.S. wine culture over the past year. 



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