#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 4: Remi Cohen, CEO of Domaine Carneros

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!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022, part 3: Gretchen Voelcker, winemkaer at Luna Hart and Piazza Family Wines

Vineyards at Piazza Family Wines, Ballard Canyon

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.

Next up, traveling to my happy place: Santa Ynez Valley to chat with Gretchen Voelcker, Winemaker at Piazza Family Wines and Luna Hart

Piazza Family Wines is located in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country in the rural AVA of Ballard Canyon, which is just a few minutes away from downtown Solvang in Santa Ynez Valley. The Ballard Canyon side is planted to more Rhone varietals and Syrah while Sta Rita Hills to the west is widely planted to Pinot and Chardonnay. What more could a wine lover need? We visited Piazza Family Wines this past fall and were introduced to the female winemaking team, vineyard views, and portfolio of wines. Our daughter was about 16 months old and she was thrilled to see women working hard outdoors and operating harvest machinery… I think she caught the wine bug.

This is the strong female energy that we love to celebrate in wine, and the inspiration for this #WomenMakingWine annual project. Winemaker Gretchen Voelcker is talented and innovative with the resume to back it up. Who here has tasted a skin contact Sauvignon Blanc or Graciano that undergoes carbonic fermentation? Gretchen has elevated the taste profile of these wines by taking a really cool approach. Fun fact: Graciano is a red wine grape from Northern Spain. If you enjoy Dolcetto, Beaujolais, or Garnacha give this one a try. Think violets, mulberry, pepper and cherry cola with savory undertones, medium tannin, medium body and high acidity. What I love most about Piazza and Luna Hart (Gretchen’s line of wines) is the focus on sustainable, organic, and/or biodynamic farming. I mentioned this a couple days ago and I’ll say it again, this approach really celebrates terroir and captures a true sense of place. I cannot wait to taste more from both labels – we enjoyed Gretchen’s wines so much that we joined the wine club which offers allocations from both Piazza and Luna Hart. Piazza Family Wines include Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, and my beloved Graciano. Luna Hart offers Syrah, Syrah rosé, Sauv Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and an amazing Cab Franc. We enjoyed this virtual interview with Gretchen and know you will too! I cannot rave enough about the wines she’s making – honestly, some of the best bottles we own.

Ashley: How did you get started in your winemaking career?

Originally from outside of Philadelphia, growing up, wine was not on my radar what so ever, but we moved to Brussels when I was in high school for my mother’s job. While there, my parents started getting into wine tasting and started to share that experience with me. In the beginning, it wasn’t wine itself that intrigued me, but the idea of creative science. Being a very left-brained, math and science type of girl, I have always searched for creativity within myself. I did not study winemaking in school but instead studied business and then plant sciences. After graduating, however, I remembered the intrigue of the industry and decided to give it a go. I have really built my career from apprenticing throughout the years and being fortunate enough to always work with small brands with a high degree of transparency.

Gretchen: What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?

Again, being that creative scientist, I am constantly seeking to experiment (of course nothing is new in wine, but new to me) with new ideas or play with new varietal. But at the heart of my style, I am working to make minimally manipulated wines that showcase balance, vintage and varietal typicity. Although I am lucky enough to work with all sustainable, organic and biodynamic vineyards, I also am constantly aiming to bring more sustainability into my wines and business.

Ashley: Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female winemakers?

Gretchen: Not particularly. Having built my career in Santa Barbara after the women pioneers before me have laid the foundation, I have been so fortunate to not have a history of gender hardship. Santa Barbara is such a wonderful winemaking community and I have been lifted up by both men and women in my career and have never felt as though there is a particular stereotype.

Ashley: What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?

Gretchen: The biggest challenge for me which I predict will only become more of a challenge, is to be able to make minimally manipulated wines as climate change continues to develop. As it is, working with Mother Nature keeps you on your toes. Every year I am dealt a completely new deck of cards and it is imperative that I can stay adaptable to that.

A lot of wines have a long list of hidden ingredients used in making the wines and most wines have at least a few undisclosed ingredients; my wines have only had a small amount of sulfur added to keep the wines healthy and tasty. By using less modern tools, I am aiming to give a more natural and timeless expression of the vineyards that I work with. The grapes are all hand harvested and when I choose to harvest, I seek find a balance of good acidity and flavor. In vintages like 2020, where we were faced with a lot of heat spikes in Santa Barbara, which I am presume will begin to become more common, it it a lot more difficult to find that balance in the fruit.

Ashley: Were you inspired by other female winemakers when you began your career in making wine?

Gretchen: From early on I was lucky to be surrounded by women in the industry. My very first harvest was at Rideau, founded by a woman of color, Iris Rideau, working under a young female winemaker, Amanda Baird, who showed me that it was possible to become a head winemaker in her late 20s. At that time, we also shared our facility with the all-star Kita Wines team, Tara Gomez and Tymari Lore, working around the clock to build their new brand. Of course, Tymari, my bff, continues to inspire me every day with her wine knowledge but also leadership. After that, I worked with Rideau’s next female winemaker, Adrienne St. John, who was my direct mentor. She taught me the importance of chemistry and sound fundamentals in maintaining a healthy winery. Needless to say, I was off to an empowering start! 💪

Ashley: In winemaking, is one more important than the other in terms of tradition vs innovation?

