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Women for WineSense
September 2017 Member Spotlight featuring:

Jonjie Lockam, COO, Intervine

Submitted by Lisa N. Brown



When most people imagine working in wine in Napa, they are enticed by the idea of tasting wine all day surrounded by vineyards and barrels. Although, Jonjie Lockman may revel in the Napa lifestyle outside the office, she is driven and passionate about the new, daily challenges of being the COO at Intervine, collaborating with colleagues and international partners to help move wine across the globe.

From her home in North Carolina, to Wells Fargo and Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta to Napa, Jonjie has never been afraid to put in the work for what she wanted. This is one of the many reasons she was awarded the Rising Star Award at the Grand Event in the Finger Lakes this past July. 


1. Congratulations on being awarded the Women for WineSense Rising Star Award at the Grand Event in Finger Lakes. What does this mean to you and your plans moving forward?


- Women for WineSense is such an important part of my life. When I moved from Atlanta, GA to Napa in early 2011 I was brand new to the wine industry, brand new to California, and eager to connect with professionals in the business.

I learned about WWS because a colleague had one of the WWS vine lifecycle posters in their office. I went to the WWS website immediately and signed up for the next Napa/Sonoma Chapter event. I met so many interesting and smart women at the event and I was completely hooked. So many of the people I met that night are still close friends today. So, being recognized as a Rising Star by my peers and friends in this organization is truly priceless.


2. You've worked in several industries, how did you find your way to wine?

- I fell in love with wine in my early 30s. I hadn’t had much exposure to it prior to that. But, like a lot of people I caught the wine bug as I learned more and more about how complex it is, the labor of love of the producers, and how beautiful wine regions are. Several years later during one of my many visits to west coast wine regions, I realized that I too could be one of those people who combine their hobby with their profession. Living in the concrete jungle of Atlanta was a choice I’d made and eventually I allowed myself to make a new choice. I started applying for jobs on winejobs.com and luckily Ed Matovcik at Intervine was intrigued by the fact that I didn’t have industry experience. Lucky me. He’s the best boss I’ve ever had.


3. How have some of your past experiences helped you in your role at Intervine?

- Wow. Everyday. Prior to Intervine I’d spent about ten years in Finance and Accounting and eight years in Process Management (aka Operations). At Intervine I’m able to combine these two functions. Intervine’s business is incredibly complex. Although we’re based in Napa Valley, less than 15% of the wine we buy and sell is from the United States. We work with wineries from all major wine producing regions around the world and our client base is global as well. What this means from a financial and operations standpoint is a lot of foreign exchange, a lot of wine on the water at any given time, and a lot of interaction with people from many countries.

4. What has been the most challenging aspect of being a successful COO at Intervine? What have you learned since taking on the position?

- I think the most challenging aspect of working at Intervine is also the most exciting. There’s no
seasonality. Every day brings new opportunities and new problems to solve. From short harvests in one growing region or another to port strikes in various countries there is always something to test our resourcefulness and commitment to our clients and winery partners.

5. What is the most fulfilling aspect of being COO?

- Our team is the most fulfilling aspect of my job. Intervine is growing rapidly and it’s fulfilling to work with the experts who have been my colleagues for over six years as well as the smart people we’ve added to the team in the last few years. More specifically, I love helping people realize their full potential. I believe that most people are capable of more than they realize. I love encouraging my colleagues to stretch in ways they didn’t think possible and then share in the satisfaction of their achievements.

6. COO is an important position. You are also a leader in Women for WineSense. I am sure you also have many more interests that require your time and attention. Has work/life balance been a subject you have had to confront and if so, how have you adapted at all levels in your career?

- Yes, definitely. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced true balance. My work and my professional organizations are important to me as well as my family and hobbies. Lucky for me, my husband, Steve Callis, and I share a lot of the same hobbies so we get to spend hobby time together. Not having children also helps tremendously.

At some point in my late 30s I realized that I wasn’t cut out for steady, predictable jobs. Challenges motivate me. My philosophy is work hard play hard. When I’m not working hard, I don’t feel good about myself. When I’m not playing hard I yearn for more time to myself. It’s a constant struggle.

Importantly though, when the balance is skewed to the work side it’s always for something I believe in. In the end, there’s tremendous satisfaction. I really don’t spend time on things that aren’t meaningful to me.

7. What advice would you give to someone trying to transition into the wine industry?

- Focus on your strengths. Think about the skills you have that are easily transferrable to the wine industry. Also, be willing to volunteer your time and lend your expertise. I was told a very long time ago that if you want a job you’re not quite qualified for, offer to help someone in that role by lending your time. Be their assistant for free and learn as much as you can from the experience.

I’ve transitioned several times during my career. You have to be willing to “embrace the suck” (thank you, Sheryl Sandberg), put your pride aside, and pay the price for getting what you want.


8. What was your relation to wine growing up? Do you remember the first wine you fell in love with?

- Wine really wasn’t part of my life growing up. My family drank a lot of sweet tea and milk. I also didn’t really have a wine epiphany. I just remember trying it, trying it again, and then hearing about how much fun my close friends, Jason and Chris Fortenberry, had in Napa Valley. It evolved into an obsession but it really was an evolution rather than anything sudden.

9. What’s your favorite wine right now?

-It’s hard to have one favorite wine but I definitely have a favorite varietal wine. My car license plate is PNOLOVR. Second place is Chardonnay. I enjoy many other varieties but given a choice, I’m drinking pinot noir or chardonnay. As far as regions go, this is risky territory being a Napa/Sonoma chapter. My favorite wine region is the Willamette Valley. Their pinots are off the hook with a perfect balance of fruit, earth, and acidity. But, a close second is Marlborough. They’re famous for their sauvignon blancs but their pinots are fantastic.

10. How has being a member of Women for WineSense benefited you?

-The Women for WineSense members are my people. The relationships I’ve made are priceless and I’m so thankful I got involved back in 2011. I’m able to enjoy wine with people from all over the United States. Through serving on the National Board for the last five years I have made so many friends from our many chapters. I truly look forward to the times we spend together at the Grand Events, board meetings, and keeping up with each other on Facebook.

11. What is one way that you would like to see the Women for WineSense Napa Sonoma chapter grow?

-As the founding chapter of our national organization, I would love to see us take on a leadership role. Interacting with the many chapters across the US has been one of my most fulfilling and enjoyable experiences. I’d love for more of my neighbors to share in that enjoyment. There are a lot of ways to make this happen. The national board has openings and serving on the national board is a great way to gain valuable experience in addition to expanding your network of wine professionals. Another way is to conduct virtual events with other chapters. Several chapters have conducted virtual tastings and the feedback has been very positive.

The Napa/Sonoma chapter is near and dear to my heart. I’m very proud to call it home.




Women for WineSense
August 2017 Member Spotlight featuring:

Linda Hansen, Human Resources Director, Trinchero Family Estates

Submitted by Lisa N. Brown

     
    Linda Hansen has come a long way, geographically and professionally, from her family's roots in Minnesota to Oregon and Chicago, to being the youngest female executive in the auto industry while she was based Brussels, Belgium, to San
Francisco and Napa, where she is currently the Director of Human Resources at Trinchero Family Estates.

    At every step, from non-profit to profit corporations to the private sector, Linda has remained dedicated to her passions, from helping people to achieving her long-term goal of developing a career in wine.

    In addition, since 2009, she has regularly hosted international winemakers learning about winemaking in the U.S. in her home from various origins including Argentina, Italy, Russia and Portugal. Living vicariously through them she is able to expand her knowledge and joy of wine, winemaking and travel.


1. How did you decide, or if you didn’t decide, how did you begin working in Human Resources? 

- After working in the non-profit sector in the San Francisco Bay Area, while it was very gratifying and rewarding, it did not meet the financial rewards for my needs at the time. After some soul searching and researching for a different career I decided on the journey of ‘Personnel’ (HR today). This career has proven to be very fulfilling and allowed me to follow my purpose to make a positive influence in people’s lives. 

