Greene Heads WineAmerica

New voice for U.S. vintners speaks of transition and goals

by Kerry Kirkham
Cary Greene
Attorney and beverage law specialist Cary Greene is WineAmerica's new chief operating officer.
Washington, D.C. -- Cary Greene was promoted to chief operating officer of WineAmerica after the association’s long-time president Bill Nelson stepped down July 31.

In a telephone interview this week with Wines & Vines, Greene confirmed that WineAmerica has no immediate plans to fill Nelson's position, and that cost cutting was the primary factor in Nelson’s departure. “We were hit really hard by the recession. Bill thought it was best for him to leave WineAmerica.”

Like many businesses and organizations in a struggling economy, WineAmerica is trying to do more with less. With more than 800 members from 48 states, “the voice of America’s wineries” is now run by a lean staff of three employees and one temporary worker.

Greene got his start in the wine industry in 1998 while working in the tasting room of Jefferson Vineyards in Charlottesville, Va. After one year he became the tasting room manager.

His stint at Jefferson Vineyards inspired him to study at Emory University School of Law, Atlanta, Ga. His goal was one day to represent grapegrowers and winemakers. His law school classmates thought his focus was odd, but Greene said that he feels “blessed” to stay in his industry of choice for his entire career to date.

In 2001, during his first year of law school, Greene joined WineAmerica as a summer intern. He recalled hitting it off with Nelson, then vice president, from the very beginning.

That summer, Nelson and Greene wrote a model winery law about policies necessary for the wine industry to function and created a core of winery-centered agritourism. Green said, “We are involved in a national industry that exists on a state level. It’s important to create a positive legal environment for a truly local industry.”

Legal precedent

In the summer of 2002, Nelson introduced Greene to Marc Sorini, who became his boss at the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP. There, Greene worked on an article addressing free speech in alcohol advertising. 

Greene finished law school during spring 2004 and returned to McDermott after taking the bar exam in fall 2004. As a member of the firm’s Alcohol Beverages & Products Practice Group, he concentrated on winery law and regulation as well as trade practice and distribution until fall 2008.

“Working at McDermott was an incredible opportunity to learn about alcohol law and how it worked. It’s an esoteric area of law and policy.  It can be a puzzle, and learning how it all fits together requires intuition and experience,” Greene said.

During Greene’s tenure at McDermott, he and Nelson became good friends. Nelson attended his wedding, and the two had a monthly scheduled lunch appointment.

In 2008, when Greene came back to WineAmerica as vice president and general counsel, this friendship with Nelson paved a strong foundation for a good working relationship. With Nelson’s departure in July, Greene was appointed chief operating officer. 

Greene described his vision for WineAmerica thusly: “There are lots of areas of opportunities that are closed off to wineries that I’d like to see opened up. We will continue to be a strong voice for American wineries, keeping our eye on the horizon while developing policy solutions at the local, state, federal and international levels.”

WineAmerica, The National Association of American Wineries, describes its goal as encouraging the dynamic growth and development of American wineries and winegrowing through the advancement and advocacy of sound public policy. The association also assists member wineries with a variety of business operations. For more information, visit wineamerica.org.

Posted on 10.18.2010 - 13:08:03 PST
Congratulations to Cary and The Wine Industry...he is an excellent choice to be COO of the organization!
Three Sisters Vineyards
Dahlonega, GA USA