From Old World Tuscany and Bordeaux to New World California and Washington, women are taking over the reins at wineries—and increasingly, they’re the daughters of the winery owners or founders. In the vineyards, in the fermentation rooms, in the business offices of their family wineries, or on the road selling and promoting their wines, the next generation can be found forging businesses ahead into a new era.
Daughters have been working alongside fathers in the European wine industry for centuries, according to our European editors, Rome-based Monica Larner and Bordeaux-based Roger Voss. “Many of Italy’s best-known wineries are run by families with 20-something heirs, both women and men,” Larner says. In France, Austria, and Portugal, reports Voss, “Strong father is being followed by equally strong daughter.”
California also has a history of daughters running the show. Take, for instance, Isabelle Simi, who at just 18 years old took over Simi Winery after her father, Giuseppe, died suddenly of the flu. More recently, during the wine revival of the 1970s, ’80s and into the ’90s, couples went into the winery business together, evolving the vineyard version of the mom-and-pop shop.
California wine industry daughters traditionally worked on the business side of operations, but that too is changing. Women now make up half of the enrollment at the University of California at Davis’s Department of Viticulture and Enology. We caught up with a number of father/daughter wine industry teams for a behind-the-scenes look at the realities of what it’s like when the business is a family affair. —Steve Heimoff
Elaine Villamin laughs as she describes the reaction she sometimes gets out on the road, marketing her Eden Canyon wines. Her dad, Danilo, a Philippine-born immigrant, planted the estate vineyard in a warm part of inland California southeast of Paso Robles in 1995—only to have his grapevines incinerated in the big “Highway 58 Wildfire” a year later. “But Dad’s motto is, ‘No means? Find another way,'” Villamin says.
She never thought she’d be a winemaker. “In all honesty, it wasn’t what I went to school for. I wanted to be a writer. But happy accidents happen!” Nowadays, Villamin says, “I handle everything outside the vineyard: taxes, sales, business. And I get to make all the key winemaking decisions—when to pick, brix levels, acids.” She calls herself a “wine gypsy” because “when it’s just you and your dad running the business, you’re on the road a lot.”
Working in the family winery can be a double-edged sword. “Crush is hard, people get short. When the stress is on and you don’t take the time to communicate, it can be rough,” she says. But the positives outweigh the occasional negative. “My father can just move his nose a certain way, and I know I need to do something. There’s such telepathy. We can spend hours working together and only say five words.” —S.H.
Sarah Cahn Bennett and Ted Bennett; Navarro Vineyards
Consumers know Navarro for its crisp Anderson Valley wines, but Sarah Cahn Bennett knows it a bit more personally. “I grew up there. My parents’ house is 100 feet from the winery,” she says. Those parents are Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn, who started the California winery in 1973.
She thought about being a veterinarian, “but it’s much more fun making wine than putting down animals.” After finishing her thesis at U.C. Davis’ Viticulture and Enology Department just last spring, Bennett worked the vintage at a winery in New Zealand and then returned to work in Navarro’s tasting room. “But this fall I’ll be fulltime in the winery, as the enologist,” she says, which means working in the lab.
Navarro’s winemaker for the last 15 years has been Jim Klein, “and we’re hoping he’ll stay at least another 15 years,” Bennett says. “But we don’t have an assistant winemaker, so I’ll fill in that role.” Meanwhile, “I might possibly start up my own label. We’ll see.”
Working with her dad is a delight, Bennett notes. “We have similar personalities, similar energy levels. Mom always jokes that she could never work for my father, but for some reason, we enjoy being together.”
Navarro, in fact, is really as much about families as it is about wine, according to Bennett. “Most of the people at Navarro, from the cellar workers to the tasting room and office managers—their entire family works here, so there’s quite a bit of family feeling.” —S.H.
Jennifer and Daniel Gehrs; Daniel Gehrs Wines, Vixen Wines
“A female fox is called a vixen,” says Jennifer Gehrs, explaining how she came up with the name for her own personal label. As the daughter of Daniel and Robin Gehrs, owners of Daniel Gehrs Wines, Jennifer Gehrs remembers, as a child, “sitting on wine barrels while the pickers gave me and my brother grapes. Or in the vineyard, they’d give us clippers and we’d get paid a quarter a bucket. Cheap labor!”