2. What is the most challenging aspect of working in Human Resources? 

- As an HR professional you have the unique perspective of understanding the business side and the ability to influence the future of the company based on employment decisions through all the employee workplace lifecycles. Each organization is different and you need to learn the culture and the decision makers to influence outcomes. It is a balancing act to ensure you have the right people in the right job for success. 

3. You have not always worked in HR for wine companies. Are there any differences or unique challenges to Human Resources in the wine world? 

- Grapes! In the wine industry, the world revolves around the beloved grapes and each harvest season. I grew up in an agricultural environment and you rely on Mother Nature to provide for you the best crop results. One of the biggest challenges is to find the right talent for harvest season. It is becoming more competitive to find talent due to the shortage of labor in the industry. I like the wine industry, not only for my passion of wine, but you are closer to the land and the magic and challenges of each year to influence the making of great wines for the consumer. 

4. What advice would give to someone beginning a career in HR? 

 - “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” – Confucius 
In an organization, passion is what drives peoples' ambition and inspires them in whatever they do. Passion is the key component to success. 

 

You have a career choice – in Human Resources you must have a passion and desire to work with others and want to learn and make a difference for employees in the workplace. You will be required to use your intuition and common sense. Also, HR professionals are in the front line along with Supervisors when it comes to employee concerns and problem solving. It is really gratifying to provide a solution that meets the needs of the company and employees. I love the variety and the different challenges each day provides. If you thrive when working with others, you will surely enjoy HR. 

I would recommend getting experience in all the HR functional areas to determine if you want to be a Specialist or a Generalist to partner with the business strategy. HR is dynamic and plays a fundamental role in the business operations which is always changing. 

 
5. What is your favorite lesson that you learned throughout your years of experience? 

 
- As professionals, we have to do three jobs:  1) meet the objectives of the organizations we work for; 2)train and develop people in ways that improve their working and personal lives; 3) and contribute to the development of future leaders. 
Meeting our goals is strongly correlated to the effort, passion and conviction we put into what we do.  Therefore, we must do what we love. This benefits everyone in organizations, communities and society in general. 

 
Listen! Overall, effective communication is key to success. This is key to understanding and providing resolutions. I believe in people and enjoy coaching/mentoring the development of others to their full potential. It is very gratifying to educate and make a difference in someone’s life. Also, I enjoy the challenge of how to influence the key decision makers. 

 
In addition, it is satisfying when you see how strategic actions transform customer satisfaction in organizations. With leadership, human resource professionals who are aware of their role, can promote cultural change, make process improvements, elicit appropriate behaviors, guide growth toward competitiveness, discover best practices and be the best allies senior management can have to achieve their goals.  

 

6. What was your relation to wine growing up? Do you remember the first wine you fell in love with? 

- Growing up on a farm in the Midwest did not provide much of an exposure to wine around the table. When I moved to SF I would visit the beautiful wine country in Sonoma and Napa and taste different wines. I fell in love with Zinfandels.

7. What’s your favorite wine right now? 

-  I love many varietals and in the US, particularly, pinot noir. But, I would have to say my favorite right now is Sangrantino from Montefalco, Italy (Umbria region). 

 

8. I saw an article in the Napa Valley Register that you help young international winemakers intern here in the U.S. to gain international experience. Why and how did you start hosting these young professionals? 

- I love to travel and learn about different cultures. I had the pleasure to live and work in Europe which allowed me to travel to many countries and experience different cultures. I especially loved the pairing of local foods and wine from each region. A few years after moving to Napa to work in the wine industry I became aware of the great need for housing of international winemakers during Harvest. Since, I do not travel as much as I would like, I thought it would be great experience to host internationals from around the world. I enjoy hosting young, dynamic international winemakers in my home and share our lives and make great memories. 

9. What have you learned from hosting these international winemakers? 

- I enjoy living vicariously through their winemaking experiences and learning about the different cultures and ways of life. We become family and that is very special. In fact, I just made my first barrel of wine with a friend (Susan) and international winemaker from Italy (Antonio) and it is a Zinfandel – a dream come true. 

10. How has being a member of Women for WineSense benefited you? 

- Women for WineSense has provided great networking and learning with amazing dynamic women. I was fortunate to meet Susan Calcagno and partner with her for the great success of the 2010 Women for WineSense Grand Event. The HR Roundtables are invaluable to all participants for sharing best practices and learning about all the new upcoming laws, policies, etc. 

11. What is one way that you would like to see the Women for WineSense Napa Sonoma chapter grow? 

- Locally reach out to more young professionals and more promotion of Women for WineSense within the wine industry and area. Also, I think going International would be amazing!





Women for WineSense
May 2017 Member Spotlight featuring:
 
Sharon Goldman, Director of Guest Experiences, Signorello Estate

Submitted by Gianina F. Arturo


Sharon Goldm_Member Spotlight_May 2017


--Tell us a little bit about your professional journey. Were you always interested in the wine business?   

I started my career in the hospitality industry down in Los Angeles at Lawry’s Foods headquarters, production facility and visitor center. I directed the production tour and visitor program. I met my (now) husband at one of the wine classes. Moving full-time to the wine country was a natural progression. 

-- Tell us a bit about your professional journey to Signorello Estate. How long have you been with the Estate? What brought you to them? 

I’ve been here 2 ½ years. The short version of the journey: came to wine country in 1990 as Kendall-Jackson Hospitality Director. Jess said I should have “marketing” in my title and made me the Kendall-Jackson Marketing Manager in 1995. Then with Beringer/Fosters for 13 years as Marketing Manager>Director on almost all of their domestic portfolio with a few imports too. Decided I wanted to get back to my hospitality roots and work for smaller wineries, including St. Supery and VGS Chateau Potelle. I joined Signorello Estates in 2014. 
 

--- As a woman, have you felt supported & mentored throughout your career? If so, who are some of those that gave you direction and what did you find to be of the most impact from them?

I have been privileged to work for several smart women – and men - who wanted their people to grow and thrive. They have challenged me to think critically and act thoughtfully. Where does my specific assignment fit within the larger context of the company’s goals? Should I pursue road “a,” the easy way? or road “b,” a new perspective but probably harder? (Happy to say that road “a” has been the correct answer as often as not!)  I think my women mentors have exercised more patience with my constant questions because they’ve enjoyed the process. They taught me how to listen.

-- Do you have a personal motto or mission that drives you? 

My motto for everyone I’ve ever managed has been “if you don’t ask enough questions, you’re not doing your job.” My mission is to smile at least once a day!

--- How have you seen the wine industry change over the course of your tenure as it relates to your role?

 In my previous role as marketer, the wine world was changing but you could still stay ahead of the trends. Today, the three tier system consolidating at full speed > overlapping with the Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) tier > overlapping with the maturing of the millennials  … whew, that’s got to be a challenge for marketers today. For the DTC world, this is our heyday. We’re now proving our value to the owners and developing new experiences for visitor daily. 

 

--- Are any of your wines in distribution?

We have a small amount allocated to restaurants and fine wine retailers but 70% of our wine is sold through our DTC allocation list.

--- How have you seen the overall hospitality landscape change over the course of the last 5 years?

I would say that the overall trend is moving toward “experiences” rather than just bar tastings. The trend started here in Napa, is happening more in Sonoma and all wine countries around the country are taking notice. Wine itself has a grown in perceived value and the tasting experience should reflect that value. At the DTC wine symposium, I met Meaghan Frank from Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery in the Finger Lakes. She told us that their tasting visits aren’t the same anymore. They have moved away from a bar tasting and more to a seated, guided experience.

 

--- What do you think sets Signorello Estate apart from other wineries?

We are owned and still run by the family that planted the original vines. They – and we – do not compromise! We make only 5,000 cases annually – all estate wines – that are well balanced, age-worthy and, most important, reflect the unique finger print of our small estate. In the Eurpoean model for hospitality, we include food with every wine tasting.

