Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Profile” November 2009.
Clay Gregory recently began a new chapter in his life, as President and CEO of the Napa Valley Destination Council. While some aspects of the guest-serving industry are new to him, in many ways, it’s a position he has been preparing for his whole life.
Raised in Silicon Valley, Gregory received his undergraduate and MBA degrees from San Jose State University. While in school, he worked for a small family owned winery, where he did, “almost everything. I pruned vines, sold and delivered wine, cleaned tanks, ran the retail room and did bottling,” said Gregory, smiling as he recalls those days. “It was as thorough an education you could get in one job.” He left with a good understanding of running a winery and a love for wine.
After receiving his MBA, Gregory went to work for a marketing division of Motorola. He enjoyed the work, but after six years had enough. “I love technology, but just wasn’t interested in learning that much more about computers. I was spending weekends in the wine country, and started thinking about how much I would enjoy working in the Napa Valley.” Almost on a lark, he answered a blind ad from a winery looking for someone in strategic planning. He’d practically forgotten about it when, months later, he got a call for an interview. However, that call was followed quickly by another saying that, after looking more closely at his qualifications, he probably wasn’t right for the position. He was told he would be better in marketing, and would get a call back from them when they were recruiting for an upcoming opening in Marketing. “I figured they’d called me by accident and this was their way of cutting me loose.” However, he did get a second call from them and, after interviewing, began working for Robert Mondavi Winery. He worked for Mondavi for fourteen years, the last seven as General Manager.
In 2003, Gregory served as president of the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) and the Napa Valley Wine Auction. The NVV has more than 350 member wineries and is dedicated to promoting and projecting the Napa Valley to media, trade and consumer audiences. Most recently, he was President of Jackson Family Wines, a collection of more than a dozen independently operated wineries from Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Monterey and Santa Barbara, as well as international wineries in St. Emilion, Chianti, Australia and Chile. He was responsible for all marketing, winemaking, vineyard and general management. It was a good fit for Gregory, but it wasn’t in his beloved Napa Valley. “I was open to a change, and the opportunity with the Napa Valley Destination Council (NVDC) is perfect.”
Gregory is committed to making sure the Napa Valley doesn’t become another Silicon Valley. “It (Silicon Valley) is no longer an agricultural community, and lost a lot of its soul. Our goal is to utilize the capacity that exists for tourists, but not to have more visitors just for the sake of ‘more.’” Gregory said the NVDC does not want to hurt the environment, land or the citizens of Napa.
Relative to other areas, Napa is doing well. Gregory stated that hotel occupancy rates are approximately 50% during the week and 90% on weekends. “The goal is to utilize existing visitor capacity and bring in additional guests during Sunday to Thursday and slower season time periods. “The Napa Valley can’t be all things to all people and shouldn’t try. The quality of wine and the experience of the Napa Valley are too important to dilute.” Gregory recognizes that the Conference and Visitors Bureau (precursor to the NVDC) didn’t always deliver to its membership. “The Napa Valley Destination Council is committed to providing marketing programs that benefit all our constituents, and we will show them how those programs will do it.”
Beyond wine, travel and cooking are two of Gregory’s passion. Quick to laugh, he says he continues to hope, “that the Giants can win a world series in my lifetime and that ‘in the 80s’ will one day describe my golf game.” He lives in Napa with his wife, two Basset hounds, four sheep, three goats and two hens.