Her dad started his eponymous winery in Santa Barbara County in 1990, after 14 years at other wineries. “But the thought of being in the wine business didn’t enter my head until I was 21,” she says. “My family needed help in the tasting room and I was available. I realized I knew more about wine than I thought—the language, how to talk about it, and I had a good palate.”
Now, she manages Daniel Gehrs’ tasting room in Los Olivos, and says, “it’s a possibility” that she might make the wine there, someday, but not for a long time: “Dad’s many years from retiring.” Meanwhile, there’s Vixen, which specializes in Rhône varieties, and will be her focus going forward. Jennifer doesn’t have a formal winemaking degree. “Dad tutored me in everything,” she says, adding, “He always tells me how proud he is of me, and believe me, there isn’t a day I walk around here that I don’t know how lucky I am.” —S.H.
Anna, Kala and Don Othman; Kynsi Winery
“In our family, the job titles kind of go into each other!” Anna Othman jokes. Anna and Kala are sisters “and best friends,” Anna says. “I can’t imagine working better with anyone.” They’re the daughters of Don and Gwen Othman, who started the Edna Valley family winery in 1995 after Don Othman, who’d worked with exotic metals, invented The Bulldog Pup, a technology to rack wine without exposing it to oxygen.
Anna remembers when she was eight, and her father was consulting at a nearby winery, “I was putting foil on the bottles, and it was really fun.” She originally wanted to be a horticulturalist, “and I may still do that someday as a side job, but working in the vineyard really fulfills that for me, from budbreak to veraison, then bringing in these gorgeous clusters and making this intoxicating substance!”
Kala can’t recall a time when she didn’t know she’d be working in the family business: “It’s in my blood.” She describes how she and Anna first got the chance to collaborate on making Kynsi’s rich, exotic Kalanna Syrah, in 2003: “Dad had grapes coming out of his ears. With all that fruit, he said to us, ‘Do you guys want some?’
“Without all of us, this wouldn’t work,” Kala says. “But it doesn’t really feel like work,” adds Anna, “because we all love what we do.” —S.H.
“I’m a recovering Republican!” Parker Snider jokes. In the 1980s she worked in the Reagan White House, then for former Housing and Urban Development director and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp.
She might have stayed in Washington, but her father, Fess, the former TV and movie star, had bought his ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1988, and planted frapes, with the intention of starting a winery. “I was getting a little pressure to come home and be in the family business,” Parker Snider recalls, adding, “Dad is very family oriented.”
So she came home. “I started answerign phones, pouring in the tasting room, making lunch, picking up the mail,” she recalls.
Today Parker Snider’s job entails “a little bit of everything: writing the newsletter, working with dfistrbutors, consumer tastings.” I’m probably a little ADD, so it keeps me entertained.”
She doesn’t work directly with her famous father, who;s more involved with real estate development. “I love my dad. His persona is very genuine, but I’m probably more critical of him than anyone else, and he’s more critical of me.” And there’s no other place she;d rather be than at her father’s winery. “Tim [her husband, and the winery’s general manager] and I are both of the mind that this is where we want to be for the long haul. I feel like I’ve lucked out in life.” —S.H.
Rashell Rafanelli-Fehlman and Dave Rafanelli; A. Rafanelli Winery
“I’m the fourth generation here,” says Rashell Rafanelli-Fehlman, of the family winery in the western hills of Dry Creek Valley. Her great-grandparents established the company in 1911. “It’s all family-owned, never changed hands, just been passed down, and I’m next in line.” Although her dad, Dave Rafanelli, is still active, Rafanelli-Fehlman has been making the wine since 1996.
“You know, when you grow up in the family business, it’s not as glamorous or as easy as it looks,” she says. “I was always involved in some aspect of the winery. People think I must have had pressure to get into the business. No. My parents never pressured me to follow any specific career. It just seemed natural to step in behind Dad and make wine.”
