Welcome back to my third 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 winemakers, and even CEOs and 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 weekly on Instagram.
Our next women in wine feature is exciting to say the least! Faff Wine Co. was established in 2022 by two incredible, vivacious women. Faff really embodies all that this series is about – women made, women owned brands who are shaking things up in the wine industry. The two female founders are experts in their respective fields. Samantha is a certified sommelier and owner of the successful blog and wine tasting business Samantha Sommelier (she’s also my future podcast cohost #woo)! Ella is a talented winemaker who studied at UC Davis and built her winemaking experience in Oregon and California. Together, they launched Faff which is British dialectal for “to make a fuss over nothing” and I love this sentiment! Wine shouldn’t be over complicated. It shouldn’t be stuffy. It should be fun and enjoyable. Gone are the days when fine wine was reserved for the ol’ boys club. There’s a wine joke that goes “to make a million dollars in wine, you need to start with 2 million.” Sam and Ella are dismantling the idea that wine is out of reach and out of touch with younger generations of beverage enthusiasts. Faff Wine Co. is proof that passion + understanding the consumer is what it boils down to and there is no doubt they will continue to be wildly successful.
This wine brand is bringing sassy, fun, female energy into the world of wine. It’s proof that you can be a serious wine with a fun-loving side. That you can sip crushable bubbles for under $40 and feel sexy while doing it! It’s a wine for the people and it brings me so much joy to see these two talented women thriving throughout this endeavor. Their first release was a NV sparkling brut rosé – I’ve sipped this wine on several occasions and can truly vouch for the quality and approachability. If you love a sparkling rosé as much as I do, look no further. It’s bursting with flavors of bing cherry, strawberry, and red apple with citrus blossom and floral undertones. It’s balanced with acidity and serves up the finest of bubbles. She is easy on the eyes, too! I mean… just look at this label! I know we are not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but the appeal of the label matches what’s inside.
Without further ado… let’s hear more from the founding ladies of Faff Wine Co, starting with Sam.
What inspired you to Launch Faff Wine Co?
Ever since I started my business 6 years ago I was consistently told ” Sam you HAVE to have your own wine!” And I always would laugh and be like mmmm that’s expensive I can never do that. And then I grew up a bit more and realized with a will there’s a damn freaking way, and I made it happen without daddy warbucks lol. I wanted to create a wine that was like how I lead my tastings, fun, unique, and approachable! And with the help from Ella and with the help of a few people that deserve some love and recognition we made it happen. Honestly wouldn’t be here without my Sam Somm Community, clients, wine club, family, and of course my little team, Paige Cuff and Ella Beck.
Can you tell us more about the name?
YES! Love this question. Faff means “fuss” in British slang. Ella loved it from the British bake off, and I loved it from my love story in London. England meeting my husband Nick.
Sam, thanks for all you’re doing to make the wine a fun, approachable place. We adore you! Now let’s hear more from Ella on the winemaking side….
What did you want to be when you grew up?
An interior designer, then an engineer.
When did you decide that wine was “it” for you?
Many winemakers have a romantic story about a place, a wine, a vineyard, a moment in time. Not me. I got into UC Davis for engineering and showed up for orientation only to find that the program looked super boring (sorry, engineers), and that the degree would take 5 years. I only had a scholarship for 4 years and I couldn’t afford Davis without it. So in my orientation dorm room I googled “what majors is UC Davis really good at” and Google said “it’s the #1 winemaking school.” The degree program looked like a lot of science, which I loved and figured could transfer well to other career fields should wine not work out.
I didn’t care for wine at the time but I figured if I drank enough of it, it would eventually grow on me, and here we are.
Where did your career in winemaking start?
My first harvest was at a small winery in central Oregon (I thought I signed up to work in the Willamette Valley, and boy was I surprised).
However, I think I’d really say my career in winemaking started with my first job out of college. I worked two years at Black Stallion Estate Winery in Napa and that’s where I really found my stride. I ran the lab and was given amazing opportunities to taste regularly with the winemaking team despite being really low on the totem pole. I’m forever grateful for that experience.
What’s your favorite grape to work with?
I don’t think I really have one, they’re all little jerks in their own ways and every vintage presents new challenges. I will say though, the payoff of preserving all the aromas on an aromatic white wine is pretty fulfilling.
What are some of the challenges you face in winemaking and how do you overcome them?
I think the biggest challenge for me has been actually leaving full-time wine production. After doing full-time production for several years, I realized that the career growth is often slow and the pay makes it hard to sustain living in wine country. I made the decision to try other aspects of the wine industry as my full-time career and now make wine part time on the side for Faff.
But winemaking is an interesting industry. You’re supposed to have this love affair with wine and undying commitment to the craft, sticking it out through tough harvests, long hours, and low wages. All of which becomes eventual feathers in your cap once you “make it” to becoming a winemaker.
Don’t get me wrong I love winemaking, but I needed stability, career growth opportunities, and an income that could support me on my own. The hardest part has been fighting all those feelings of inadequacy in making the decision to pursue other options.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
The smell of harvest in the cellar (if you know you know). Also, playing music in the cellar. There are certain songs that just sound epic, reverberating off of all that concrete and metal, and if you get it right it’s a whole ~vibe~.
Fav Faff food pairing?
As a female in a male-dominated industry, what obstacles have you had to overcome?
In production I’ve found a huge problem to be the willingness to overlook sexual harassment. I know several women with the same or similar stories of working for or with people behaving extremely inappropriately without recourse. Many wineries are small and don’t have HR or other resources. Furthermore, many wineries are comprised mostly of men, and the locker room culture can really thrive.
Another interesting obstacle is that, in my career, the people who have held me back the most have been (older) women. The feeling is that because they had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to overcome misogyny, the next generation should have to too.
What advice would you give to other women who want to pursue a career in wine?
This is advice that I would give anyone but particularly women. Know when to move on from a job.
The wine industry romanticizes an unhealthy work ethic. But always remember making wine is not saving lives. It’s not worth your mental health to be unhappy for 8+ hours a day. If you find yourself unhappy in a job, do everything you can to change it, and if it shows you it won’t change, move on and don’t feel bad about it.
Thanks so much for sharing you insight and story with us! We are impatiently waiting for your next wine release to drop!