Gina Bianco ##Photo provided

A New Direction

Gina Bianco takes the reins at the Oregon Wine Board

By Paula Bandy

During the final days of 2023, after an extensive six-month search, the Oregon Wine Board had evaluated 100 applicants from around the globe. They selected Gina Bianco as the organization’s new executive director. Most recently, she represented Southern Oregon as the executive director for Rogue Valley Vintners, a regional industry association focused on promoting Rogue Valley wines. She began in August 2020, while still under COVID-19 protocols, exactly a month before the tragic Almeda Fire burned 3,000 acres in Talent and Phoenix, destroying over 2,600 homes and businesses.

Dr. Greg Jones, board chair of the Oregon Wine Board, explained those were two of the many reasons Bianco was chosen. “Anybody who can step into that type of maelstrom,” he states, “one, has the wherewithal to be successful, and two, is not afraid. Clearly, it wasn’t an easy time for anybody, especially someone in a new role. Gina exhibited a lot of character and strength. She was willing and able to step in at a very difficult time.”

The Oregon Wine Board, or OWB, is a semi-independent agency of the Oregon state government. The organization’s prime objective is promoting Oregon wines by supporting the continued development of the wine industry, both within the state and through exports. The OWB is achieving this goal by focusing on three pillars: research, education and marketing.

Bianco says, “These are all things I’ve done in my past. I’ve spent my whole career in roles that involved marketing, public relations and organizing educational events. I’ve also been responsible for supporting research projects as well as conducting my own research.”

Jones encourages this blending of industries. “Historically,” he says, “the OWB executive director has not always been from the wine industry. Gina has valuable experience both in and out of wine. Her skills and knowledge aligned with what the search committee was looking for. This was pretty clear and made sense when we began hiring deliberations. She will bring new, appropriate energy to the role. No doubt our state will benefit.”

They both address the unification of Oregon as a whole, not as individual wine regions, but instead a collaborative state. Bianco envisions more unity and rebuilding of industry relationships. She imagines an Oregon brand with the unique personalities of each region and appellation represented within it.
Jones emphasizes, “The Oregon wine industry has grown large enough now that interregional collaboration is more important than ever before. The board saw that Gina is skilled at bringing people together. She makes those already shining do so more brightly and helps others who need guidance. This whole ‘regional collaboration as a state’ needs to have a much stronger, interactive platform, and Gina has the capability of doing that.”

The Backstory

Gina Bianco began her career as a department store buyer but soon realized she preferred more challenges. Upon earning a master’s degree in Public Administration with a certification in Healthcare Administration, she was hired by the Delaware State Health Department. Bianco worked in public relations and communications, handling all media activity, press conferences, and events. Eventually, she managed a group of programs centered around building community and collaboration, primarily focused on working with the underserved. During this time, Bianco oversaw federal research studies based on patient-provider ratios in low-income areas. “It was all about community and bringing people together, focusing on a goal,” she says, “and that’s just how my career went– everything I did was about that.”

For the next several years, she worked in the private sector where she was involved in building a new management information system for the State’s Medicaid program, while managing many functions of the current systems— from claims processing to negotiating drug pricing. It was an awesome job allowing me to speak with both the tech and business sides.” Laughing, Bianco observed wryly, “As the youngest of five, I learned mediation early in life.”
Loving this work, she started her own management consulting business and, for the next 20 years, helped states and communities establish health information exchange organizations. Her first client was the State of Delaware. She led them to become the first statewide health information exchange in the country. “It required a lot of negotiating,” she said. “We had to bring together competing healthcare organizations to build consensus on the rules of exchange.” This achievement led her to work with 13 other health information exchanges across the U.S.

Looking for a change, she followed her long-time passion for food and wine, earning a masters degree in wine management from the Culinary Institute of America in 2020. Her position with Rogue Valley Vintners has been marketing-focused and concentrated on promoting Rogue Valley wines by inviting wine experts for tastings and tours. During her tenure, the area was listed by Wine Enthusiast as one of the top five wine regions on the planet.

Living Spherically for the Future

Bianco views the future from an opportunity perspective. She explains, “Outreach for me is one of the most important pieces. I plan initially to spend time with as many industry people as possible. To sit down with them, learn about their businesses, challenges and opportunities they see in the future. One of the first expectations of me is to develop a strategic plan for 2025 and beyond.”

As we talk, my personal favorite quote comes to mind by the visionary director, Federico Fellini. “Live spherically in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm– things will come your way.” Bianco, familiar with the quote, smiles and says, “Living spherically… I think the position requires it. There are countless facets to the wine industry, with so many diverse personalities and wines.”

She continues, “There’s such a strong sense of care for the land here. And from that land come high-quality grapes that create spectacular, high-quality, high-value wine. My vision includes supporting the families, the generational aspect, by telling their stories. That’s a beautiful part– the generations continuing to run the wineries. The idea is to elevate every winery, and its people, to an optimal potential by offering them the tools, resources and opportunity to succeed.”

“OWB is here to approach education, marketing and research that forwards the wine industry, and we need input from everybody,” Jones emphasizes. “For Gina to excel, she must be able to communicate with everybody in the state. We can provide the best research, marketing and education only when we all talk together, communicating our needs and wants.”

“I want to figure out how to let those voices be heard,” Bianco responds, “That’s one of the big reasons I want to do this work.”

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable