In a sense, Jeff Otis matured at the same time as the city of Woodinville.
“I was raised here [in Woodinville], and I remember being a high-school kid when there were just a couple wineries in the area,” Otis says, sitting on the freshly minted concrete patio at Matthews Winery. “Now there are over 140 wineries represented, and you have buses and buses of people coming through to experience the city from all over.”
Otis is now 33 years old, married with two children, enjoying a career in wealth management and thoroughly entrenched in the culture of the city, especially in the burgeoning wine culture. But it took a ripening on all fronts to get to this point.
Otis’s first passions were baseball and youth ministry. After graduating high school in Woodinville, Otis went to play baseball in Oregon. “I wanted to see how far I could go with baseball,” Otis says. “I picked George Fox University because they had an incredible baseball program, and they also offered a Christian ministries major. At the time, when I was 17 or 18 years old, I wanted to be a youth pastor.”
Although Otis did not end up pursuing a full-time career in ministry, it was his involvement with the Christian youth organization YoungLife that led him to a connection with Smith Barney, where he interned for a summer. “It was my first access to the financial world,” he says. However, he finished the internship when the market was in freefall, so he pursued a few different interests and career options within the fields of insurance and real estate.
Around the same time, Otis’s family was navigating their still-fresh decision to purchase Matthews Winery—one of Woodinville’s first wineries—from the original owners. Eventually, each member of the family, including his father, Cliff, mother, Diane, and two brothers, Bryan and Scott, found his or her unique contribution to the winery. “Everyone in the family jumped right into the deep end of owning and operating the winery,” Otis says.
Otis primarily took on the role of director of marketing for the operation, and when he wasn’t focused on his budding business career, his energy went into bolstering the Matthews brand. “My strength is really on the marketing side of things, not necessarily in the tasting rooms or pouring the wines,” Otis says. “I was interested more in how do I build our brand out and tell various stories through different channels. For example, like managing our social media. This was years ago, and none of that had been created.” In a city still trying to get its sea legs after rapid development and shed its reputation as little more than a small outskirt city, this was an innovative approach.
“We were kind of first on the scene social media marketing–wise,” he says. “And my job became how do we tell the story of a locally owned winery, and one of the best in the state, that has an environment that gladly welcomes all people. We didn’t want to be the stuffy, elitist, super-exclusive winery. That doesn’t make smart business sense or fit the nature of our family or Woodinville.”
Otis also started making a splash in the wine community with his knack for putting on social events. Most notably, he created an annual White Party, which after just a few years grew to over 4,000 attendees in 2014, forcing them to move the event to a space in Seattle. He decided to scale the event way back this year, so he created a more intimate experience focused on the winery, the wine and the wine-club members. And that’s where much of his focus lies right now. He says wine enthusiasts can expect a whole host of upscale, intimate events coming out of Matthews.
Not to be overshadowed by the work he does at the winery, Otis also found a rhythm with his day job as a wealth advisor at Evergreen Gavekal in Bellevue. “Eight years later, I’m at the same firm and love where I work. I have about 150 clients now, but I still feel like I’m in the first inning of my career. Still mapping out who I am as a professional,” he says.
Although he says he still has room to grow in his career, he, not surprisingly, means finding a way to incorporate Woodinville into his business plan.
“I’d like to open a satellite office in Woodinville. What I’m orchestrating is to build a life and career in Woodinville and utilize the family winery to entertain clients,” he says. “Something I’ve noticed working in wealth management is that most firms focus on the inner core wealth centers of Seattle, Mercer Island, Kirkland and Bellevue. Why shouldn’t Woodinville have more specific attention from top wealth management firms? There’s an amazing opportunity here, and I can be the guy who carries the torch.”
It is obvious both Otis and the city he loves have grown throughout recent years, but Otis says there’s also a tremendous amount of comfort knowing that not everything has changed. “I’m so proud of what Woodinville has become and where it’s come from. But it also stayed true to what it is; it’s a special place, and I’m quick to highlight Woodinville wherever I go,” Otis says. “I wanted to raise my kids in the area because I love what it stands for, love the type of people it produces. I feel like Woodinville is so accepting of everyone, regardless of where you’re from. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, and I love that because that’s how I see life.”