--- Do you submit your wines for scores/critic review?

Robert Parker has been very kind to us, typically scoring our wines in the mid-upper 90’s.

--- Tell us about your membership demographic? Does it generate from scores?

Overall it hasn’t really changed. We have a collector following due to the age worthy characteristics of our wine and so word of mouth is the largest attribution for attracting new membership. The price point of our selections tend to warrant a higher age bracket but we are seeing new millennials becoming more interested in wine overall.

 

--- Where do you think millennials fit into the wine conversation?

They definitely are coming into the market. They are interested in wine but, for us, few are at the point where they want to invest money in collecting wine. It’s a question of what do they want to spend money on? Is that collecting wine? Or is that something else? Clearly, they will become our base for wine consumption but what they will look like in the future – I look forward to seeing that evolution!

--- Do you feel that in your position, you have the ability to influence change? 

Yes. We’re very small and DTC is about 70% of our sales. My owner and I are work together to find new ways to elevate our brand.

-- What do you enjoy most about what you do? 

Interacting with people, whether that be my team or the guests. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle – what is the correct piece to solve the puzzle. What words, what story will make the listener sit up, take notice, enjoy that magical moment of understanding?

--- What is the biggest compliment you could receive from a guest or a member that visits your Estate?

The wine is great, the people are great and I can’t wait to tell my friends about you!

--- What piece of advice would you give someone aspiring for a role like yours? 

Good DTC management requires a professional attitude and solid skill set. You are running a small business no matter the size of the entity that owns the winery. Be willing to wear every hat on the property. Most of all, be willing and able to make your guest believe your program is the best wine experience they have ever had!

-- What piece of advice would you give someone coming into this industry in general?

If you want to join “because it’s exciting,” find another job to pay for visiting us and enjoying our wine! Of course, none of us would ever want to be in the widgets industry – we all have our romantic side. But this also is one of the most competitive industries in the business world. That’s not going away. Learn as much as you can about your line of work (marketing, accounting, etc.). Then, be ready to adapt to how we thrive despite small budgets, minimal staffing, ridiculously high asset bases and Mother Nature.

-- How important has networking been in your career? Do you find that organizations like WWS assist in that process? Do you have thoughts on ways we can improve? 

Networking is probably the best part of our industry. We all share ideas, successes, failures and great bottles of wine. As for WWS, the fact that it has survived/thrived all these years is an amazing testament to its value.

 





 

Women for WineSense November 2016 Member Spotlight 
featuring Joan Maxwell, CFO Heitz Cellars

Submitted by Gianina F. Arturo
 

G) Tell us a little bit about your professional journey. Were you always interested in the wine business?

J) Growing up in San Francisco, I spent my summers either vacationing or working in Sonoma County and always thought I would eventually want to move here.  After college I went to work for a CPA firm in SF. I spent a lot of time working on an out of town client along with a team of about 20 people.  Every Thursday night we would go out to a nice dinner as a team with good wine to accompany it.   I started to get interested in wine at that point and thought it might be fun to get a job in the wine industry. Once I got my CPA, I moved up to Sonoma County, intending to get a job in the industry.  I started at Glen Ellen Winey (owned by the Benzigers at that time) and then went with the sale to Heublein which eventually became Diageo. After 15 years of promotions and moves I was working at an office park in Napa and barely getting to see a winery anymore.  I decided I wanted to get back to a small winery environment and took a job as a Controller at Paul Hobbs Winery, working my way up to CFO in a few years, reporting directly to Paul and working closely with him on all aspects of the business    After 10 years I left and joined Heitz Wine Cellars as their CFO.

 

G) Recently, as you just mentioned, you transitioned from Paul Hobbs (which you were on staff for many years) to Heitz. Tell us a little bit about that decision and professional next step.

