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Winemaker for Mendocino County’s Fetzer Vineyards wins North Bay Forty Under 40 award

Margaret Leonardi

33

Winemaker

Fetzer Vineyards

12901 Old River Road, Hopland 95449

707-744-1250

fetzer.com

Read other profiles of North Bay Business Journal’s 2021 Forty Under 40 Awards winners.

Responsibilities with your company: For our flagship and namesake brand Fetzer, I am responsible for the entire winemaking process from grape to glass starting with sourcing fruit in the vineyards, fermenting, ageing, bottling and supporting sales along the way.

How do you exemplify the spirit of being a top Forty Under 40 professional?

I respect tradition and appreciate heritage, but am ambitious and optimistic, always seeking to improve, embrace change and strive for innovation.

Years with company: 6

Length of time in current position: Fetzer brand: 5 years, 8 months; as head winemaker for Fetzer brand, 2 months

Number of companywide employees: 300

Number who report to you: 0

Greatest professional accomplishment: Becoming head winemaker of our flagship Fetzer label, founded in 1968.

Greatest professional challenge: Embracing the "art" aspect of winemaking. As much as I appreciate what can come out of the process and the unique nuances that are expressed, I am very much a meticulous planner and the chemistry of wine is paramount to me; yet, in this profession there are myriad factors beyond your control.

Although I struggle at times with this unpredictability, the very nature of harvest (unpredictable) is the beautiful side of winemaking that makes each lot so unique and interesting, from vintage to vintage--and affords opportunities for ongoing growth for me as a winemaker.

Best advice received: Do what you love!

Single most important event in your professional life in the last 12 months: Thriving in the midst of a pandemic during an eventful 2020 harvest. We took many precautions around the winery, and though we had to adapt to new ways of communicating and everything took much more time and effort, in the end our amazing team made it happen!

What’s the biggest change COVID-19, the restrictions and the economic impact has had on your work and personal life?

It's a whole new world for winemaking in these times! The fundamentals of the job have not changed in that we were able to produce a stellar vintage of wines from the past year.

That said, the greatest area impacted was how we communicate and collaborate. We can't join in groups or team tastings in person, host any visitors at the winery, or travel to support our sales teams.

We didn't participate in any trade shows and or in-person industry events.

Personally, my husband and I have enjoyed finding new ways to enjoy our lives in beautiful wine country in recent months, with some fun new discoveries and optimism on the horizon.

And what’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken from that experience?

Overall, I feel very fortunate and am proud of how we have been able to accomplish in these trying times. I feel grateful to have been able to continue going into work every day, have our company morale remain strong, and have all employees feel comfortable and safe while doing so.

What steps is your company taking to sustain your organization and morale in the current economy?

Fetzer Vineyards, whose portfolio includes the flagship Fetzer wines I make, has undertaken lots of initiatives to focus on safety, of course, but also to find new ways to keep our workforce engaged and motivated during COVID.

One initiative that was really moving for a lot of us was our Feeding the Frontline grocery worker program, wherein Fetzer Vineyards brought complimentary lunches to these folks, who have helped make food and other essentials available to the public during a challenging time.

We partnered with restaurants to create the meals, thereby supporting the restaurant sector as well as frontline grocery workers. In total, we donated over 3000 meals to frontline grocery workers in 50 US cities, and supported over 50 restaurants.

Next professional goal: I am always looking to further educate myself and grow my craft. I am currently studying to become a Certified Bourbon Steward.

Education: Bachelor of Science degree from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, with a major in agriculture business, concentration in marketing, and a minor in wine and viticulture.

Hometown: Ferndale, CA

Community/nonprofit activities: North Bay Chapter of the Cal Poly Alumni Association; Treasurer & Adopt-A-Highway Chair; ASEV (American Society for Enology and Viticulture); Women of the Vine & Spirits Member

Mentor/admired businessperson: Bob Blue & Dennis Leonardi. My Dad, Dennis, is a successful third-generation organic dairy farm operator in Humboldt County.

Being raised in that lifestyle, around the ups and downs of a production agriculture business, along with the strong example set forth by his work ethic, shaped me from a young age to be the person I am today.

Margaret Leonardi

33

Winemaker

Fetzer Vineyards

12901 Old River Road, Hopland 95449

707-744-1250

fetzer.com

Read other profiles of North Bay Business Journal’s 2021 Forty Under 40 Awards winners.

It has been an amazing opportunity to be able to work under Bob Blue, the founding winemaker of Fetzer Vineyards, with his 30+ years of winemaking knowledge. Working with him and learning from someone with so much experience has made my time with Fetzer thus far invaluable.

The passion, wisdom, skill, consistency and thoughtfulness that Bob embodies is truly one of a kind and I am so fortunate to be in a position to have soaked up these tools since I joined the team at Fetzer Vineyards.

What is your most disliked industry buzzword?

I am very “by the book” so I struggle with anything that does not have a set definition and is left for interpretation; natural wine comes to mind, though I find it intriguing, in spite of its lack of an official definition.

Typical day at the office: One of the things I love most about working at a winery is that there is not a typical day. The job is so diverse each day with vineyard visits, blending, wine tasting. One thing that is consistent is how lucky I feel that this is my actual job!

In a business sense, what is the greatest thing about being under 40; and then what is the worst?

Best-To have found the career I know I want to be in with a lot of opportunity ahead for evolution.

Worse-Still having a long way to go in building my retirement nest egg, e.g. 401K savings.

Best place to work outside of your office: Vineyards

Hobbies: Softball, hiking, cooking, camping, crafting & traveling!

What you wanted to be when you grew up: I wasn't sure what I would end up doing but always knew I wanted to be in production agriculture.

No. 1 thing you want to accomplish by the time you turn 40: My husband and I would love to own a home in Sonoma County.

First job: Ranch hand on my family's dairy.

Social media you most use: Instagram

Favorite book: Actually, podcasts! Podcasts have been my go-to on my daily commute to the winery. It is amazing the amount of knowledge and entertainment at our fingertips. It is easy to access news, follow current events, learn from colleagues on wine industry topics and dabble in a guilty pleasure of some true crime.

Favorite movie: I'm more into TV shows; currently anticipating season 6 of “Peaky Blinders!”

Favorite App: WhatsApp-it's all about staying in touch these days!

Favorite after-work drink: Wine of course as there are so many to try, but I also love a good hazy beer, cocktails and always appreciate a glass of bubbles! I love to try new things and we are spoiled with so many great beverage options in Sonoma County-it is a treat to get to explore!

Last vacation: Our annual camping trip to our family cabin at Ruth Lake, located in Northern California in the Six Rivers National Forest.

What does your mom or dad brag most about you?

My parents often use the phrase “we drink a lot better than we used to!”

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