Biltmore Winery President and CEO Retires

After more than four decades of work for the estate, Executive Officer and President of Biltmore Estate Wine Company Jerry Douglas retired on August 15. Responsible for the company’s production, development, marketing and sales, Douglas saw the business grow to the production of more than 155,000 cases of wine annually, with a wine club of more than 11,000 members. He played a major role in increasing the company’s distribution, which is currently 13 states.

Douglas played a key role in carrying out the vision over the past 38 years, but Biltmore’s wine production started in 1971 when William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, the grandson of Biltmore’s founder George Vanderbilt, set out to reimagine the agricultural tradition on the estate. William Cecil once said, “What’s more appropriate for a French chateau than vineyards and a winery?”

Proving to be a labor of love, 30 acres of muscadines were planted unsuccessfully and French American hybrid grapes were fruitless as well. With assistance from experts at UC-Davis, the first vinifera grapes were planted in 1978 and sixth-generation French winemaker, Philippe Jourdain joined in 1979. In 1981, the vineyards expanded to 150 acres. Jerry worked for Price/McNabb Advertising during this time and Biltmore was his biggest account. Jerry researched whether wine would be a viable business for the estate and researched trends before the Winery was established in 1983. Bernard Delille joined Philippe as assistant winemaker and later left a 32-year legacy of winemaking at Biltmore. Sharon Fenchak joined the Biltmore Wine team in 1999 and was promoted to head winemaker in 2018.

Douglas was hired by the estate as an employee in 1984. Without a working background in wine and a degree from the University of Georgia, Douglas completed the University of North Carolina Advanced Management Program and the University of California Davis Wine Executive Program. 

“During Jerry’s 38-year career at Biltmore, our wine business and the North Carolina wine industry have grown tremendously, with Biltmore being one of the first licensed wineries in this state. Douglas has been at the forefront of that growth as a visionary of Biltmore Wines and executive leader for our company as a whole. He has encouraged teams to remain collaborative, agile, and open to new opportunities that have greatly contributed to our success. We are grateful for his leadership and congratulate him on this new chapter,” said Biltmore President and CEO Bill Cecil.

During his tenure, Douglas’s leadership extended beyond the wine business into Biltmore’s brand management. He led marketing and sales teams, oversaw agency partnerships and new product launches. He served as head of the brand division, driving to define Biltmore’s brand, understand the needs of Biltmore’s guests, and focused on best market opportunities. Most recently, he made significant contributions to Biltmore’s strategic direction as the company navigated recovery from the pandemic.

Douglas served on the boards of many organizations such as past chairman of the American Vintners Association, the national board of directors for the American Institute of Wine and Food, and was a founding member of the Wine Market Council. He also served with the Congressional Wine Caucus Foundation.

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