The first in a two-part series to honor Women’s History Month, this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast features some of the leading ladies of the California wine scene who are driving the industry forward today.
There are plenty of multigenerational wine families throughout the world, but in the U.S., the country’s oldest continually operated family-owned winery is Wente Vineyards, based in Livermore, CA.
Carolyn Wente, Chairman of the Board, and her niece, Aly Wente, VP of Marketing and Customer Experience, represent the fourth and fifth generations in the family business. Here, they talk with Contributing Editor Virginie Boone about how their relationships and openness to innovation have helped maintain the winery’s standing and ensure its continued success for generations to come.
Also in this episode is Remi Cohen, the new CEO of Domaine Carneros. After holding numerous management positions at various wine businesses, in 2020, Cohen succeeded Domaine Carneros’ founding winemaker and CEO Eileen Crane after her 33-year tenure at the estate.
As the second CEO of this iconic California brand founded by the family behind Champagne Taittinger, Cohen shares how her decades of experience have helped shape her role and perspectives today, which include making sure a company works for you as opposed to you working for a company.
For more articles surrounding women’s history month, check out this piece on female empowerment in the drinks industry, how these entrepreneurs built digital communities with wine, and the leaders behind some of Champagne’s premier houses.
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Lauren Buzzeo 0:09
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast, your serving of drinks culture and the people who drive it. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the managing editor at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, the first of a two part series in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re talking with some leading ladies of the California Wine scene. Contributing Editor Virginie Boone speaks with Carolyn and Aly Wente, fourth and fifth generation wine growers at Wente Vineyards, the country’s oldest continually operated family owned winery, and Remi Cohen, the new CEO of Domaine Carneros, who succeeded founding winemaker and CEO Eileen Crane. For conversations on maintaining family businesses, and how to stay nimble and innovative for continued growth and success. With decades of experience, and countless experiences that have helped to shape their roles and perspectives today, lean in to the wisdom these women have to share. But first, today’s podcast is brought to you by Total Wine. Flowing into spring at Total Wine and more where fresh flavors are in full bloom. We’re talking Rieslings in rain boots, bubbly and brunch, or Pinot on the porch anyone? No matter what’s on your table. We have the wine and the savings to go with your menu. Sauvignon Blanc plays nicely with smoked salmon. Bacon practically begs for Chardonnay. And which rose are you feeling today? We surely have a shade to match. Brighten up your glass with fresh cocktails, Rose Prosecco makes a beautiful twist on a Mojito or mix up your Sangria with a spritz of berry seltzer. With over 8,000 wines, 4,000 spirits and 2,500 beers to choose from, you can expect the unexpected, always at the best prices in town with the best service in America. So what will it be today? Choose curbside pickup in store pickup shipping or delivery, explore more in store or at TotalWine.com.
Virginie Boone 2:03
I am here today with two of the great women from Wente. Carolyn Wente is fourth generation and the CEO. She was president of the Wine Institute in 2014, an organization started by her grandfather some 80 years ago. She joined Wente in the early 1980s and is responsible for a lot of its lifestyle business. Also with us is Aly Wente, whose father is Phil Wente, Caroline’s brother. She is fifth generation. She is director of marketing, digital ecommerce, customer experience and wine club management. Aly joined in 2019. Welcome to you both.
Aly Wente 2:43
Thank you for having us.
Carolyn Wente 2:45
Yes, very excited. And it’s always a pleasure to catch a glimpse of my niece.
Virginie Boone 2:51
Yeah, I bet I bet that that it seems like that would be so easy, but not these days. So it’s good that you’re together. And I wish that we were all together but here we are in California. You know enjoying some good weather and trying to get through all these lockdowns. So it’s nice to just have a chance to talk no matter what the situation.
Aly Wente 3:11
Absolutely. It’s just nice to hear your voice even if we’re through the screen. It feels really good.
Virginie Boone 3:18
I know. So Carolyn, you were a pioneer in offering more than wine to your winery guests. First opening the restaurant at Wente in 1986 followed by a summer concert series. later came development of your 18-hole golf course in 1998. Why did you think these additions to Wente were so important?
Carolyn Wente 3:41
So I guess I follow in the my previous generations footsteps, being a family with a lot of firsts. You know, I think back to my grandfather who developed the Wente clone of Chardonnay and he and his brother were the first to varietally label Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay right after Prohibition, the first to kind of pioneer down in the Monterey area of Arroyo Seco appellation, and certainly my my dad started a tasting room in the early 1960s with my mom here in the Livermore Valley. So Nick was just kind of following on, on their coattails, if you will, or that entrepreneurial spirit that they had. And for me, if you think about the wine industry, in the 1980s, it was really beginning to flourish with a lot of new wineries jumping into the game and expansion going on. And so many of them were the new kids on the block, right? And being a third and fourth generation family owned brand, I felt like there was an opportunity for us to reach out and reconnect with the consumers. And so how best to do that then to bring them to our property, to show them our wine country lifestyle, and so I think that’s what that energized me about trying to connect with them. And so starting with a restaurant and trying to use everything that was from our estate or as as many estate grown products as possible, and then pairing those with our wines and trying to feature Livermore Valley wines to create more connection with the Livermore Valley as an appellation. So, you know, in 1984, when I think we first opened these businesses, we were getting around 50,000 guests a year through our property. And with the opening of, as you said, the concert series and the golf course, and one or two more of our tasting rooms and experiences, we have over 300,000 visitors that come to see us annually. And I think it’s just that opportunity to connect with them, and to have them understand what we do every day, what we’re so passionate about, and go away as you know, having an affinity for our brand and being our best brand ambassadors because they’ve had a chance to be here and experience it.