Gretchen: As I mentioned before, I think that winemaking has been around for so long that aside from new technological innovation, we are never re-inventing the wheel. A lot of the trendy new wines are made in the most archaic ways. I suppose then I put more value in tradition although for me it is often a personal experience of innovation, if that makes any sense.

Ashley: What is an favorite/unexpected yet incredible food pairing for any of your wines?

Gretchen: So many great ones to choose from! I love the Grüner with Sushi, spicy food and my favorite farmers’ market creation, chorizo and saffron mussels. The partially-skin fermented Sauvignon Blanc is absolutely a match made with salmon dishes. 

Gretchen, thank you so much for taking the time to share your expertise and passion for wine with us! We look forward to visiting the winery and following your career. We’re already big fans and love supporting your work.

Thanks for sipping with us!
The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 2: Amandine Brillanceau, Cellar Master at Louis Jadot

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.

Next up, featuring Amandine Brillanceau, Cellar Master at Louis Jadot

Amandine is from Deux Sevres which is just south of the Loire Valley in France, so it’s no surprise that she has *cultivated* an impressive wine resume. She studied at the Agronomic School in Bordeaux and earned degrees in both Agronomy and Oenology. Her passion for wine grew through travel and interning alongside inspired French winemakers. Amandine’s experience in winemaking spans across several renowned regions including New Zealand, Australia, Oregon, and South Africa. She’s combined her passion and experience to grow into the role of Cellar Master in two prominent French regions: Rhone Valley from 2014 to 2017 and Burgundy where she now works at Louis Jadot.

Located in Beaune, Louis Jadot has incredibly deep roots in Bourgogne dating back to 1859. I like to refer to Louis Jadot as “America’s Sweetheart” because the wines are well-known here in the US and loved by so many for its tradition and quality. Louis Jadot is one of the most celebrated exporters of French wine and marketed as America’s #1 French wine for good reason. These red and white Burgundies are not only accessible, they are approachable and affordable. Louis Jadot’s portfolio includes everything:  inexpensive Burgundy and Beaujolais, wines from Chablis and Côte de Beaune, as well as grand cru wines from France’s top vineyards.

When I think about the rich history of Louis Jadot an instant sense of tradition comes to mind. The thing that really impresses me as a consumer/wine student/creator is how the Louis Jadot brand and Domaine has not only grown and evolved with the times, but how they’ve done so while upholding the region’s deep tradition and values. To me, that is just really cool. The wines are a benchmark for Burgundy and they’re delivering a product that appeals to novice and expert level enthusiasts. I personally loved learning that Louis Jadot has a female Cellar Master and one with such an exciting background and fresh perspective. It all makes sense now!

Without further ado, our virtual interview:

Ashley: Can you provide some insight into your day-to-day operations as Cellar Master?

Amandine: Cellar team management (7 people). Planning work and adjustment, tasks follow-up. Daily tastings enabling to organize the cellar work, traceability, various projects monitoring etc …

Ashley: You have experience in both new and old-world wine regions, how has this contributed to your success in Burgundy?

Amandine: Adaptation ability due to the fact that I worked in very different winery profiles (different material/tools, different company and organization profiles).

Openness and curiosity allowing me each time to tackle different challenges.

Ashley: What do you find to be the most interesting part of your job? What are some challenges you’ve overcome?

Amandine: Never bored! The wine world has no limit, it is always moving ! My biggest challenge was to enter Louis Jadot. Burgundy was a dream and every work experience was slowly helping me to get closer to Burgundy. Leading a team was also a new challenge I had to take up, because it was a first experience to me. Showing my skills and my competence to my team enabled me with time to get closer to them.

Ashley: Of the wines in your portfolio, can you share a favorite (and unexpected) food pairing?

Pernand-Vergelesses Les Combottes paired with a wok full of Asian flavours: the Combottes vineyard produces a very aromatic Chardonnay wine, with intense flavours. It is the best companion to sweat-and-sour notes, it’s nice tension enhances such dishes.

Ashley: In winemaking, is one more important than the other in terms of tradition vs innovation?

Amandine: Tradition is a key value in Burgundy – it represents a bridge between Burgundy history and today’s winemaking science. It is crucial to me in order to build a harmonious whole. Therefore, it is a never ending process swinging between past acquired experiences and today’s knowledge. Always innovating and constantly searching for perfection.

Amandine, thank you for taking the time to share your experience and insight with us. Cellar Masters wear a bunch of different hats. From managing inventory to knowing the ins and outs of harvest and more. It’s inspiring to see you manage a wide range of responsibilities for such a prominent French producer. 

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape