Free the Grapes! Announces Thea Schlendorf as Incoming Executive Director

October 25, 2023, Napa, CA – The directors of Free the Grapes!, a national coalition of wineries and wine lovers, announces a transition in the Executive Director position. Jeremy Benson, Founder of Benson Marketing Group who has held the executive director role at Free the Grapes! since its inception in 1998, will be stepping down as he looks towards retirement. Picking up the reins will be Thea Schlendorf, a long-time member of the Benson Marketing Group team. 

Having worked alongside Jeremy Benson for 15 years, Schlendorf is a natural choice for the role. In her current position as Vice President of Wine and Spirits at TBL/Benson, Thea continues the integrated marketing work championed at Benson, now complemented with a broader suite of marketing services brought by The Brand Leader, which acquired Benson Marketing Group in early 2023. In her 15 years at Benson, she worked alongside Jeremy to further the work of Free the Grapes!, assisting with media campaigns in states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey. 

“I’m pleased to hand off this role to Thea”, says Jeremy Benson, previous Executive Director of Free the Grapes!. “I look forward to seeing her find new ways to bring FTG into the spotlight. Having worked together for many years, she is the person best prepared to understand the campaign and drive it forward.”

As Executive Director of Free the Grapes!, Schlendorf will continue the work of helping to expand consumer choice in wine through improving access to legal, regulated direct to consumer winery shipping. The coalition’s campaign of public awareness, engagement, and lobbying success has helped to create a $4+ billion sales channel for U.S. wineries. Thea will also step into Jeremy’s role of overseeing the annual DTC Wine Symposium. Now in its 17th year, the symposium provides 70% of the coalition’s annual budget, with the remaining funds donated by the coalition’s co-founders Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners, as well as generous wineries. 

Winery direct to consumer wine sales fill in the gaps where the traditional three tier channel – shipments from winery to wholesaler to retailer – does not adequately meet consumer demand. The number of U.S. wineries has increased by over 500%, to more than 11,000 in the past 30 years – there is at least one winery in every state. But U.S. wineries produce thousands of new wines each vintage, and nearly all wineries are small, family-owned and operated by producers relying to some degree on DTC shipping. In the late 1990s, only 17 states allowed winery DTC shipping, today 47 states do allow it, although 7 have significant restrictions. While successful, Free the Grapes! has more to accomplish. 

About Free the Grapes!
Founded in 1998, Free the Grapes! is a national movement of consumers and wineries seeking to expand consumer choice in wine with legal, regulated DTC shipments. 

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Media Contact
Thea Schlendorf, Executive Director, Free the Grapes!, 917.633.6002, EXT 1.