Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.
Follow me to Napa Valley to chat with Remi Cohen, CEO of Domaine Carneros
To know me is to know this: I love sparkling wine and I love Napa Valley. Our next feature is absolutely a perfect fit for this series because we’re heading to Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley to chat with Remi Cohen, CEO. Carneros is located at the intersection of Napa and Sonoma Valley around the southern foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. It’s close in proximity to San Pablo bay, so these two attributes give Carneros a much cooler and wetter climate than other AVAs around Napa Valley. As many of you know Pinot and Chardonnay thrive in cool climates, making this a mecca for traditional method sparkling wine. The family behind Champagne Taittinger established Domaine Carneros back in 1987. You can expect elegant, balanced sparkling wine and Pinot Noir with grower quality that can age beautifully and drink exceptionally today.
Domaine Carneros is one of the first wineries I visited when my love for wine really started taking off. The estate will take your breath away as will the wines and hospitality. I strongly believe that every enthusiast should subscribe to a sparkling wine club, and this is an excellent option! The Social Grapes invests in more than just wine… we fall for the stories behind the bottles, sense of community, and positive impact. It was a pleasure to learn that Remi is cultivating an inclusive culture at Domaine Carneros while encouraging women to excel in their wine careers and delivering some of the coolest guest experiences. Read below about an opportunity to saber at the winery aka the best way to open a bottle. I hope this inspires you to choose Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé or just about anything from this portfolio of wines, honestly you can’t go wrong here.
Without further ado…
Ashley: Can you describe Domaine Carneros for us without describing the wine?
Remi: Domaine Carneros is an idyllic landmark chateau with breathtakingly beautiful views nestled among the rolling vineyards of the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Founded by the Taittinger family behind Champagne Taittinger, Domaine Carneros evokes the elegance and tradition of Champagne with the spirit of California and prides itself on estate vineyards, progressive sustainability initiatives, and a history of women in leadership.
Ashley: Were you inspired by other successful women in the wine industry when you began?
Remi: Coincidentally, I met Eileen Crane, Domaine Carneros’s former CEO and founding winemaker, in 2001 at the beginning of my career and found her to be very inspirational. Eileen is a pioneer for women in the wine industry. There were very few women winemakers in California when she was appointed to the role of founding winemaker for Domaine Carneros. At the time, Eileen already had a decade of experience working with sparkling wines, first as assistant winemaker at Domaine Chandon and then establishing Gloria Ferrer. She was perfectly suited for the position at Domaine Carneros and having been inspired by champagne to pursue a career in sparkling wine, it was a dream for her to be able to work with the family behind the prestigious Champagne Taittinger and progressive of the family to choose her.
I have admired the work of many women in the industry and in fact felt that the generation before me, Eileen’s generation, had largely done the work to prove that women can be among the best winemakers, vineyard managers, and industry executives. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized that there is still a significant disparity in the quantity and compensation of women in senior winemaking and executive roles and that more progress is needed.
Ashley: How can women support other women in the wine industry?
Remi: I think the most impactful way to support other women in the industry is to mentor women who are looking to advance in their careers. In general, creating a network of successful women in your life is an excellent foundation.
Ashley: How has the industry evolved over the last 10 years?
Remi: A lot of progress has been made in recent years bringing awareness to the lack of diversity in leadership positions in the industry, but more work needs to be done. As an example, it is interesting that there has been an approximately equal number of men and women enrolled in the viticulture and enology program since I was at UC Davis twenty years ago. Now, some enology programs have even more women enrolled than men so it demonstrates that women are interested and getting involved in the wine industry more than ever before.
However, a significant disparity still occurs in senior winemaking and senior management positions. In fact, a survey in October 2020 by Wine Business Monthly showed that 49% of assistant winemakers were women, whereas only 29% of winemaking directors are women. Even worse, only about 20% of winery general managers and CEO’s are women. Other studies have shown this to be even less.
It will require effort from the industry to encourage more women to advance to more senior positions within their companies and to be considered for top positions during the hiring process. This will involve companies institutionalizing diversity and inclusion along with mentorship opportunities. The industry’s work needs to extend beyond gender parity and work towards overall diversity and inclusion.
Ashley: As CEO, what do you see as the most important part of running your business?
Remi: I’ve worked in many different roles in the wine industry, starting as a viticulturist in the vineyard and then working in nearly every department before moving into general management. When I started as CEO at Domaine Carneros, I dived into human resources and talent management, emphasizing the importance of the people and the culture at the winery. About a decade ago, the winery embraced Zingerman’s style of management which entails open book management where all employees have visibility into the company’s finances and encourages a culture of employee engagement and advancement. To build upon these tenets, we have launched a mentorship program where employees have an opportunity to be mentored by members of our management team. We provide opportunities and programs for career advancement, learning skills in and outside of core responsibilities, and internal promotions. We have recently launched the Le Rêve Scholarship program with both the University of California at Davis and the Culinary Institute of America, providing support for diverse students focusing their trajectory on promoting diversity and sustainability while attending the wine graduate programs at these partner institutions.
Ashley: What goals are you still working towards in your career and for the brand?
Remi: At Domaine Carneros, we strive to provide the most memorable sparkling wine experience. We are always looking at ways to create more meaningful and memorable experiences for our hospitality offerings. Some recent examples include that our Bubbles & Bites tasting menu now changes seasonally, highlighting flavors of cuisines from around the globe to illustrate just how versatile sparkling wine can be. We’ve also introduced an exciting experiential tasting called The Art of Sabrage. It includes a tasting of four wines, an abundance of local cheeses & charcuterie, and is topped off with a sabering demonstration! Everyone is in celebration mode, so we’ve also developed a concierge-style custom tasting called Your Ultimate Carneros to help plan the perfect wedding proposal, birthday, anniversary, or anything that needs a special touch. You can see we are always creatively updating our guest experience which is something I have enjoyed working on with our team. For me personally, it is rewarding to be at a time in my career where I can give back to the community by mentoring others and developing scholarship and philanthropy programs with the team at Domaine Carneros.
Remi, thank you so much for taking the time share your insight and story with us. I think we can all agree, across any industry, it’s incredibly motivating to see a woman as CEO. Here’s to those who have come before us and those who are sending the ladder down from the top, here’s to you!