Her husband, Craig, is the winery’s vineyard manager, which keeps everything en famille. “Working with the family is great, but there are pros and cons,” Rafanelli-Fehlman smiles. “We’re a small family, so it can be a little hard to separate work and home life. When you sit down with your parents, you’re always talking about business, and sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, I need a break. I’ve got to get away!'” Still, she observes, “I can’t imagine doing anything else. My husband and I thoroughly enjoy it. This isn’t a job, it’s a way of life.” —S.H.
Whitney and Fred Fisher; Fisher Vineyards
Fisher Vineyards is a Napa Valley winery with a history of famous winemakers, including Chuck Ortman and Paul Hobbs. For the last four vintages, the wines have been made by Whitney Fisher, the daughter of Fred and Juelle Fisher, the founders.
“My brother and I would romp around with the vineyard crew,” she recalls, “and I remember topping barrels with Dad.” But Fisher never intended to work at the Spring Mountain facility. “Growing up in the business, you have a very sober picture of what it’s like,” she says.
At Princeton, Fisher kept changing her mind about a career. “I didn’t know what I wanted. In 1999, our winemaker at the time said to me, ‘Help! I need an intern for harvest.’ I was interested. By the end of harvest, I was hooked.”
Meanwhile, her parents were interviewing for a new winemaker. Fisher, with the help of her mentor, the consulting winemaker Mia Klein, landed the job. “When I started, I got the impression from some of the crew that ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ Well, I’ve always had the attitude, ‘If you think women can’t do this, you’re wrong!'”
Fred Fisher, now 74, “is starting to give up the reins,” Fisher says, which puts more responsibility into her hands. “We disagree at times. But he’s been incredibly open-minded and takes my suggestions eagerly.” Did her parents ever doubt she could succeed? “If they did,” she says, “I didn’t know it.” —S.H.
Stephanie and Joe Gallo; Gallo Family Vineyards
Stephanie Gallo was never guaranteed a job. “It was made very clear to me they’re not going to promote someone if they haven’t proven themselves,” she says. She was exposed to the business, but never pressured into it: “My parents told us to go with our passion.” Her passion was marketing, something she probably inherited from her grandfather, Ernest. She remembers going to stores with him and her dad, Joe, at the age of nine: “We’d do floor surveys to check out how our products were displayed, how this could be improved, does the competition look better?”
After graduating from Notre Dame in 1994, she started in an entry-level sales job at E&J Gallo. “Every great marketer has to know how to sell their product, and I knew our company could teach me how to sell wine,” she explains. Sales was a way to prove herself: “Numbers are numbers; you have to do well,” she says. And she did. In September 2005, Stephanie Gallo became director of marketing for Gallo Family Vineyards, the new name of what was formerly Gallo of Sonoma. She works directly with her father, Joe, who’s CEO of E & J Gallo. (And, of course, her cousin, Gina, is Gallo Family’s winemaker.)
“I have learned so much from my dad, both personally and professionally,” Gallo says. “At work, we talk about work. The second we step outside the winery, we’re father-daughter.” She’s proud of the family heritage: “My grandfather and great-uncle Julio brought wine to America. The second generation brought California wine to the world. I hope to do this for the rest of my life.” —S.H.
Delicato is the 13th largest winery in the U.S., and it’s still a family affair, as it has been since Gasparé Indelicato started it more than 75 years ago.
“Today, the third generation is running the business,” says Cheryl Indelicato, the daughter of one of Gasparé’s sons, Frank. “My dad is 81, and he still comes to the winery, but he doesn’t necessarily have a nine-to-five job anymore.”
She does, though, and it’s a big one. “My job focuses around San Bernabe,” she says, referring to the family-owned southern Monterey vineyard that’s supposedly the largest in the country. “I do a lot of hosting, tours and coordinating events like the winemaker celebration we just had in Monterey.”
As a young woman, Cheryl Indelicato got her nursing degree, “because our parents insisted that all of Generation Three graduate from college and work somewhere else for at least three years before coming back to the winery. I always knew I’d work here in some fashion; I just didn’t know exactly what.” She started fulltime at the winery in 1990 and has been there since.
