How a premed student became a leading wine company CEO
Being able to authentically tell the story of a wine requires being intimate with the process, not merely popping the cork and tasting what’s in the bottle.
At least, that’s the case for Remi Cohen, CEO of Domain Carneros in Napa.
The 46-year-old started her career working in vineyards before she began climbing the corporate ladder. Even so, it’s not unusual to find her walking among the vines.
“It’s still my favorite part of the business. It’s good to follow the season and be in touch with the vintage,” Cohen said. “And it’s a good time to think. At least once a week I’m out in the vineyards. I take a nice walk and see what the vines look like.”
Back in her office she is focused on a slew of issues — with diversity being one of them. Diversity when it comes to being an inclusive workplace and diversity beyond being known as a leading purveyor of sparkling wine.
Domaine Carneros’ diversity, equity and inclusion program is tailored to the various aspects of the winery — agriculture, hospitality and wine production — instead of instituting one blanket program.
When it comes to wine production, the pinot noir program is about 20% of the business. It has a separate facility behind the château as well as its own winemaker. Chardonnay and merlot are part of this collection.
“It’s been fun to see (the program) gain traction and variety over time,” Cohen said.
The following Q&A between the Business Journal and Cohen has been edited for clarity and space.
How is Domaine Carneros tapping into the sparking wine trend which is predicted to increase?
Domaine Carneros is one of the pioneers of sparkling wine in California. Claude Taittinger visited Napa Valley as early as the 1960s, and he had a prescient vision that this area would become a world-class wine region. He anticipated that the land in Napa and Sonoma would continue to increase in value and become more scarce, so the Taittinger and Kopf families have made it a part of the longer term vision of the winery to invest in vineyard land in Napa and Sonoma Carneros. We have made two acquisitions in the last decade, bringing our sustainably-farmed estate vineyard acreage to over 400 acres. This is evidence of our commitment to growing quality grapes to produce méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines.
You had big shoes to fill in 2020 when you became CEO at Domaine Carneros; taking over from founding winemaker and CEO Eileen Crane.
What inspired me to join Domaine Carneros was that the core tenets of the winery aligned with my personal values, and our founders, the Taittinger family provided a supportive and empowering framework for achieving our goals. I was incredibly honored and very excited to have the opportunity to build on founding winemaker and former CEO Eileen Crane's incredible legacy at Domaine Carneros. Eileen's many accomplishments in her 30 years of leadership include establishing a portfolio of outstanding méthode traditionnelle sparkling wines in collaboration with the Taittinger family, constructing a stunning château that has become a wine country landmark, the acquisition and planting of hundreds of acres of vineyards, introducing a thriving sustainability program, and implementing the high standards of our unique and memorable hospitality. Thanks to that groundwork, I was fortunate to step into leadership of such a well-established operation complete with an outstanding team.
What changes have you brought to the winery?
We have expanded our DEI program and developed both internal mentorship programs and a mentorship program in partnership with Batonnage, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing women in the industry. We have launched the Le Rêve Scholarships with the Culinary Institute of America and UC Davis to support students in a wine master’s program who are committed to advancing diversity or sustainability in the industry. Internally, we established incentives and reimbursements for language learning and education.
We plan to continue to build upon our robust sustainability initiatives. As an example, we are furthering our commitment to solar energy by adding to our solar arrays and building our own microgrid. We can use stored energy we generate in the evenings and can island in the event of a power outage.
For our guests, we have created more engaging and memorable experiences. Our Bubbles & Bites tasting menu now changes seasonally, highlighting flavors of cuisines from around the globe to illustrate the versatility of sparkling wine with food pairing. We’ve also introduced an exciting experiential tasting called The Art of Sabrage. It includes a tasting of four wines, an abundance of local cheeses and charcuterie, and is topped off with a sabering demonstration. We’ve also developed a concierge-style custom tasting.