Virginie Boone 6:18
Yeah, it just seems like it’s just so interesting to me, like looking back at all of those firsts that you had, because it really seems like so many wineries are now trying to play catch up in offering a wider array of experiences for people. It seems like winery visits tend to be longer now or people want to stay longer rather than jumping around. And so, it’s just it’s a great example of thinking about the customer experience from day one.
Carolyn Wente 6:47
Exactly. And I think that, for having started that back in the 1980s, I think it really did give us a distinction from what other wineries were doing. And yes, our core business is growing grapes and making wine. But there were so many new consumers and people wanting to connect with the wine business, and maybe not feeling really comfortable about wine, so why not connect them with things that they’re familiar with and just have, you know, great wine, great hospitality, great food, great music, and a way to enjoy and make time for the things that you love to do?
Virginie Boone 7:35
Well, it’s a great way to bring Aly into the conversation, because, you know, I think Aly as fifth generation, I would expect that you’ve got a fresh perspective on the wine industry. What innovations do you have in mind for younger generations to feel engaged with Wente?
Aly Wente 7:51
Yeah, you know, it’s a great question. And I think a lot of it really is to kind of carry on that experience-forward mindset that the fourth generation really had for the business. You know, I think that it really is all about the experience and how customers are experiencing your brand and where are they consuming it. They’re consuming wine differently these days in different areas, and for different occasions, for different reasons. And it’s evolving to really speak to them in those environments, and, you know, expanding our experiences on property, to really be unique for them, to have different music events, to have different artistic events, and really offer them something unique. And then you know, I also think it is kind of, for me, at least it’s leveraging technology and where technology can really intersect with the customer. Because though we can see 300,000 visitors annually, there are so many more people across the United States who have an opportunity to get to know your brand. And so we really like to think about how can we meet someone in their living room. And as an example, over the past year, around last May actually—wow, time has flown by—we launched a virtual tasting experience through Amazon Alexa and Google Home. So anybody with a device can now you know, buy the wines at the grocery store and go through a guided tasting through their device in the comfort of their home. They can be sitting in sweats on the couch, pop open some line with their family and have a unique experience. And I think it’s trying to be creative and think differently and not just the traditional, you know, wine tasting at the property all the time.
Virginie Boone 9:50
Yeah, I totally agree. And I think it has been a time of great creativity and innovation in the wine world because of the circumstances under which we’ve found ourselves. But I still wonder, you know, whether it’s virtual or in real life, you know you you’ve created such great experiences for people to enjoy your wine around other lifestyle pursuits. But how do you balance that with keeping wine front and center?
Aly Wente 10:18
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think it’s always a balance. I think, again, to me, what I always think about is the first thing is, you know, where and how are people enjoying your wine? And then you really build the experience after that. So to me, it always starts with the question about the wine and where are they having it and how do they want to feel and what are you celebrating or what are you not? So I think that’s kind of where I start. And then I like to build around it from there when I’m thinking of keeping one at the center of what we’re doing.
Carolyn Wente 10:54
Yeah, and I think, since that’s where we started back in the 1980s, and even my father before that, as as guests, were driving down Tesla road and seeing the winery and pulling in before we even had a tasting room in the 40s and the 50s, they’d open up a bottle of wine and pour the guests to taste, and then sell them a case. Right? And so then it was that whole idea of how do you engage people with wine and make it easy and accessible for them? And so, yeah, wine is our core business. But inherently for me, when you step on our property, you’re already in the midst of vineyards or you’re in a winery. So you set up that winery engagement and that’s setting the stage for connecting with that guest, but there’s multiple generations, varying demographics nowadays, and I think Aly put it beautifully about how do you how do we connect with that consumer in our wine experiences? Well, it’s changed dramatically from the 1980s when I started many of these businesses to today, and I think the pandemic and COVID gave us an opportunity to reimagine where we wanted to go with the on property experiences, and then how do you take those and bring them forward to the east coast or to Japan and connect people around the world to your brand. And I think that’s the thing that Aly’s grasping and putting some great thinking around, as are many other wineries in in California and around the world. But I think it’s how she and her team really jumped on what was a pandemic and shutting down our businesses and our connection with people and turning it around to how can we take this opportunity and reach out in a new way and connect with new consumers. So that’s really important to me as fourth generation to see how the fifth is wanting to engage with not just here on property, but reaching further out and using technology to do that.
Virginie Boone 13:18
Well, and it’s so great that the different generations and certainly the two of you are working together to try and figure these things out, these transitions and phases. But I do want to talk a little bit more about the family aspect of the business, which is so crucial to Wente. But you know, Carolyn, you’ve said that you’re in a relationship based business. And as such, it’s important to have visible family leaders who are devoted for the long run. How have you seen this work in practice?