Married to Claude Hoover, who also works at the winery, she talks a lot about the “work ethic” that has fueled the family since Gasparé’s day. The couple has an eight-year-old son, Dominick. Would she like to see him in the family business some day? “Oh, I’d love to, and his cousins, too!” Indelicato says. “We’re already teaching him all about varietals and brands.” —S.H.
Luisa and Dick Ponzi; Ponzi Vineyards
When they walk through the family’s original estate vineyard together, this father-and-daughter duo never seem to stop looking at the vines. There’s the occasional nod and query from the father, Dick Ponzi, followed with a ready answer by his daughter, Luisa Ponzi. Mostly, it’s just two winemakers walking through a very historic vineyard in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Ponzi, the son of Italian immigrants, was a Pinot Noir pioneer. However, he’s also allowed his daughter to blaze her own trail as Ponzi’s winemaker of more than a decade. “My brother, sister and I actually helped plant and water the vines, which were each surrounded by milk cartons,” she reminisces. “I would board the school bus and kids would tease me about growing milk!”
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, Dick Ponzi and his wife Nancy built Ponzi Vineyards into one of the most respected wineries in the U.S. Many awards, plus consistent praise from Robert Parker, touted Ponzi’s Pinot Noir.
Meanwhile, Luisa Ponzi continued her informal education in winemaking, though she emphasizes her father never put any pressure on her to follow in his footsteps. After completing her undergraduate studies, she chose to study the great Burgundies of France, immersing herself in winemaking science and culture. She earned the prestigious Certificate Professional D’Oenologie et Viticulture in 1993 and returned home to work on that year’s vintage with her father.
She says she knew she’d gained her father’s complete trust when he went on vacation during the harvest of 1996. Though he still provides advice and experience, Luisa Ponzi is now very much her own winemaker when it comes to Pinot Noir and other Ponzi offerings. She also enjoys working with Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Italian varietals like Arneis and Dolcetto, the last two a nod to her father’s heritage. —L.S.
Virginie and Nicolas Joly; Coulée de Serrant
For three years, Virginie Joly, 27, has been working with her father Nicolas, the man behind the much-celebrated Coulée de Serrant. She recently received a diploma in alternative medicine in Germany, which feeds nicely into the biodynamic viticultural practices that her father is identified with. Indeed, Nicolas Joly and Coulée de Serrant are synonymous with biodynamie, as it is called in France, the almost mystic belief in the balance of the relationship between the moon, the seasons and the planets, and the health of the vines and the vineyards. This approach is validated, year after year, in the superlative quality of the Chenin Blanc from his 37-acre Savennières vineyard in Anjou in France’s Loire Valley.
Joly speaks admiringly of what his daughter has brought to the family business. “She brings a complementarity to our work,” the onetime merchant banker says. “She understands the vine as a living organism, not as a machine. She has a gift and a great relationship with plants. A woman has a capacity to empathize with vines that a man lacks.” What does Virginie Joly bring to the estate? “She is better in the vineyard, in the cellar, than going out on the road,” says Dad. “She is following me, learning, but already she is an expert at making the biodynamic treatments. She can give some of her character to the vines.” —R.V
Tim and Sophia Bergqvist; Quinta de la Rosa
The Bergqvist family is an historic Port family. Formerly trading under the name of Feuerheerd, they have been shipping Port since 1815. Their link with Quinta de la Rosa is a little more recent—it was given to Tim Bergqvist’s mother as a christening present in 1905. For years, the fine grapes from this magnificent vineyard in the heart of Portugal’s Douro valley—135 acres climbing straight up from the river—were sold to other Port shippers.
Fast forward to 1988 and the relaxation of Port rules, allowing aging and shipping in the Douro valley rather than in Vila Nova de Gaia, at the mouth of the river. Tim Bergqvist decided to take advantage of the change, and to relaunch the property as a Port and wine producer. That’s where his daughter Sophia came in. She holds an MBA degree and had worked in London in sales and marketing. “I came in with my business school perspective, and got stuck into the financial side, the sales and the marketing,” she recalls. “Dad took charge of the vineyard and the wines.”