J) I had been acting more as a COO at Paul Hobbs than a CFO getting involved in many operational areas which I really enjoyed. The company was growing fairly significantly which required me to spend more time on the Finance/HR side and necessitated bringing in a COO to help Paul run the business.  I decided I wanted to get back to a smaller winery environment where I could once again work closely with the owner.

 

G) What would you say is the largest difference between a “corporate” winery and that of one that is family owned? (Or as others might say large scale vs small)?

J) When you work at a family owned property, you interact daily with the owner. You see that they are personally invested and you feel an even stronger fiduciary responsibility to them. The decisions are more personal to you and the trust that they have in you is extremely important.


G) Do you feel that in your position, given that you interact with owners and senior decision makers, that you have the ability to influence change?  

J) Absolutely.  In most cases, the CFO is the owner’s right hand person and gets involved in all aspects of the business.  I enjoy working closely with the owner, helping them with decision making for all aspects of the business.


G) What would you say is the skill set that you utilize for your role of CFO? 

J) You have to have REALLY good judgement. That’s key. Technical skills go without saying. Because you are in constant communication with an owner, the understanding of when to push, when to act, when to engage, is critical. One other piece is temperament- no ego and pragmatism – we have the good of the company in mind at all times.


G) As a woman, have you felt supported & mentored throughout your career? If so, who are some of those that gave you direction and what did you find to be of the most impact from them?  

J) I would have to say that most of the time the answer would be no when referring to my bosses.  With a few exceptions, I really had to figure stuff out on my own during most of my career.  My bosses were generally pretty hands off, especially at Diageo. Early on in my career at Heublein, I had just been promoted to Assistant Controller and they hired a Controller from the East Coast.  He was a great guy and taught me nuts and bolts winery accounting that has helped me though my entire career.  I also had a couple of other bosses, while maybe not a huge help from a technical side, were huge role models because they demonstrated integrity and a true caring for their subordinates.  We are still close friends to this day.  I did get a lot of support from my teammates.  I love being part of the executive team reporting to the owner or president.   We support each other and help each other and the business succeed.


G) Given your professional experience, have you found yourself wanting to be a mentor for others?

J) Yes, at Paul Hobbs there was a gentleman (a young, ambitious, employee) who I worked very closely with. The key element is that those who are the mentee need to be as invested as those of us who mentor. He was as committed to working together as I was in encouraging him. He wanted to strive to be a CFO or GM someday and my role was to guide and encourage him in the steps along that path. I really enjoyed that as I myself never had that experience before.


G) Similar to your mentee, what piece of advice would you give someone aspiring for a role like yours?  

J) Just get your foot in the door and be patient.  I started off as a temporary staff accountant and worked my way up over the years. If you are talented, the roles will fall into your lap. Also, don’t be afraid to make a move to get yourself in the right environment even if it means taking a step down.  I did that when I left Diageo and quickly worked my way up again.


G) Do you have a personal motto or mission that drives you?  

J) Integrity, honesty and treating your employees respectfully and compassionately. I could not operate any other way.


G) What is one thing that folks may not know about the role of a CFO?

J) A lot of what I do is non-finance stuff. It’s fun! We are very involved in Operations and the day to day. I never know what is going to come across my desk next.


G) What do you enjoy most about what you do?  

J) I love accounting and finance as well as all the operational side of the business.  Just don’t ask me to sell wine! The fact that I can do it in such a fun industry that has so much camaraderie is wonderful.


G) What would you say has been your largest challenge? 
J) Figuring everything out without a lot of guidance.  I have pretty much always been left alone to manage as I see fit and figure out what needs to be done.  Could be fairly daunting early on in my career but I learned to embrace and enjoy it.  


G) What would you say has been your largest advantage?  

J) My largest advantage has been my breadth of experience with a strong mix of large company corporate environment and small company family owned environment.  There is pretty much nothing in the industry that I have not been exposed to and I feel that makes me a very valuable asset to any organization.


G) How have you seen the wine industry change over the course of your tenure as it relates to your role as a CFO for a brand?

