California North Coast winemakers pass the baton to their daughters

There was a time when the notion of young women running wine companies was the kind of cockamamie thinking that would be the punchline at a local dive bar. It would be more of a nightmare for the old-timers than a vision for the future.

Mercifully that time is long gone.

Instead in 2019 we live in an era when women hold jobs at every level of the wine business - especially those wine labels that are still family owned. In some of these cases, women work right alongside their fathers - the men who, in one way or another, taught them the craft and inspired them to get involved. In honor of Father's Day, we celebrate five of these father/daughter duos and offer a close look at how these pairs manage to make family work at work.

Fathers & Daughters Cellars, Boonville

Technically speaking, there are two fathers and three daughters involved in the winemaking at this relatively nascent label in Anderson Valley. The fathers are 79-year-old Kurt Schoeneman and 60-year-old Guy Pacurar, while the daughters are Sarah Schoeneman, Taylor Pacurar, and Ella Pacurar.

The family tree is bit complicated with Sarah, 49, playing three roles: the daughter of Kurt, the wife of Guy and the mother of Ella.

Back in 2012, when Sarah was pregnant with Ella, she and Guy decided they wanted to make wine from her family's land - the venerated Ferrington Vineyard in Boonville. Traditionally the family had sold all its fruit, but the lovebirds asked Kurt for some pinot noir grapes to seed their venture. They harvested the fruit with newborn Ella in a baby backpack and crushed it themselves. Later, they hired local winemaker Phil Baxter to work his magic. The result? A pinot that told their story, bottled with a label of a father and a young girl in silhouette.

Since then, F&D has added other varieties to the lineup, including a rosé, a sauvignon blanc, a gewürztraminer, a cider, and a petillant-naturel (because Sarah is obsessed with bubbles). Today the winery makes about 500 cases a year and hosts tastings by appointment.

Guy, who also owns the Brewery Gulch Inn in Mendocino, sees the wine as a passion play that pays homage to the “special bond between fathers and their daughters.”

Sarah agrees.

“I still look to my dad for approval but now I also have his respect,” she says. “It's nice to acknowledge we've grown to be equals.”

Dry Creek Vineyard, Healdsburg

Dave Stare is quite literally the grandfather of modern Dry Creek Valley. Stare was the first to open a new winery in the valley after Prohibition, and one of the first to plant sauvignon blanc in the region. He also was one of the first male winery owners in Northern California to invite his daughter to help run the family business, and Kim Stare Wallace is now the current president.

Stare Wallace, 56, never thought she'd play a role at the winery. Sure, she remembers playing Barbies in the cellar as a girl and working the bottling line as a teenager, but she studied design and merchandising and dreamed of being in the fashion industry. Then, in the early 1990s, everything changed. Stare Wallace was living in San Francisco at the time and her dad needed help selling wine to accounts there. She took the gig -reluctantly at first - and grew to love it, eventually catapulting herself into a position where she has become the face of the brand.

“As the winery grew and expanded, so did my roles,” she says. “My dad always encouraged me and never stood in the way.”

Stare, 79, retired in 2006 but still lives on the property and can be spotted at the winery in between banjo practice (seriously, he plays in a band) and his various travels around the world. He also still serves as chairman of the board. At a recent board meeting, he kept his chairman's report short and sweet.

“My report is that I'm proud of Kim,” he reportedly said. “She's doing a great job.”

Emeritus Vineyards, Sebastopol

Growing up in the shadow of a Wine Country legend, Mari Jones figured she'd end up in the family wine business, but never thought she'd end up running it. Yet here she is, chief operating officer of Emeritus Vineyards at age 31.

“When I started in 2012, I just did things without telling him,” Mari says of her dad, vintner Brice Jones. “One of the biggest lessons I'd say I've learned is that it's easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”

For her father, the decision to promote Mari was one he didn't have to make.

“I'd give her a job and people would keep telling me, ‘Move her up, move her up,'” he says. “It got to a point where I didn't even really have a choice.”

Today Brice likes to joke that Mari “built the tasting room,” a reference to a 2015 redesign during which Brice wanted a traditional tasting bar and Mari overruled him. Her vision had couches, chairs, conversation pits and more. Yes, Mari's approach was more involved and no, it was nothing like anything Brice had done previously. But it worked, and in 2017, Emeritus was hailed by USA Today as having the best winery tour in all of Sonoma County.