Carolyn Wente 13:48
Well, I would start with just, I guess, my own entry into the wine business. My father died in 1977. And I was a senior at Stanford, and my two brothers and I took over the winery basically at that point. And I think we had to immediately show to distributors, retailers, restaurants, restaurateurs, hoteliers, you know, the people that he and my grandfather were doing business with every day, that we had the same integrity and sense of family business and wanting to deliver quality and have that continuity going forward. And so it’s really wanting to embody that sense of trust that my father and grandfather had with those business leaders. So when I came into the business, it was connecting with that generation, and then getting out into the marketplace, representing our brands. And, you know, here I am in my 20s, I’m connecting with that next leadership or, you know, entry level into the wine industry. Because you’re doing work with or ride with and you connect with people and you get to know them, and they’re the ones who are working their way up, you know, same age group moving into the business and climbing that corporate ladder and I have to say that, you know, I did work with many of the leaders of our distributor partners today as an example like Brad Vassar and Steve Harden at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits. I worked with Tom Cole, rode around in a car with him one day, you know, in here he’s leading RNDC. Angie Packer and Brad Johnson from Tryon distributing and in North Carolina or Carolyn Vale Miller at Heidelberg in Ohio. So, you know, these are people that I established relationships with, and they saw me in the marketplace, they understood our brand, our family, who we were and who we are. And what’s exciting to me is that now we have that next generation of highly visible leaders engaged in our family business, from Karl as winemaker and COO and Aly, director of marketing and Jordan Wente, her oldest sister in winery supply chaining and Niki Wente, Ali’s younger sister who’s our viticulturalist. So they themselves are now ingraining themselves creating these new generational leadership connections that I think will get us to that next well down to the next generation. And I’m bridging with Aly on many of the the relationships that I have. But for a small, family-owned winery. You know, midsize in terms of our our vineyard holdings, our wine sales, it’s important. It is a relationship business. The people that we have these relationships with know us, trust us, know that they can win with our wines, and that will be there to deliver and back up what we do every day.
Virginie Boone 17:21
Right. Well, and Aly, I wonder what your experience has been. I mean, does it help? Are you forging relationships that you feel are a little bit stronger because you do have the Wente name?
Aly Wente 17:34
That’s an interesting question. And, you know, yes, I will say I’ve just now been working at Wente for a year and nine months, a year and 10 months. So really, I have not been back at the company for that long. And a lot of it actually has now been COVID lock down. So while I wish I had been in the market a little bit more, I have not been as much. But I will say in my past life, before coming to the family business, I think it definitely, while I was certainly representing the brands I represented at the time, my name was my name. So I still made those relationships, I believe, on my family’s behalf, kind of like double duty a little bit. You know, there’s some things you can’t escape. But I think it was great to have those experiences and I really do look forward to kind of, you know, continuing that on and to hear Carolyn kind of share that past story, it makes me excited for the opportunities for the future. And, you know, just the relationships to come.
Virginie Boone 18:42
Well, Isuppose, you know, at some point, people just realize that you’re in it for the long run. And that is a statement. That you’re going to be there, that you’re building something that’s kind of beyond yourself.
Aly Wente 18:55
Yeah, I know that that is definitely true.
Carolyn Wente 18:57
And I think that that’s what we tried to impart to our children as they were growing up, and they’re all young adults now. But if you and I’ve talked about this before, you know, it’s that you want them to come back, but they have to want to come back. It’s not about creating, you know, a family business that provides jobs for people, it’s about that that passion of you found the thing you really want to do. And if you’ve found that, then you’re going to do it well, you’re going to be energized all the time. And I see that with this fifth generation that’s come back to the winery so far. Actually there’s six of them in the fifth generation and five of them are are passionate about what they’re doing, and they’re each doing something different in terms of the family business. And so the last one is my son who’s working for Southern Glazer’s in Dallas, Texas, learning how to sell wine and making his way up the ladder there as well, gaining in a lot of different experiences. But again, making different contacts, different relationships with a different generation of people in the industry. And it’s not just about distributors, I think it’s media contacts that we’ve made through the years, it’s restaurteurs and retailers that I’ve grown up with the kids of the original owners, and you know, there are other family businesses that you connect with. So it’s really a fun business to be in, but relationships are key.
Virginie Boone 20:42
Well, and I think I read an interview with you where you noted that, you know, the fourth generation was really you and your two brothers. And because of your dad’s passing, the three of you really took on running the business together. Now, as you note, there’s double that, right? There’s six of the fifth generation, and they have different parents, they were raised in different households, in some cases, you know, it’s expanding. So how do you keep an expanding family business nimble and open to new ideas?
Carolyn Wente 21:16
Well, I think that’s why we are a fifth generation family owned business, because I think, you know, innovation is a word that is used quite a bit, but I think we are much more about being evolutionary, not revolutionary. So we think about change, we think into the future, and I think many people who are in a heavily capital intensive business, like the wine business, where you have to be thinking 5, 10 years out in terms of planting vineyards, or winery improvements and those kinds of things, but really it goes back to being able to have that entrepreneurial spirit, being able to be creative and continue to expand and evolve your business. And unless you’re nimble and willing to adjust to the best information you have at the time, you’re not going to survive. And I think that’s where we’ve been good, and nimbleness does help that. The leaders and the people you surround yourself with too—it’s not just our family. It’s all the great people we have working in our company who are super smart, they keep me on my toes constantly. And and that’s part of the nimbleness too.
Aly Wente 22:46
Absolutely. And I think just from a family perspective, while we all grew up in different houses—well, not all of us, I have sisters, and cousins who have siblings. But you know, we grew up in three separate households as a fifth generation. I think what is very true is that we all have a lot of respect for the fourth generation, the third, the second, the first, and the passion that our parents felt, was very much shared with us throughout our entire childhood, adulthood, still to this day. You know, the fourth generation are some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. And that certainly rubs off on us. And I think, ultimately, at the end of the day, we all appreciate that about each other, we see it in each other. And then we also have a lot of trust, I think, in each other. As Carolyn was saying, we all kind of navigate different areas of the business. While you know, maybe my dad was more heavily a farmer but so with now my younger sister, you know, she has someone to look up to. I do something completely different than my dad, but Carolyn was in marketing before. So we all kind of have role models, but to this day, we’re all doing something a little different. And we respect what each individual person brings to the table. And I think that kind of helps us be nimble in a respect because we we trust in each other’s decisions. And then again, what Carolyn was saying, we also trusted each other to build the best teams. And so we have incredible people next to us and the way that we stay in constant communication with each other and like to, you know, continue the legacy, not rip it over and start new again, helps us make decisions much faster because we are kind of trudging the vision that we’ve identified for ourselves.
