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Wine Industry Network Founder George Christie Presented with Innovator’s Award

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Wine Industry Network (WIN) founder and CEO George Christie recently received the Innovator Award at the 10th Anniversary Sonoma County Barrel Auction

By Kathleen Willcox 

 

Innovation is a cousin of invention. 

It doesn’t entail creating a completely new product out of whole cloth. Instead, it requires taking a current thing, method or idea, and improving it. Without inventors, we wouldn’t have cars. Without innovators, we wouldn’t have race cars, SUVs, electric vehicles or hybrids. 

George Christie
George Christie, President / Wine Industry Network

Wine Industry Network (WIN) founder and CEO George Christie recently received the Innovator Award at the 10th Anniversary Sonoma County Barrel Auction, which took place May 3, 2024. Dr. Ray Johnson, executive director of the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University, introduced Christie and the award. 

“George Christie is truly an innovator with impact,” noted Johnson in his introductory remarks. “His entrepreneurial spirit led him to create the Wine Industry Network. What began 15 years ago as an online directory has really grown into a media empire.” 

A Media Empire From the Ground Up

That directory-turned-media empire now delivers twice-daily perspectives on the trends, events and news transforming the wine business, Monday through Friday, directly to the inboxes of 38,000 subscribers. 

“George has always been ahead of his time, and has always had an entrepreneurial approach to creating and raising standards in the wine industry,” says Neil Foster, president and co-founder of M.A. Silva, manufacturer of premium corks, glass and packaging. “When he came to me with the concept for the Wine Industry Network, I knew it would be successful. Offering a digital directory of services that could support every aspect of the wine industry was unprecedented.”

Soon, as Foster points out, Christie and his wife, Tami (with whom he co-launched WIN in 2009), leveraged the foundation they built and turned it into something much, much bigger.

George Christie address the crowd at the 2024 Wine Sales Symposium

Today, WIN works with more than 600 wine product and service providers, produces the online news service Wine Industry Advisor, provides a comprehensive industry database via WIN Data, offers an employment resource in WIN Jobs, and produces popular industry networking and education events including the North Coast Wine Industry Expo and the Wine Sales Symposium

Creating a Better, Stronger Industry 

It took, perhaps, an outsider like Christie to come in and hold a mirror up to what is happening in the industry. The New Jersey native settled in Sonoma County after college in 1991, and like many before him, fell hard for wine. Before launching WIN, Christie worked in a number of capacities, from winery management to vineyard operations and grower relations, to distribution and marketing. 

Christie always wanted to make wine even better, and agreed to hold board positions with the Russian River Wine Road, Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Vintners, the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University and WineAmerica.

Michael Saini, the Christies’ partner in Saini Vineyards in Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys has known George for more than three decades, and says that his unique perspective on the wine industry has helped unify and strengthen it through challenging times.

“Having worked in so many fields of the wine industry, George is always asking questions and gaining knowledge, which lets him see things from different sides,” says Saini. “He has excellent foresight and sees things before they happen.”

George Christie (left) and Kim Badenfort (right) celebrate with 2017 WINnovation Award winners.

Kim Badenfort, who now leads business development at WIN, began working with Christie after the inaugural WIN Expo in 2012 and has been an eye witness to the fast-paced growth his leadership has engendered. 

“At the time, I didn’t realize how big a feat it was to launch an event on that scale from nothing,” Badenfort relates. “And the following year it grew by 50%.” 

Badenfort and Christie also worked side-by-side to launch the new site and the Afternoon Brief, which has become an industry must-read. Over the years, Badenfort says he’s noticed certain character traits that he believes help Christie and WIN succeed. 

“There are three traits that I think make George a successful innovator,” he says. “He has a constant drive to do better, he’s open to new ideas, no matter who or where they come from, and he has the courage to fail. As a member of his team, it’s inspiring and motivating to be a part of developing new ideas and projects. Not everything succeeds, but we always learn something that we can bring to the next project.”

Innovation is a mindset

Innovators don’t leave a perfectly good thing, method or idea as it is. They improve it, make it better, easier, clearer. 

Wine is one of the most cherished and historic beverages on earth. Innovation has kept it that way. Thanks to the creativity and vision of people like Christie, wine will continue to be the powerful cultural, aesthetic and economic force it has been for thousands of years. 

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Kathleen Willcox

Kathleen Willcox writes about wine, food and culture from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She is keenly interested in sustainability issues, and the business of making ethical drinks and food. Her work appears regularly in Wine Searcher, Wine Enthusiast, Liquor.com and many other publications. Kathleen also co-authored a book called Hudson Valley Wine: A History of Taste & Terroir, which was published in 2017. Follow her wine explorations on Instagram at @kathleenwillcox

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