J) Winery accounting has really not changed. The type of sales have changed with the huge increase in the DtC channel and the accounting and data mining that goes along with it. What has changed for the better is the software systems available. There is some really good software out there that has really evolved to meet the needs of the industry, especially the explosion in the direct to consumer segment.  What has also been interesting is the large number of mergers and acquisitions, especially in the last 10 years. Lots of new significant players.


G) On the personal side, what do you like to drink at home?

J) I love the Cabernets made my new employer, Heitz Cellars. Iconic, historic style of Napa Valley Cabernet.  I’ve been able to try 40+ year old wines that still taste fantastic!   


G) How important has networking been in your career? Do you find that organizations like WWS assist in that process? Do you have thoughts on ways we can improve? 

J) I would say very important although I never went to formal networking events. Over the years, I developed a network of colleagues at CPA firms, banks, insurance companies and past jobs.  I was surprised to see how many people I knew in the industry because I never considered myself a “networker”. It’s a very social business (yes- even the accounting/finance part of it) and you just accumulate contacts over the years.  WWS was the icing on the cake.   I joined to get access the HR and Finance roundtables and have met the most amazing network of women (and a few men).


 


Women for WineSense October 2016 Member Spotlight 

 

Featuring Lise Ciolino, Owner and Winemaker at Montemaggiore Winery

 
 

lise

Women for WineSense member Laura Larson sat down with winemaker Lise Ciolino to learn more about her journey to becoming a winemaker and winery owner in this entertaining interview. We hope that you find some inspiration from this impressive Woman of WineSense.
 
Lise Ciolino first experienced wine as a child when her father let her take a few sips at dinner. She became more intrigued with wine when her father took her to the Rhone Valley and she visited the house of Chapoutier, where during a four-hour luncheon she tasted her first Hermitage, which is made solely from the Syrah grape. After studying mathematics and computer science at Brown University, she pursued a career in the tech industry and after living in the Bay Area; she rekindled her deep interest in wine. Her passion immersed herself in enology, wine chemistry and marketing at UC Davis and Sonoma State and she soon began experimenting making wine at home in her garage. Deciding to live the dream in 2001, Lise and her husband Vincent purchased 55 acres in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley with 10 acres of vineyards.  Their small country farm estate now also has olive trees and working farm animals. Using organic and biodynamic farming practices, Lise focuses her energy on making world-class wines, with a special fondness and fascination with French style Syrahs.     

 

Montemaggiore, named for the family’s ancestral home in Southern Italy and is built all around family, which includes her husband Vincent (the winegrower), her son Paolo, one dog, two cats and three sheep. 

 
1. You followed your passion and made a complete career pivot from technology into winemaking. Have you discovered any parallels between the two Industries?

There are only a few parallels between high tech and winemaking, but the more interesting comparison is that of extreme opposites.  The parallels I could make would be that both industries benefit from people being detail oriented; and both represent a mixture of art and science.  But it’s the vast differences that are more interesting: the fact that wine is almost completely made by nature, and technology is almost completely dreamt up by humans: one delves into the world around us, and the other focuses on the world inside...

2. What do you like best about your job?

What I like best is optimizing grape growing to make better wine.  Because most of our wines are estate grown, I can make small changes in vineyard practices that have large impacts on the quality of the wine. Watching the grapes grow, and shaping the conversion of sunlight into wine is perhaps extremely fulfilling—only second to the idea that people around America are enjoying Montemaggiore wine with their friends and family.

3. What is the most difficult aspect of growing organic grapes wine?

While my winemaking methods are minimal and non-interventionalist, I do make use of yeast nutrients, sulfur dioxide, and tartaric acid which are strictly limited in an organic winemaking regimen.  Having said that, the most difficult aspect of growing organic grapes is vineyard floor management.  In our mountainside estate vineyards, the trifecta of a steep slope, closely spaces vines, and organic practices means that we must employ a lot of hand labor to prevent the native grasses from stealing nutrients, water, and sunlight from our grapevines.