Virginie Boone 24:42
Yeah, no, I think that that shared sense of trust and vision is probably key and something that a lot of other family businesses, whether they’re in wine or some other pursuit, struggle with in some cases. So if you’ve got trust and vision, I think you’ve got a lot I would imagine across generations.
Carolyn Wente 25:03
I think it’s also building a team that has the same core values as, not only you as a person, a family. And that’s what’s wonderful for me about a family business is that set of core values that’s the foundation. And you can go and find top talent that share those same core values, which then makes the whole idea of building trust and sharing the same vision much easier. Because if you don’t have that same core sense of values in how you want to go to work every day, or how you want to show up every day, and talk to people be with people, share excitement with people, then I think that makes work a lot harder and makes you less nimble.
Virginie Boone 25:56
Yeah. Aly, I want to ask you about ecommerce. It’s become such an incredible tool for wineries and especially with all the pandemic related shutdowns, I don’t know, if it’s ever been more essential for wineries to understand ecommerce. What have you learned about doing it well? And I will take into account that you’ve only been in your position for, like you said, about a year. But what have you learned about doing it well?
Aly Wente 26:28
Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, we learned a lot. We were lucky, you know, we had a kind of ecommerce direct selling wine team setup for for the past couple years now. But goodness this year really tested us to see what we knew, tested our chops. But I think for us, what you have to keep first and foremost in your mind, is why are people going to buy from your site versus somewhere else? You know, I think they are looking for something different and new. So what do you have that others don’t have? What kind of experience can you provide with that? And then, you know, I think, too, it’s providing convenience for them. We saw, over the pandemic, that people were purchasing quite often, and purchasing a lot of the same. They really liked, you know, for example, our Riva Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay, so we tried to quickly react to that and plan and ended up launching a monthly subscription service. At the end of the summer, which, you know, had kind of like we’ll call it the classic favorites that we just saw people repeat purchasing. And then we were able to get, you know, people to be aware of these clubs and sign up. And then it’s just a reoccurring revenue stream month over month. And you can count on it. So then that sort of automates, I would say, you know, a lot of effort in trying to get people to buy wine regularly. And then you can go focus on other promotions and putting together something unique. So, you know, like over the holidays, we put together a six week holiday library pack program, where each week we released a tasting room wine and a library vintage alongside it. And that was really popular with people because it was, you know, not readily available. We weren’t currently selling older vintages on our website, but it was something fun, they were very giftable. So I think it’s thinking about, you know, what’s unique? How can you make your wine purchasing convenient? How can you automate, I think, you know, ecommerce takes a lot of time. And, you know, I should have started with this: Make sure you have your team. Carolyn’s laughing because I’ve been beating down her door. But I think you know, our team, is the most important piece of it. And you need somebody who has a really good understanding of the, you know, digital ecosystem, and how you can pull new customers in, and then continue to replenish the funnel of existing customers with more wine.
Carolyn Wente 29:14
Where do you look for that team?
Aly Wente 29:17
All over the place.
Virginie Boone 29:21
Yeah, no, I mean, these are important skills to have and skills that everybody’s sort of learning in real time. So it can’t be easy to figure that out. I’m wondering, though, you know, you said about bringing people in in the first place. I mean, so what are you seeing is effective in terms of social media practices, because that’s a huge way to bring people in.
Aly Wente 29:41
Yeah, yeah. It is a great way to bring people in. And I think you know, being authentic to who you are on social media is important. I think nowadays, consumers really want to have a different relationship with brands and they used to in the past and they care about who you are. So, you know, for example, when shutdowns happened in March, my sister and I wanted to react quickly because we realized that people were at home, they were not able to experience our brand unless they were buying in the supermarket or you know, liquor store. And they weren’t able to come on property, and people were kind of going through something. So we quickly set up a weekly wine Wednesday on Instagram. And it’s pretty funny to think back to like our first episode. We were so nervous about getting all the tasting notes just right and making it very, like informative. And at the end of the day, my sister and I are very close, we’re 17 months apart in age, and we started joking a lot with each other and kind of, you know, a little sisterly rivalry.
Carolyn Wente 30:50
Like little sister Lila.
Aly Wente 30:51
Little sister Lila. And that’s what we found is that people love the most. They they liked the wine.
Carolyn Wente 30:57
It was the chuffin around as a family, you know. It’s wanting to get inside the wine family thing. And the two sisters were great at giving them a glimpse of life.
Aly Wente 31:07
Yeah, we let them into our sisterly, you know, silliness a little bit, which was a totally different approach that we’d really ever taken, especially with Wente as a brand. And, you know, we then posted the videos afterwards on Facebook and Instagram. And really, each one was getting thousands of views. And I think that really, at the end of the day, while it’s so simple. It just made people feel so much more connected to us, like they were at the family table or something. And that ended up being a really great way to bring new new customers into the fold.
Carolyn Wente 31:43
Well, then they were doing such a good job, but getting tired of the sisterly love, they, I think, you know, expanded on it. And they brought their mom in to cook a pie with them one time too.
Aly Wente 31:57
Karl to do yoga.
Carolyn Wente 31:58
Right and interviewed me at some point and my brother Eric and their dad, they had their dad on a couple of times. So, you know, it was a nice glimpse into the Wente family. The number of people who viewed it afterwards, that’s what was astounding to me, because everybody can always sign on at 5 o’clock on Wednesday pacific time. And I was just thrilled to see how many people came back to and or came to the website to look at these wine Wednesdays and the two goofy girls.
Virginie Boone 32:37
Well, I think we all need a little more goofy girls in our lives, right? So I’m not surprised that would do well and would connect with people.
