I sat down with Remi Cohen, the chief operating officer of Lede Family Wines, to interview her for my podcast Wine Soundtrack. One question I ask the winemakers in the interview is “What is your proudest achievement in your work to date?”
Each accomplishment is something of pride, and no accomplishment is any less significant than another. When I asked Cohen that question, her response was that her proudest achievement was accomplishing a goal she had set for herself. She had decided that she wanted to be the general manager of a winery by the time she was 40 years old. And she accomplished that goal when she became the general manager of Lede Family Wines at the age of 37.
How did a woman from East Brunswick, New Jersey end up as the chief operating officer of a winery in Napa Valley?
Cohen did not grow up in the wine culture. Her parents were not into wine. With an inclination for science, she went to college at UC Berkeley where she was pre-med, studying molecular and cellular biology.
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She was destined for medical school, in the absence of any other plans, but quickly became disillusioned. Cohen graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science degree in molecular and cellular biology and started working in a biotech company studying plant biology.
Wanting to stay in the Bay Area, she enrolled in the Viticulture and Enology program at UC Davis where she received her master’s degree.
While at school, one of Cohen’s most memorable wine- tasting experiences was a vertical of Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noirs ranging from 1990 to 1999 with the enologist Michael Richardson. She was so astounded by the continuity and nuances between each vintage that after the tasting, she approached Richardson and thanked him. He asked her what she was doing, and she explained that she was a grad student. He offered her an internship and in 2001 she became a harvest intern at Saintsbury Winery.
In 2002, Cohen joined the viticulture and vineyard operations at Bouchaine Vineyards, where she spent four years, followed by four years at Merryvale Vineyards where she was the vineyard manager and later the director of operations. In 2008, Cohen completed her MBA, and in 2010 she founded her own viticulture and wine-making consulting company called Vines to Wine. While she was consulting, she began working with Cliff Lede Vineyards.
As Cohen’s career evolved, she spent most of her time on the viticulture side of the business. But she took a larger role in wine-making, sales and marketing than most in her position. This was because when she had worked at Bouchaine Vineyards as the vineyard manager. Michael Richmond, who later founded Acacia Winery, was the general manager. He encouraged Cohen to get more involved in the sales and marketing side of the wine business. He taught her how to talk about wine, and she credits him with helping her pivot from the production side of the wine business to other aspects, such as sales and marketing. From here, she set her sights on becoming a general manager of a winery.
The challenge would be working for someone who would see her potential when she was not taking a traditional route. Cohen went on many interviews but felt that too many judgments were made about her being a young woman. The one person who did sense her potential was Cliff Lede. Cohen and Lede shared a vision for sustainable farming, gentle wine-making practices and a goal to produce the highest quality wines. After working as a vineyard consultant for Cliff Lede Vineyard, Cohen joined the winery full time in 2012, becoming the director of wine-making and viticulture. And in 2014, Cohen was promoted to vice president and general manager of Lede Family Wines.
Today, Cohen directs the wine-making process from the vineyard to the bottle for Cliff Lede Vineyards in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley and FEL Wines in the Anderson Valley. She also oversees the sales of all wines both domestic and international, as well as through the hospitality experience and the wine club direct-to- consumer programs.
In fewer than 20 years, Cohen Cohen went from viticulture student to viticulturist and winemaker to general manager. Sometimes it is who you meet along the way that will lead you down the road you take, and sometimes it is about finding people who believe in you and who are willing to take a chance. But it is also about having a vision, setting goals and working hard. And, as Cohen said, do what you love and be your own advocate.
Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.