Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sandra Oldfield leaving Tinhorn Creek

Photo: Sandra Oldfield 

Sandra Oldfield, a leading figure in the British Columbia wine industry, has announced she is stepping down as chief executive of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in the wake of Andrew Peller Ltd.’s acquisition of Tinhorn Creek.

“But I am not leaving this industry,” she said in an interview. “I love this industry. I am not going anywhere.”

Here is the text of a news releases from Tinhorn Creek, dated September 17, 2017.

 Dear Tinhorn Creek partners, fans, wine lovers, friends and family,

Tinhorn Creek
 was started in a shed on our Golden Mile Bench property 23 years ago by two families, the Oldfields and Shaunessys, and has grown into the brand and onsite experience that you all support and love today. We pride ourselves on the quality of our wine, our warm and welcoming visitor experience, our dedication to the sustainability of our people, community and land, and the amazing community of people who have all contributed to the Tinhorn Creek journey.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards has been acquired by
 Andrew Peller Limited (APL), a three-generation Canadian winery, effective October 1, 2017. The Oldfields and Shaunessys [the major shareholders] chose to pass on the winery to APL due to the shared passionate vision APL has for our company, our brand, and amazing potential of the Okanagan as a world-class wine producing region. Our new relationship with APL will provide access to resources and tools that will drive Tinhorn Creek to a new level of quality, service and experience.

What does this mean for Tinhorn Creek? We will continue to make the same ultra-premium
 wines, provide the same excellent onsite experience, host great events and concerts, and welcome our valued guests and Crush Club members when they come to visit. Our award-winning onsite restaurant Miradoro will continue operating unchanged, offering the same delectable cuisine and quality service they are known for. Present Tinhorn Creek staff continue to work for the winery, and we will continue to partner closely with our local community, suppliers, guests and customers as we always have. We are the same people today as we were last week, and we will continue to bring to you the best wine and service we can.

One change will be the stepping back of CEO / President and owner Sandra Oldfield. After 23 years driving Tinhorn Creek forward to where we are today, she will be taking the next year to spend time with Kenn and their daughter.  Kenn will be advising Andrew Peller on a smooth transition over the next 12 months and Sandra will be by his side supporting and assisting him whenever he needs it.

“It has been the honour of my life to have helped build Tinhorn Creek, to make great wines with an attention to sustainability and most importantly, to run our business with empathy toward our employees, our customers and our community,” said Sandra. “Andrew Peller will continue the long term development and growth in the Okanagan that we started.”

Same great wines, same great people, same great events and concerts; AND most importantly, you guys; our same great customers and club members who make up the Tinhorn Creek family we love so much; these things won't change.

APL announced on September 11 that it was acquiring three Okanagan wineries: Gray Monk Estate Winery, Black Hills Estate Winery and Tinhorn Creek. The transaction for the three is valued at $95 million. The Tinhorn Creek acquisition is effective October 1. Tinhorn Creek’s sale was unsolicited, Sandra says.

Tinhorn Creek is arguably the leading asset in this trio. The Oliver-based winery owns 130 acres of vineyard and produces about 40,000 cases of wine, much of it premium-priced. The winery has just released a super-premium meritage blend called The Creek, which sells for $50 a bottle.

Sandra was born in 1966 as Sandra Cashman in Oakland, California, into a family whose only wine tradition was an Italian grandfather who made wine in the bathtub at home.

After getting a business administration degree and traveling in Europe, she took a casual job in 1989 in the tasting room at the Rodney Strong winery in Sonoma. In short order, she was moved to the winery's laboratory and to a career decision. "It was immediate," she told me in an interview for one of my books. "I knew this was what I wanted to do."

She was at the Strong winery through three vintages, learning practical aspects of winemaking. In 1993 she enrolled in the master's program in enology at the University of California's Davis campus. Her thesis, which involved research in the vineyards of the Robert Mondavi winery, was on the development of flavor compounds as Cabernet Sauvignon ripens.

At Davis, she met Kenn Oldfield, an Albertan who was studying viticulture there to prepare for his role in Tinhorn Creek in partnership with Calgary oilman Bob Shaunessy. Sandra agreed to become the winemaker, and ultimately also a shareholder, at Tinhorn Creek. She only relinquished that position several years ago to give her full attention to her duties as chief executive.

It is corporate routine for CEOs to step aside when a new owner acquires their company. It is entirely possible that APL could have found a role for her, since they have given her husband, Kenn, a contract to manage Tinhorn Creek’s ownership transition. Sandra is independent-minded and perhaps has too much of an emotional investment in the company to start taking direction from a new owner.

The depth of her emotional investment was displayed in a blog she has just posted. In it, she writes very warmly of the team she had put together at Tinhorn Creek and now leaves behind.

“I kept two scraps of paper near my desk for the last seven years as Tinhorn Creek’s CEO,” she writes. “One was a long acronym written on paper and stuck to the base of my computer monitor—like some kind of daily devotional mantra it reads: CIHTCVEDTJB? (How Can I Help TCV Employees Do Their Job Better?)”
She explains: “It was there to remind me each time I turned on my computer and throughout the day that my role as CEO was to support them. Not for them to support me. Less leading, more assisting. The mantra also emphasizes how each employee does THEIR job. It was not my role to micromanage them but to give them the right tools, and enough encouragement so they could excel. In the end they take responsibility for what they do, they grow and evolve into new roles, they cross-train in other’s areas and they drive Tinhorn Creek to success. I was good at mentoring, but they were much better at learning and executing and what more could a CEO ask for?
“This is why I am positive that the arrangement we have made with Andrew Peller for transition will end in success for everyone. I will no longer be working at Tinhorn Creek by the time this post goes out. My husband will be advising Andrew Peller for one year to ensure a smooth transition and to ensure that what we have built, and what they have purchased, is sustained into the future. If I did not feel that employees could already run their jobs with commitment and autonomy, it would be very hard to leave.”


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