Aly Wente 32:45
Yeah, yeah, it was fun. It was definitely a fun period. And then the weekly-ness of it started to be a little bit much.
Carolyn Wente 32:51
Aly Wente 32:52
Yeah, a lot of time on planning, but it was fun. And it definitely was successful.
Carolyn Wente 32:57
Well, and I think it bridged a gap. That sense of, ‘Oh, I can’t connect with Wente or I can’t go to property,’ and then things started to slowly open up again. So I think they were able to step back because we could connect on property again, but they do them occasionally and still reach out and have their following. So it’s it’s a good new way that that I think we will continue to do business.
Aly Wente 33:26
Yeah. And then you know, otherwise, on social media, I think finding content that your you know, audience really enjoys, like, we started doing a lot more recipes, chef partnerships, really trying to branch out, you know, we used a lot of influencer marketing, using people who have audiences who are interested in travel. And how do we insert ourselves into that space for them? And so I think there’s a lot of great learning that you can do with that and I do believe that influencer marketing is a great way to get your brand out to different audiences and have it feel more organic.
Virginie Boone 34:07
Yeah, no doubt about it. Especially if you’re infusing that with, here’s our family and here’s my sister, and here we’re making a pie together, because I think people will feel, you know, whatever level of engagement they want, it seems like you’re sort of offering them.
Aly Wente 34:23
Yeah, keeping a mix, I think is very important. Because there’s always you know, there’s something for everyone at the end of the day.
Virginie Boone 34:30
All right. Well, to close things out. I want to ask each of you, what are you most looking forward to this year?
Carolyn Wente 34:40
Want me to go first? Okay. So I’m actually super excited that we might be able to dine out again. I have, literally since what we were shut down March 17, or something like that, have supported some of our Downtown restaurants with carry out but I would say I’ve probably cooked 99% of the meals in this house. And so I’m super excited about on premise and being able to see friends again in a very social, on premise manner and try some new wines there. And from a winery perspective, we have a number of new brands, Angels Inc, and Ravel and Stitch. Angels Inc is a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay brand soon to be. Ravel and Stitch has a Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and then we have a really great Chardonnay on premise only wine called Unsullied, which will be a new introduction this year. And so I’m looking forward to Aly getting that out in ecommerce and maybe giving out some fun new experiences here on on property to connect people with these new brands that are continuing to expand the portfolio at Wente Family Estates.
Aly Wente 36:08
Yeah, you know, I would say some of the same. She took a little bit of mine and she also gave me a little job update there. She gave me a look.
Virginie Boone 36:17
Yeah, you have work to do.
Aly Wente 36:22
So writing that note down. But I do think what Carolyn mentioned before is that we had a lot of time this year to think about what we wanted to improve upon on our on property experiences. So I’m really looking forward to as we can open up more, really introducing customers to these new experiences, I think they’re going to be pretty great. I’m biased, because I helped create them. But I’m very excited. I think that they’ll definitely speak to a younger generation as well, with just the variety that we’ll be able to offer. So that really excites me. And then yeah, similarly, I just look forward to seeing the on premise environment get their feet back under them a little bit. I think it was a tough year. For the business. It was a tough year personally. I’m a foodie at heart and enjoy dining out very often. So I’m personally and professionally, you know, really hoping for that. And I think you know, right before COVID really hit we were really just getting our keg business going. And we had just launched 375, and those were all really targeted at the on premise segment. And so I’m really looking forward to continuing to introduce those new formats to accounts and and getting those up and going so that more people can try the beautiful wines that my family has been making for 138 years. So that is what excites me.
Virginie Boone 37:54
Well, it sounds like you have a lot going on. And let’s hope things continue to open so we can all move forward. And I look forward to seeing you both in person sometime this year. That would be what I’m looking forward to. And I just want to thank you both for your time.
Carolyn Wente 38:14
Well, thank you.
Aly Wente 38:15
Thank you. This was super fun.
Lauren Buzzeo 38:21
Today’s podcast is brought to you by Taste France. Are you willing to explore the world of authentic and delicious French food and wine or discover the lesser known French appellations or producers? Do you care about winemakers who work hard to produce responsibly and sustainably? If like us you value high quality French products, visit TasteFrance.com. Taste France is passionate about French food and wine and just can’t keep it all to themselves. Learn about the French touch or discover savoir faire and why producing and enjoying wine are so important to French culture. Tastes France will take you on a wine journey to discover new products, meet the people behind them and find the perfect everyday food and wine pairing. So do you want to become fluent in French food and wine? Go to TasteFrance.com to learn more. Tastes France Magazine is an initiative of the French Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
Virginie Boone 39:14
Hello everyone. I am here today with Remi Cohen. Remi has a lot of experience in the Napa Valley. She has a Master’s in Viticulture and Enology as well as an MBA. She has worked at Saintsbury, Bouchaine and Merryvale vineyards before becoming the GM for Lede Family Wines which included Cliff Lede vineyards in the Stags Leap district and Fell Wines in the Anderson Valley. But just last year, she took on a new position to run Domaine Carneros in the Carneros, of course. Welcome, Remi.
Remi Cohen 39:50
Thank you so much for having me.
Virginie Boone 39:52
Well, I want to talk about specifically Domaine Carneros because this is a big deal. In 1987 Eileen Crane was hired by the Taittinger family of Champagne to run Domaine Carneros at the time, its new Napa Valley property. She retired just last year, and you are now the CEO. But you have two decades of experience of your own. What do you hope to bring to the property and to the brand?