That has changed, she says. “As my father has got older, so he has relinquished the day-to-day activities, so now I am managing director. He’s the chairman, and the best ambassador we have.” Her father adds: “I act as a sounding board off which Sophia can bounce her ideas. I have known the Douro and its vagaries for more than half a century.”
How do father and daughter get on at work? “Incredibly well,” says Sophia. “It was initially hard to work with him on a business basis. Now the relationship couldn’t be better.” —R.V.
Francesca and Diego Planeta; Settesoli, Planeta
Among the many things that Diego and Francesca Planeta share is a birthday: February 2. He was born in 1940, and she in 1971. This father-and-daughter team are profoundly linked by common interests, personalities and above all a deep attachment to their native Sicily. He runs Settesoli, an important and historic cooperative, and she founded Planeta, the island’s hottest premium winery, with her cousins Santi and Alessio. “The most important thing my father taught me is teamwork: not corporate teamwork, but family teamwork, which is different,” she says.
Before Planeta’s first harvest in 1995, Francesca had embarked on a marketing career in Milan, but Sicily and family brought her back: “My father pushed me to broaden my horizons: He taught me to look beyond our immediate neighbors to Spain, California and France.” Family-run Planeta is definitely one of the brightest stars to emerge from the Sicilian wine renaissance. They own vineyards that span the southern part of the island, from Menfi to Noto, and recently purchased a parcel of land on Mount Etna. Wine tourism projects, including a rural bed and breakfast, are in the works, and Planeta’s wine portfolio includes international and Sicilian varieties and the critically acclaimed Cometa, from Fiano grapes.
And what does Dad think? “There is no greater satisfaction for a father,” says Diego Planeta, “than the combined pleasure of seeing both his daughter grow into a beautiful woman and see a family business meet success.” —M.L.
Xandra and Carlos Falcó; Pagos de Familia Marqués de Griñon
Xandra Falcó’s job is to make sure the wines of Pagos de Familia Marqués de Griñon are properly positioned on the world stage. That’s no small task. The family business dates back several centuries as Dominio de Valdepusa, and in recent memory it has come to the forefront of the Spanish wine industry under the leadership of her father, Carlos Falcó, who has led the company for the past 30 years.
It was Carlos Falcó, himself the Marqués de Griñon, who introduced Cabernet Sauvignon to La Mancha in the 1970s, and later gave Syrah and Petit Verdot their starts in Spain. Working with the esteemed French wine consultants Emile Peynaud and Michel Rolland, he installed trellising systems espoused by the renowned Australian agronomist Richard Smart, as well as drip irrigation. (The latter was illegal in La Mancha when Falcó first employed it in 1974, and he was fined by the authorities.)
Today, Dominio de Valdepusa (since 2002 an eponymous Denominación de Origen) continues to forge ahead. Xandra Falcó, who joined the family business in 2001, has since become commercial director. Fluent in English after having lived for a few years in Washington, D.C., where she started up an interior design firm, she has taken an active role in determining the future of the family business.
“Xandra has contributed importantly to the public image of our company, proving herself as an excellent communicator. Her frequent interviews in major Spanish media have reinforced our image,” says her father. “From a business standpoint, Xandra is helping to ensure the continuity of our company.”
Her presence is also ensuring that Dad doesn’t retire any time soon. “I am personally enjoying every minute of working with my daughter,” he says, “even if Xandra makes me travel and work more than ever before.” —M.S.
Cristina Mariani-May and John Mariani, Jr.; Banfi
When a student at Georgetown University, Cristina Mariani-May studied abroad in Florence, the jewel of Tuscany. During that time, she frequently joined her father, John Mariani, chairman of wine importer Banfi Vintners, as he paid house calls to various Italian suppliers.
From that point on, it was more or less guaranteed that Cristina would join the family-run business, which also includes Castello Banfi, a leading wine producer based in Montalcino. Fresh out of school in 1993, Cristina began working for the family firm, which was founded in 1919 by her grandfather, John Mariani Sr.