4. How do you know when you've got a good vintage?

I know there is potential for a  great vintage based on an ideal growing season, but more likely confirmation of a great vintage comes after the secondary, malo-lactic fermentation.  At this point the sugar can’t mask other flavors; the ML fermentation itself has calmed the acids down; and there’s little dissolved gas so you can really taste the wines fully.  Since I make a lot of Syrah, which has a tendency to become reduced, I can never let my guard down until bottling—and even after bottling things can go wrong, but at that point, there’s little I can do.

5. Does one year or one vintage come to mind when you think about one of the best Syrahs that you've made?

In recent years, our best vintage was 2013, although in the past 15 years our 2004 and 2007 were also exceptional. These are the only vintages in which we produced a Reserve Syrah.
 
So what specifically makes an exceptional vintage at Montemaggiore?  
Lots of rain in the early spring to saturate the soils and fill our ponds
Warm sunny days later in the spring to bring uniform bud-break and even pollination
A mild summer with highs in the 80s and 90s keeping the ripening process steady during the day, with cool (but not too cold) nighttime temperatures to maintain acidity levels
Warm and dry in the early fall so that we are not dodging raindrops during harvest
2013 followed these four tenets fairly closely, producing grapes with balanced acidity, ripe tannins, and reasonable sugar levels—all leading to a classic vintage at Montemaggiore.  

6. What is one aspect of your job that might surprise people?

Wine industry outsiders often see me relaxing, chatting about wine, drinking and eating—and they may think that winemakers do this most of the time.  In fact I can rarely afford to relax—and both outsiders and insiders are surprised to learn that I do everything at our winery from deciding on new product offerings to blending to washing equipment to compliance to website building to performing punchdowns on fermenting grapes 4-8 hours per day during harvest. My husband handles the vineyard, and I do all the winemaking—which, given our 10 acres of grapes and ~1,200 cases of wine, means that we are both very busy.

7. Did you encounter any adversities as a woman during your career path as a winemaker?

I have not encountered many gender-based adversities perhaps because I moved quickly from being a home winemaker to owning my own winery.  Although I interned at smaller wineries in between, I never had to deal with all the politics and people typically found at larger wineries.  Indirectly I’ve been exposed to situations in which gender-bias had the potential to occur, and I’ve just avoided those situations because... life is too short! Everyone is going to face bias at one point or another, and for myself, I try to just to ignore it or avoid the whole situation.

8. What advantages have you experienced as a woman in this Industry?

All throughout my career I have found it an advantage to be a woman.  In the male-dominated technology industry women stand out even moreso than in the wine industry—but I think that being a woman and standing out is a good thing! People pay attention to you because you are different and all you have to do is use that to your advantage. Besides, everyone knows that women are better tasters—and at the other end of the spectrum, that women drive most wine sales. So what’s the problem with being female?

9. What is the best piece of wine/business advice you have been given?

The best advice I was given was to “take the Tahoe option” when faced with a difficult winemaking decision. Wine is a “natural product” and often time will solve a perceived problem.  So when faced with a problem wine, it’s often best to just let it rest for a while, go to Lake Tahoe for a few days (or months), and the problem may solve itself.  While certainly this is not always a solution, it’s an option that frantic winemakers may forget to seriously consider.

10. How do you spend your days off? 

What days off?!  There’s no such thing as a day off when you have a family and your own business--and certainly not if you have a vineyard and winery.  I’m lucky if I can catch a free hour or two to go for a run, read a book, or share a meal with friends.

11. What is the biggest benefit you have gotten out of Women for Wine Sense?  Any guidance for new members to leverage to get the most out of the network?

The biggest benefit I have gotten from WWS is simply connecting and sharing ideas with likeminded winemakers.  Since I have a very small business and generally work alone in the winery, WWS provides a great opportunity for me to lift up my gaze, see what others are doing, and interact with smart women.  The only guidance I would give new members is don’t be shy—just introduce yourself to others at the events, and learn about what they do best.
 
Special thanks to Women for WineSense member Laura Larson for submitting this member spotlight.