Remi Cohen 40:21
I’ll start by saying that Eileen has left an incredible legacy and a really wonderful business. And when I was interviewing with the two founding families who are still the owners, which is the Champagne Taittinger family and the Kopf family from Kobrand, that both families really expressed the fact that they were really happy with the direction of the business and that they wanted to see, obviously, like a continual push for refinement, always making the wines better, always improving upon the hospitality experience. But they didn’t really expect a major change in strategy. And when I got on board, I’ve been so impressed with what’s there from the quality of the wines to the amazing team and the really incredible hospitality program. So to that extent, I think most of what I’ll be doing is refining and building upon what’s already built there. Things like the incredible sustainability program, the focus on the estate vineyards, which for me is my background as a viticulturist is really important. In 2020, we became 100% estate grown, which was something that Eileen felt really strongly about and was a big attractor to me for joining Domaine Carneros. I think we’ve shared before, Virginie, that I would like to bring a little bit more focus on our still wine program. We make a lot of beautiful Pinot Noirs from all different clones and single vineyards from our estate vineyards. And I want to make sure that people know how amazing our still wines are. And as always, we’re doing a push for more exciting hospitality and engagement with our customers and then also an internal focus. Eileen had started working with Zingerman’s philosophy of open book management and employee engagement. And since I’ve joined, we’ve built upon that by developing a continuing education program and a mentorship program within the company as well.
Virginie Boone 42:21
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot going on on that property. And all those years that Eileen was managing it, obviously, it seems like you’re going to adapt and adopt the things that you’ve really liked from what she established. But you also have a lot of experience in Carneros. I mean, we spoke about kind of at the beginning in your intro, like you worked at Bouchaine, you worked at Saintsbury. And what people may not realize is when you were at Cliff Lede, that you were developing a vineyard actually pretty close to Domaine Carneros and so you really have a lot of experience in that region. What do you sort of hope to bring maybe to the region in addition to just Domaine Carneros?
Remi Cohen 43:01
I think it’s pretty exciting and Carneros right now. I just recently met with Lee and Christina Hudson, and what they’re doing on that property is really incredible. I visited with Donum Estate, and their beautiful art collection and they’re incredible wines, I think there really is a lot of push. Bouchaine just reengaged their entire hospitality and rebuilt a new hospitality center. So I think it’s actually a really exciting time for Carneros. People are also, with climate change, recognizing that Carneros has a lot of diversity in it and has a lot of potential potentially even beyond just Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although I think that’s beyond the scope of the discussion for Domaine Carneros because I think we will continue to focus on sparkling wines and Pinot Noir. But I think it’s a really exciting time for Carneros and we’re so close to the Bay Area. And that’s where most of our visitors are coming from and so it’s just really great location, I think we’re delivering a lot more exciting hospitality experiences in the region to keep tourists down there. And with the burgeoning of the city of Napa over the last 10, 15 years. It’s really exciting that the city of Napa and the Carneros region has become a destination in their own right. And people aren’t just heading up north to go further up the valley.
Virginie Boone 44:18
Yeah, which makes a lot of sense. And that has always made a lot of sense. But it kind of gets into my second question for you, or I guess maybe it’s my third question at this point. But you know, how do you keep an established brand like Domain Carneros, or even a region like Carneros, how do you keep it—it’s respected, it’s enjoyed, but it’s certainly not new. So how do you keep it fresh and relevant?
Remi Cohen 44:41
Well, for me, I’m attracted to the classics. I love a classic restaurant. I love classic wines. And I think there’s something to be said about classic because it never goes out of style. And I think that’s true for Carneros and it’s true for the luxury wine industry in Napa Valley in general. But for us, I think we do want to keep our experience fresh. And we do have quite a diverse audience. And I would say, a lot more diverse in both age and ethnicity than many other wineries in the region. And so we just always want to keep it fresh. So as an example, we created a few years ago, bubbles and bites. It’s the art of sparkling wine pairing. And the idea is to showcase the versatility of sparkling wine pairing with a range of foods. And the program has focused on pairing wine with Asian food, things like tuna tartar and Bahn Mi. But now we’re decided that we’re going to really focus on global cuisine and have the bubbles and bites pairing change over time. So this spring will launch the first pairing with Mexican food. It’ll be things like, scallop crudo, scallop ceviche, a crab esquite, I’m really excited about this new menu, and we’re probably twice a year we’ll change the focus. So keep it fresh, keep it exciting. And really one of our main missions is to highlight the versatility of sparkling wine pairing. So that’s the idea with this program.
Virginie Boone 46:06
And so do you think that that specifically is bringing in sort of the younger, more diverse demographic that you’ve been seeing?
Remi Cohen 46:14
Well, I think the one thing that really has impressed me about Domaine Carneros is its hospitality program is its customization. So if a guest comes to the winery, they have the option to choose from four or five different flights, from sparkling wines only to a mix of sparkling wines with our Pinot Noirs. There’s a range of choices that they can choose. And then we have a lot of different food pairings that they can choose all apart. So a cheese plate, a charcuterie plate, a combo plate, salmon, caviar, a caviar flight. So really, you can have almost whatever type of experience you want from an accessible luxury to going, you know, full on lux experience when you come to the winery. And then we have as I mentioned previously, the bubbles and bites program. We also have a chips and dip which focuses on our top wines at the winery paired with caviars a flight of caviars from Czar Nikolai, another sustainably focused business. So I think that that’s what’s so exciting about Domaine Carneros is you can really customize your experience and make it different every time if you’re coming just with a group of girlfriends and you want to drink a flight of bubbles, and have a cheese and charcuterie plate, you can do that. If you want to come with your loved one and do more of a romantic experience. You can do that if you’re coming with somebody who’s a real wine connoisseur, you can come and do that and really focus on some of the high end wines.