Over the past decade, Mariani-May has assumed a prominent role in Banfi’s marketing department, and during this time has earned her MBA from Columbia University in New York. Today, Mariani-May is Banfi’s executive vice president for global marketing, and oversees Castello Banfi’s marketing, winemaking and sales programs as they relate to the more than 50 countries in which Castello Banfi sells its wines. In addition, Mariani-May helped steer Banfi’s efforts in the clonal research of Sangiovese, in conjunction with the University of Milan.
“To be able to work with my father, first and foremost as my mentor, has been the greatest opportunity a young person starting out in a career could have. Having him oversee my projects has helped me and guided me. He’s put me on a path to excellence, which is really the same path that he’s been on at Banfi for years,” says Mariani-May.
And Dad couldn’t be more proud. “The lady known today as Cristina Mariani-May is adorable, patient, understanding, intelligent, athletic, charming, full of love and self assurance, and a wonderful mother to my grandsons and granddaughter. Cristina is a born leader.”
Strong praise from one of the giants of the American wine industry. —M.S.
Gaia and Angelo Gaja; Gaja
Angelo Gaja’s enthusiasm and general vitality is so immense, you can almost envisage his energy field reverberating past the stone-paved alleys of Barbaresco as he marches to work. Thanks to his talents, optimism and skill with Piedmont’s Nebbiolo grape, Gaja is today an emblem of Italian winemaking at its very best. But Gaja is also the kind of man who makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to fill his shoes.
Anyone, that is, except Gaia Gaja—his 27-year-old exceptionally communicative daughter. “She’s better than me,” says a proud father. “I’m a big old bear when it comes to public relations, but she wins people over in a flash with her character and smile and doesn’t have any of my arrogance.” Gaia has worked in marketing for two years, after a childhood spent among wine and grapes.
“I love everything about my surroundings: living in the little town of Barbaresco surrounded by vines, with a population of 600 people,” she says.
Her father was greatly influenced by his grandmother Clotilde Rey, who died in 1961—the same year he took over in the winery. In fact, he makes a Chardonnay named “Gaia & Rey” in honor of her and his eldest daughter. (His youngest daughter, Rossana, 25, is a university student.)
When asked what lessons he’d like to impart to his daughters, he replies emphatically: “My children have had lessons all their life through schools, teachers and professors. Now its time for them to live! Basta!” Gaia might disagree: “I’ve learned a lot from my father: Never second guess yourself.” —M.L.
Albiera, Allegra, Alessia and Marchese Piero Antinori; Antinori
Albiera, Allegra, Alessia Antinori: It may read like a tongue twister, but it’s really a blueprint for the future of Italian wine. Their father, Tuscany’s Marchese Piero Antinori, is the current personification of six centuries of winemaking tradition—over 26 generations. His biggest accomplishment has been turning Antinori into Italy’s number-one wine brand. But his three daughters are now charged with something even more ambitious: maintaining that legacy.
Father-daughter relationships in wine are special, but a father-and-three-daughters relationship is almost unheard of. Incredible unity—a theme echoed by all four Antinoris—is the secret of the company’s success.
“It’s a unique dynamic, but we work in harmony despite having different personalities,” says the youngest daughter, Alessia, 31, an enologist who heads the family’s Montenisa sparkling wine project in Franciacorta.
“Our father gave each of us a different part of himself and we overlap perfectly,” says middle daughter Allegra, 35, who oversees the family’s restaurants: “Albiera is a great manager, Alessia loves to travel and I have his enthusiasm.” The eldest daughter, Albiera, 40, heads the company’s real estate division and is general manager of Prunotto, the Piedmont property: “We grew up in wine and although our father…let us get [there] naturally.” The three daughters agree that the vast scope and many branches of the Antinori empire have helped keep them focused on individual projects and helped foster their special bond.
Albiera has two children, Vittorio and Verdiana, and reflects on lessons learned from her father: “What I try to teach my children is what my father taught me: It’s not enough to know what direction to take, you need to know where you want to end up.” —M.L.
Last Updated: May 4, 2023