Don Triggs: "I'm a businessman first—I just happen to be in the wine business."

"I'm a businessman first—I just happen to be in the wine business."

“I remember my first glass of wine. I was raised on a cattle ranch and grain farm. My mother used to make dandelion wine and chokecherry wine. We didn't really have wine on an ongoing basis on our table, but at the end of the harvest or in the spring when the crop was sown, we would have a little glass of this very sweet, rather disgusting homemade wine at Sunday dinner. It was more about celebrating the season, a family thing. It is a special memory, for sure.

I give my father and my family enormous credit for the opportunities I have had. They stressed character and integrity, honouring your word–some of the fundamentals. These are very, very important in building and leading a business.

I went to a one-room schoolhouse. I was probably of the last generation to do that. I always joke that it took me eight years to get out of my first classroom.

I quickly realized in my second or third year of university that I really wanted to go into business. I was working in a summer job for the Manitoba government, and I saw people busting their butts, doing a fabulous job, getting paid the same as people that were not contributing at all. That drove me. I felt that in a free-market system, effort would be rewarded.

I met my wife, Elaine, at a university dance. I got married right after my first degree and she took a teaching job, which opened the door to allow me to do my MBA. I am very indebted to Elaine and the load she carried. To this day, we love to go out dancing. Every chance we get, we are on the floor for the whole event.

As a manager, I am very much a team player. I don't shirk my responsibility to lead, to make tough decisions, to set standards and now and then to say, “That's not good enough,” or “We can do better than that.” I am very prepared to push the team. But it is always a team and about challenging them to be all that they can be. I see myself as accomplishing very little on my own.

I always say it is like a sergeant and his platoon. He can only do so much, but if he gets that platoon organized, he can be formidable. That is what a company is all about. It is about organizing resources against a vision that you have thought through, and then marshalling all your energy to execute that better than anybody else. You have to have buy-in along the way.

Many years ago, Canadian wine had a reputation for being pretty tough to drink. Some of that was justified. We've undergone a renaissance in Canadian wines, though. We began by ripping up old vineyards and planting new. We invested in a lot more technologies and really improved the facilities and the winemaking to take advantage of the improved quality.

The future is in premium wines. In the wine industry, you really have to have a vision of where you're going, because it takes so long to plant fruit. When you plant a vineyard, you get the first crop out three years later. It's six years before you have something to sell. And it's really only after 10 years that a vineyard starts coming into its own. I believe that the most important thing is having a clear vision of where the market's going to be–and where you want to be 10 years from now.

Pinot Noir is my favourite grape. My second choice would probably be shiraz.

Yes, I love wine and I'm very much a student of it. It's a part of me. But I'm very clear that we're about making a return for shareholders and building a business that in the long term is very competitive globally. I think a lot of people romanticize the wine business.

We have set about a strategy of focusing on the highest profits in New World markets–building a distribution system in those and building a portfolio that includes products from some of those countries.

We are very proud of the wines we make. And we'll be better. We'll keep challenging ourselves.”

Timeline: Donald (Don) Triggs
Born April 29, 1944, Treherne, Man.
Vintner; president and CEO, Vincor International

1966: Honours B.Sc. in agricultural economics, University of Manitoba; MBA at University of Western Ontario two years later.

1989: Leads buy-out of Labatt's Canadian wine division with colleagues including Allan Jackson–hence, Jackson-Triggs wines.

1992: Acquires Inniskillin Wines; merges the next year with T. G. Bright to create Vincor. Takes company public in 1996 at $8 a share.

2000: Begins international expansion that sees Vincor buy wineries in California, Washington, New Zealand and Australia.

2003: Unveils design with Frank Gehry for Le Clos Jordanne. Vincor is continent's No. 4 wine producer and distributor by revenue.