Virginie Boone 47:35
Yeah, I mean, I think that you offer so much and always have it’s been just such a pronounced focus for Domaine Carneros, but I do want to talk about the winery’s ultra brut and you also have a sparkling brut rose that have been very successful. And I think in both cases, there’s a lot of crispness and acidity, there’s lower dosage levels in both of those wines. Can you talk about trends toward healthier beverages with less sweetness? Does this help sort of explain some sparkling wines growing appeal?
Remi Cohen 48:10
I think so. It’s exciting to see how sparkling wine is. People are recognizing its versatility in terms of wine and food pairing. And also that it’s not something that just needs to be for special occasions. And I do think that that is part of the trend, I think people like the high acid, the minerality. And its ability to pair with a wide range of food. And as far as the ultra, it’s been really exciting to see that popularity. So that’s our low dosage brut. And it pairs so well with seafood and oysters and crudos and things like that. But because it is a little bit less sweet. I do think that that’s part of the trend in terms of maybe not only healthier beverages, but the type of food we want to eat less rich foods, less sauces, kind of healthier, well sourced natural, whole foods. So I think it’s all related to a healthier lifestyle and fresher foods closer to the source, farm to table to me, all of those are kind of related into the success of the extra brut or ultra brut category. And it’s been really fun. It kind of started as an insider wine that a lot of our industry members and industry friends were really into. And now it’s definitely gaining traction in general. And it’s one of our most popular wines at the winery right now.
Virginie Boone 49:33
Well, and it seems that sparkling wine was definitely on a good track, kind of pre pandemic in terms of Americans finally embracing it not just as a special occasion wine but as something that you could enjoy all the time because of its lower alcohol, because of its versatility as you speak to, but it also seems like maybe now more than ever, people are also sort of like, ‘I’m going to treat myself. Why not treat myself? I’m stuck at home, I’m cooking more, I’m going to open some bubbles.’
Remi Cohen 50:06
Yeah, bubbles make you happy, it’s hard to have a glass of sparkling wine in your hand and not have a smile, even if the day has been hard. And we’ve all been going through so much in the last year. So it’s the little things like a good meal with a close friend and family. Those are the things that are important to us right now and, are carrying us through these challenging times. So it’s, it’s been really great for me too. I think my own personal health from going from a red wine, heavy diet and food to drinking more bubbles has been actually healthier, more seafood focused. I’ve been having a lot of fun with food and wine pairing as well.
Virginie Boone 50:43
Yeah, no, and it’s a great time to be doing all of that. But let’s talk about sort of this time in virtual experiences. I mean, doing virtual tastings and virtual experiences. Have those sorts of things expanded your reach?
Remi Cohen 50:58
Definitely, I think it’s so interesting to see how different businesses have pivoted throughout the pandemic, and what’s going to stay. And I do think that the virtual experience will be something that will continue to be a way that we can engage with our customers and the members of the Chateau Society. It’s been something that wineries have been realizing for the last, I don’t know, five or 10 years now that we can’t just rely on getting customers by them coming to the wine country and visiting us at the winery. How can we go and bring the Chateau experience, the Domaine Carneros experience to you where you are. And I think the virtual experiences will be part of that. And like always, we offer a ton of customizations, we’ve got a few prepackaged concepts that make it nice and easy for you. But if you already know our wines, and you know exactly what you want, then we’ll customize the experience including cheese pairings or charcuterie pairings and things like that to really bring the Chateau experience to people in their homes.
Virginie Boone 52:00
Yeah, which is so important. Because as you say, that may be a permanent thing. I mean, people may be able to travel again and want to travel again. But they can’t always travel when they want to. But they may want to experience something like that, or send it to friends so that they can do it together. Or there’s lots of different ways that you can offer those experiences. And I think it’s just so important that the wine industry embrace those.
Remi Cohen 52:26
Yeah, I definitely agree. And it seems like a lot of corporate businesses are really enjoying it as a way to team build. And now that we’ve seen this dispersing of corporate America, and people being able to work wherever and work from their homes, this is a way for a business to engage with their employees throughout the US and throughout the world and have a good time and something that unites them. So that’s been really fun is to be part of those and seeing these companies and these team building and have people having fun through this virtual experience.
Virginie Boone 52:57
So let’s talk a little bit about your philosophy of believing that a company should work for you as much as you should work for the company. What do you mean by that? I mean, you’ve just switched jobs. Was that something that informed your decision?
Remi Cohen 53:12
This was just an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I love working with Cliff Lede and those wines and I’m still really close with all the people there. It’s such an incredible place and amazing amazing vineyards, amazing winery, and good people. But this was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up from the estate vineyards to the sparkling wine, being in Carneros which is kind of where I grew my roots too, so to speak. But as far as that philosophy, you want to be engaged with what you’re doing. When you have a job, you spend so much of your time at your job. And it has to be something that you think is fulfilling and is moving you in the right direction as in achieving your goals as an individual. And so I think so many people get stuck thinking, ‘Oh, I work for this or that company.’ You work for yourself, that company needs to work for you and it needs to be the right thing for you moving forward. And for me it’s really exciting to have such a robust employee engagement program at Domaine Carneros that’s an area that I’m really learning and excited about. From the open book management that we do where the employees have full transparency into our finances and our financial performance and how we spend our money and reinvest it in the business. But we also have this very robust, what we call a passport program where employees come on and not only do they learn about their job and their role at the winery, but they learn about finance and they learn about the vineyards, even if they’re not involved in that side of the business. It’s expected and encouraged that they engage in all different aspects of the business, get to know people outside of their department. I think that’s something that’s really important in the industry is we get a little bit siloed in our specific companies, but we have programs to try to break through that. A Chateau collective committee with people from different parts of the business working together to do team building and community outreach and then i mentioned earlier i’m really excited about the launching of our new mentorship program and it’s interesting because at first we thought about doing more of an internship program bringing people in from outside and then i thought we have about 125 employees i bet there’s people here who really want to advance their career and who we can give them the encouragement and tools to do that within the company so before we start going and launching you know more of a robust internship program where we’re bringing in people from outside let’s build an internal mentorship program so we’re working on that right now and we launched that this year and everybody’s pretty excited about it
Virginie Boone 55:44
That’s amazing. And it makes me think of you you’ve talked about some of the women of Champagne being inspirations for you how do they inspire you?
