Paul Leary

President, Blackbird Vineyards

Paul, who once served the Napa Valley as a volunteer firefighter, first contemplated a career in wine at the Hula Grill on Maui.

How many years have you been in the Napa Valley wine industry?

16 years.

How did you get started in the wine business?

I began with Duckhorn Wine Company in 1999 as a Marketing Leader.

Which wine was your "a-ha!" wine – the one that made you love wine or inspired you to get into the industry?

Believe it or not, being introduced to wine while working at the Hula Grill on Maui. The wine director was so passionate about wine, and it was contagious to the point where I knew it might be a path for me.

Name a Napa Valley vintner who has influenced you and briefly explain why.

Dan Duckhorn. He was my mentor in the wine industry, offering insights on all aspects of the business from viticulture to production to finance to sales and marketing.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?

Inspiring our team members, partners and clients with all of the dedication and focus we put into our wines and, as importantly, our guest experiences.

What are the greatest challenges?

Long production cycles to get the wines to finished cased goods. It ties up a lot of capital. Especially for a growing brand.

Our motto at the NVV is "cultivating excellence." What does this phrase mean to you and how do you cultivate excellence at your winery?

We cultivate excellence through our company values creed. It speaks to how we all work together to create a culture that is inspiring for all that dedicate their time to our brands.

What do you think makes Napa Valley unique compared to other wine regions?

The proximity to the Bay Area region, which allows visitors to experience one of the more stunningly beautiful wine regions in the world. Additionally, the Napa Valley’s hospitality is second to none.

If you weren't a Napa Valley vintner, what would you be doing?

An architect.

If you could open a bottle of your wine and share it with any three people (living or not), who would they be?

My wife, my mother and Bill Gates.

What advice would you offer someone trying to get into the Napa Valley wine industry?

Find a specific focus in the aspect of the business, and network intensely to gain the right connection to learn about which wine businesses may be appropriate for your aspirations.

What's one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I was a volunteer firefighter for three-plus years and was very proud to serve the Napa Valley community during that time period.