David Pearson: The Innovation Interview

David Pearson, CEO of Opus One shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and Opus One.

Named in February 2004 the first sole CEO of Opus One, David Pearson was hired to maintain and enhance the shared vision of Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi, two great men of wine. Responsible for all production, marketing, sales and administrative activities at the winery, Mr. Pearson has taken stewardship over a wine and a joint venture poised to endure for generations.

Prior to joining Opus One, Mr. Pearson served as President of Rancho Arroyo Grande located in the central coast region of California. From 1996 to 2003, Mr. Pearson was employed by the Robert Mondavi Corporation where he was Vice President, General Manager of Byron Vineyards & Winery, and before that, Vice President, General Manager of Vichon SARL, responsible for the establishment of wine growing operations in Languedoc, France. He conceived the marketing strategy and executed the launch of Vichon Mediterranean wines from Languedoc Roussillon. The brand was recognized as Impact Magazine’s “Hot Brand” twice within four years.

From 1991 to 1996, Mr. Pearson served with Heublein, Inc. where he held the position of US Marketing Manager for the wines of Baron Philippe de Rothschild.

Mr. Pearson began his career in wine production, responsible for vineyard management and winemaking at San Pasqual Vineyards located in Southern California. He subsequently held the position of Senior Sensory Scientist in Heublein’s Research & Development division where he was awarded Heublein’s President’s Award for the implementation of innovative sensory evaluation techniques.

Mr. Pearson holds a B.S. in Enology from the University of California, Davis and an MBA in International Business from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is like creativity: no one really knows where it comes from, why or when. But, you know it when you see it. Innovation is the surprising and unexpected result that comes from combining a deep and profound understanding of who you are and what you want to achieve. Innovation is change, but not in a void or without context. Change for change’s sake is frequently meaningless and misdirected. Successful innovation comes from real understanding, extraordinary desire – and persistence! Innovation means to me that you are alive and growing. Successful innovation means that you know what you are doing and why. At Opus One we strive to bring innovation to every aspect of our daily work and business.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

All industries need to embrace innovation and take risks. The management challenge is to balance risk taking and innovation while protecting and nurturing your core business. I do not believe in absolutes in the wine business – or any business. This means that everything we do, all our assumptions and considered facts, need to be constantly reevaluated. We must always be open to new ideas and new concepts – and willing to take risks, while staying true to our core values and mission. In the past decade we have innovated in our vineyard management, global sales approach and our guest relations activities at the winery. All of our innovations are designed to achieve the highest level of quality and focus entirely on our customers’ expectations and experiences.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

“The quality of my life IS the quality of my communications to myself and to others”, Anthony Robbins. Success in business and in life is all about, and in the end only about, how we manage our relationships – and, we do that through our communications. The success of our business depends on the quality of our relationships with our business partners, suppliers and distribution channel, and with our customers. At Opus One we measure our success not by how many bottles of wine we sell, or by how much money we are making, but rather by the quality of our relationships and the number of new friends that we are making.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Hiring well. There is little that is more difficult than assembling a top-rate team that is efficient, effective, focused and aligned on one goal. I have had the pleasure several times in my career to have been part of, and to have put together, some of the best teams in the wine business. And, with these groups we have achieved great things together. Opus One is the finest wine team with which I have ever been associated.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Both. But, let’s be clear digital is the way of the future. I love my Sunday New York Times, delivered to my house, slowly turning the pages as I read through with a good cup of dark roast coffee. The digital information age is a revolution that has just begun. Through the digital information revolution we are now able instantly to provide our customers with detailed and customized information about Opus One and about our wines. Returning to the importance of relationships, through digital technology, we create and maintain more personalized contact with our customers.

What did it mean to you when the board of Opus One appointed you CEO in 2004?

It was the greatest honor and challenge of my career. The Board of Directors explained to me that going forward it was their intent that Opus One be managed independently from the founding families. It was an enormous responsibility and obligation that the Board was giving me and all of us at the winery.

Opus One has done a tremendous job of partnering with hotels and resorts to expose the wine to potential new customers. Was this part of your strategy when you became CEO in 2004 to grow the brand?

Opus One has always understood the importance of partnering with top hotels, resorts and restaurants. Robert Mondavi, the great pioneer of Napa Valley and one of the founders of Opus One, spent his life traveling around the world sharing his passion for wine with top sommeliers, restaurateurs, and hoteliers. We are just following in his footsteps. Our strategy since 2004 has been to achieve a greater global presence and recognition for Opus One. In the recent past years we have successfully developed a significant presence in countries around the world – in large part, by working closely with the top hotels and resorts of the world.

What is your greatest challenge in managing the Opus One brand?

Maintaining balance and pace. There is great energy and passion here with everyone that works with Opus One. We have to be careful not to try to do too much and to push too hard. Ours is a marathon not a sprint.

With the Opus One Estate being located one hour from San Francisco, has Silicon Valley had an impact on your business in terms of adopting and implementing new technologies?

The proximity of Silicon Valley has not been the issue, but the emergence of technology, and specifically Social Media technology, is impacting us greatly. We have embraced social media technology as an effective way of communicating in a direct and meaningful way with our customers. Wine is all about storytelling and personal experiences. We are implementing innovative ways of telling our story directly to our friends and customers. Notably, since 2008 every bottle of Opus One has an NFC chip placed behind our back label. This chip, which can be scanned by most smart phones, provides the customer with instant videos of our winemaker explaining the wine and vintage, and also allows us to track the bottle as it circulates around the world.

In an interview with Wine Taste TV you said; “Great wines have a soul to them”. How are you able to ensure this with each release of Opus One?

I don’t know, to be honest. I do believe that great wines have a personality, a life and a soul to them. We get to know them like good friends; we watch them age and grow in complexity over time. But, I don’t know from where specifically in the grape growing or winemaking process this comes. It is the happy mystery and magic of wine. Making wine is a dance between man and nature and you have to work every year to find the proper balance between the two. Balance is the key. The expression of a vineyard or a terroir comes from hundreds of different things and actions that are taken every year with every vintage. By bringing a remarkable level of “attention to detail” to everything that we do and by seeking out the unique expression and character of each year, we find, rather mysteriously and happily, that each vintage of Opus One has a unique personality and soul.