Remi Cohen 55:56
When I was on the board of the Napa Valley Grape Growers and we put on a program called Ahead of the Curve and we invited Maggie Henriquez from Krug to be the keynote speaker and I was just completely floored by her first of all. I thought it was amazing that she came from an industry outside of the wine business because sometimes I think our industry can be a little bit myopic and think that you need to have wine business experience to lend a lot to the industry, But I think she came with a really exciting and fresh perspective and back to what you were saying earlier which is how do you keep a classic brand fresh, I think she really did that with Krug and was so creative with how she did it and what we’re seeing with customers these days is that they’re wanting more engaging experiences with wineries and that’s exactly what she created with Krug, from developing recipes with chefs all around the world to more transparency into the blend that goes into the cuvees that they make. I think it’s just such an exciting way that she approached keeping a classic brand fresh and invigorated.
Virginie Boone 57:05
Yeah, I mean that is it’s so important and I think what’s equally important is for what you alluded to, which is sort of not getting stuck in just everybody has to have wine industry experience. That it is important to look elsewhere and to look outside of what we do. Do you have specific industries or companies that you look to for inspiration and ideas?
Remi Cohen 57:29
Yeah, I definitely have been interested in seeing like the sustainable food industries and sustainable clothing industries and seeing how they approach those important trends that people care about the source of what they’re eating, the source of what they’re wearing, the source of what they’re drinking, and how different businesses are engaging with their customers in that way. I also think it’s really interesting to see how businesses are developing advocates out in the world that almost do their marketing for them by the different ways that they engage with influencers and you know not just your regular like your typical Instagram influencers, but that and beyond that, just people who really become like big brand ambassadors for your business and almost help you sell what you’re selling, sell your product because they’re so engaged with it and I think that that’s really important is to tell the story for us about our estate vineyards, about our sustainability program, about how we make our wines and in the French tradition and those are things that people care about and they engage with and then they go on and tell the story for us to which is pretty exciting.
Virginie Boone 58:42
There’s so much. So much rich history both with the property but also the region and then with the category and then all of the things that it ties to from from food to farming to travel to luxury. There’s just so many different ways to tell a wine story. I wonder just to close sort of things out if you want to talk a little bit about what you’re working on now, what’s coming soon, what can people expect from Domaine Carneros this year.
Remi Cohen 59:13
Yeah, well I mentioned our bubbles and brides program which i’m really excited about and stay tuned because I think we’re working on a another exciting hospitality initiative so stay tuned because we’re always doing new launches in that arena to keep our guests entertained. We just recently signed a deal to build a micro grid so we’ll be one of the very first wineries to have a solar micro grid, which will allow us to operate as an island if there’s power shut offs, which has become a more increasing risk in the wine industry, from fires and energy saving situations. So the solar micro grid. In 2003 we built the largest solar array on any winery at its time when we built our carriage house, our Pinot Noir facility. And at that point that was a landmark project, and people came and visited and saw what we were doing. Now we’re expanding upon that, our new program will get us to about 75 or 80% of our energy from solar. It has a battery that’s incorporated in it. And so when the sun goes down, we’re still operating off energy that we generated into the evening hours from the battery. And if the power goes out, we become an island and operate on our own. And so that’s one of our, I would say, biggest initiatives this year, is building out that solar micro grid, which should be launched in time for the 2021 harvest.
Virginie Boone 1:00:46
Yeah, that’s a lot. I mean, that’s pretty significant, and hopefully will be a model for other wineries to emulate or to think about.
Remi Cohen 1:00:54
Yeah, we’re really excited about it. And so is the company, EDF that we’re partnering with and they do expect it to be a prototype and hopefully more wineries and other businesses in the area will be able to develop technology like this so we can just continue to push the sustainability envelope.
Virginie Boone 1:01:12
Yeah, so important to all of us in California right now. Well, Remi, I want to congratulate you again for your role at Domaine Carneros. Is it going to be almost a year now? Or am I off a little bit?
Remi Cohen 1:01:26
I started on the first day of the sparkling harvest, so August of 2020. So it’s about seven or eight months now. Okay.
Virginie Boone 1:01:33
Well, congratulations again. Thank you so much for spending time with us and talking about all the great things that you’re up to there. And hope to see you again in person soon.
Remi Cohen 1:01:42
Thank you so much Virginie. That was really fun. Thank you for the conversation.
Lauren Buzzeo 1:01:49
So there it is our first episode of the two part series on women in California Wine and wow, are those ladies inspiring. From respecting relationships with industry contacts and consumers alike to expecting your company to work for you and not the reverse, there’s a lot of great advice to be heeded here. Check out winemag.com/podcast for more information on the women included in today’s show, as well as additional articles surrounding Women’s History Month. And be sure to come back for the next episode, part two of this series, for more conversations from leading female California Wine visionaries. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you find your podcast. If you like today’s episode, we love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too. You can also drop us a line at email@example.com. For more wine reviews, recipes guides, deep dives and stories visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers!
Last Updated: June 5, 2023