Remi Cohen - Chief Operating Officer of Lede Family Wines.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
This upcoming harvest will mark my twentieth vintage making wine in Napa! After completing my master’s degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis, I worked my first harvest in Napa Valley in 2001. For the next few years, I held positions as a viticulturist in the Carneros region at Saintsbury and then at Bouchaine. In 2006, I met Peter Huwiler, the CEO of Merryvale and Starmont wineries, and he hired me as director of vineyard operations. During my tenure at Merryvale, I pursued an MBA and was subsequently promoted to VP of operations for Merryvale, overseeing both direct to consumer sales and vineyards. From there, I founded a consulting company focused on vineyard and winemaking advising, and during that time I met Cliff Lede. My first role at Cliff Lede Vineyards was as director of winemaking and vineyards in 2012, and I am currently chief operating officer for Lede Family Wines, overseeing winemaking, grape growing, sales, and marketing for Cliff Lede Vineyards in Stags Leap District and FEL Wines in Anderson Valley.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
The moment I discovered that wine could even be a career, I immediately knew that was my path. After undergrad studies in molecular biology at UC Berkeley, I was researching graduate programs and learned about UC Davis’s viticulture program. I thought it sounded so intriguing to work in wine—biology, chemistry, agriculture, marketing, with a fun, social component all in one field! Right away, I called Dr. Andy Walker, professor of viticulture, and was accepted to the program. While at Davis, I worked as a research assistant in Andy’s lab and was his teaching assistant for the viticulture courses. It was there that I was introduced to Saintsbury winery, where I worked my first harvest.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love the team that we have at Lede Family Wines. We have an outstanding group of talented people and many women in leadership positions. As I’ve matured in my career, I have enjoyed mentoring members of our team to develop their careers successfully. I find it incredibly gratifying to share the wines we make with my family and friends. Wine brings people together and seeing people enjoy, actually, the fruits of our labor is very fun and rewarding.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I have always felt extremely fortunate that I have worked for people and companies that have encouraged my advancement, and I believed that the generation before me had done most of the work in the wine industry to gain equality. That said, I know that there is still significant inequality in our industry with more white males in top winemaking and management positions who receive higher compensation, so we all need to do our part in advocating for women and minorities in the business. I look forward to the time when young women will not have to be asked what it is like to be a woman in the male-dominated wine business because it will have become a more equitable field.
Women are victims of the patriarchy as well, and are often more judgmental of other women as a result. How can we as women become more aware of our own prejudice towards each and change that behavior?
For me, this begins with seeking out the women you admire for advice and support and providing the same support for others. It is about building a network of powerful and diverse individuals, not just women, who believe in each other and share the values of equality and collective success.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
Diversity in general benefits a community by bringing different viewpoints and perspectives. If the industry is inclusive regardless of age, race, and gender, we will be stronger in our abilities to both produce and market wine.
What changes do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
The last two years have brought tremendous attention to the challenges women are experiencing in the workplace across many industries, and especially those that are traditionally male-dominant. Let’s hope that this awareness leads to true equal opportunity hiring and employment practices over the next several years.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
I have two main messages for anyone entering the wine profession. The first is to always be willing to go above and beyond your job description and make it clear to your colleagues that you are available to help outside of your role. By doing so, you will learn about other areas of the business which will help you advance your career, and your helpfulness will be recognized by your coworkers and hopefully supervisors. Another piece of advice is to know your value and advocate for yourself. By this I mean asking for the promotion, negotiating a fair salary, or submitting your resume for a position that you would like to pursue.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
I would like to see more diversity in general, especially in leadership roles.
In what ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
I have enjoyed mentoring many women in their careers and building a strong network of friends and colleagues who share the values of equality in the workplace. It is about setting good examples.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
A wonder woman of wine is an ethical, intelligent, and courageous leader, who also has a sense of humility and humor!
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
There are so many women in wine that I admire, starting with Mary Maher, Heidi Barrett and Cathy Corison, who were some of the first women in Napa Valley to be in vineyard management and winemaking positions and have paved the way for future generations of women. I also admire my own personal network of close friends I met at UC Davis. I am so proud of their success and accomplishments. This includes Rebekah Wineburg, winemaker at Quintessa, Helen Keplinger of Keplinger Wines, Kendall Smith of K Smith Vineyard Services, and Heather Munden, a winemaker at Treasury.