The lesson: Organizations need young people.

“With a name like Emeritus, I need to do something different if I want to get people in here,” says Mari. “I'm lucky that Brice trusts me to do just that.”

Vérité Winery, Healdsburg

Vérité is a wine you likely haven't heard of unless you have a lot of disposable income, because it's one of most highbrow in Sonoma County. The brand is at the high end of the offerings from Jackson Family Wines, producing exquisite Bordeaux-style red blends that sell for upwards of $400 per bottle. The winery is nestled in the foggiest part of the Chalk Hill appellation in the hills behind Healdsburg and Santa Rosa.

Every vintage is produced by the father-and-daughter duo of Pierre, 69. and Hélene Seillan, 32.

The two don't see themselves as winemakers per se, but instead as vignerons, which is French for people who grow vines for wine production. But their definition is more expansive because they're involved in every aspect from cultivating and trimming to harvesting, crushing, and blending. Pierre is the master; the 2019 harvest was his fifty-second, and he has devised a blending philosophy based on micro-cru or small batches. For Hélene, her involvement is carrying on a legacy. She says she has spent a lifetime understanding the nuances of her father's approach to winemaking and considers it her duty to make sure this style lives on.

“Our style is our signature,” she says. Hélene adds that while she and her father don't always get along, they have an understanding that is unbreakable. “We are two strong-minded individuals,” she says. “We have very set personalities with no filter. Sometimes we say what we feel, but we make a great team.”

Pierre, a native of Gascony, France, says he is “proud but demanding,” adding that he constantly reminds his daughter that they cannot take their success for granted.

“Sonoma County is a top winegrowing region for Bordeaux-style wines,” he says. “At this point I couldn't make them without my daughter.”

CK Mondavi and Family, St. Helena

For the past four decades, CK Mondavi and Family winery in St. Helena was led by Peter Mondavi, Sr., and his sons, Marc and Peter Jr. Peter passed away in 2016 at the age of 101, and today, Marc, 64, and Peter Jr. work side-by-side with Marc's four daughters to continue the family's legacy. These four daughters represent the fourth generation of Mondavis to be making wine, and inside the family they're known as the G4: Angelina, 36; Alycia, 33; Riana, 31; and Giovanna, 26.

Riana is the only one of the four sisters to work full-time at the family business, and her title is director of national accounts on premise. She strives to learn something new every day.

Still, there are complications, like working too much. Members of the G4 conducted an experiment on a family vacation during which they placed $1 into a jar every time someone mentioned work. The group couldn't get more than a few hours in before filling the jar.

While Riana doesn't report directly to her father, she's quick to note that working for him in any capacity generates an added layer of stress - especially on those days when nothing seems right.

“Nobody ever wants to disappoint the CEO or your boss, but when that person is your dad, that feeling is a lot more stressful,” she says. “The truth is that my dad has decades of experience on me, so I'd be remiss if I wasn't going to him for advice.”

Grgich Hills Estate, Rutherford

Grigich Hills Estate was launched by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, 96, and Austin Hills four decades years ago. Grgich escaped from Communist-ruled Croatia in 1954 with $32 hidden in his shoe and lived in Germany and Canada before he was able to immigrate to California in 1958.

In November 2017, Grgich named his daughter Violet Grgich will step in as as president of Grgich Hills Estate Winery from her father,

“I was surprised,” she said at the time. “I know it's hard to let go. This winery is his love and his life's work.”

In 1973, his wine, Chateau Montelena chardonnay, received the most points of any wine at the Judgment in Paris competition, beating out European white wines. (A cabernet sauvignon by Napa Valley wine maker Warren Winiarski won in the reds category.) Historians credit the victories with helping to turn worldwide attention to California wines.

Hills and Grgich broke ground on their winery in 1977, when Violet was 12 years old. She helped around the winery but when she attended college, she majored in music.

She eventually returned to the family business and, before her promotion to president was announced, was the winery's vice-president of sales and operations.

Grgich added that he is also happy to be handing over a family-owned winery that is financially stable and successful. “And now I know that my dream is in good hands,” he said.


North Bay Business Journal contributed details on Grgich Hills Estate.

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