With over two decades of experience in the wine industry, Remi Cohen knows more than a thing or two about wine. The former Vice President of Merryvale and COO of Cliff Lede Vineyards, she took over as CEO of Domaine Carneros in 2020—continuing the work of former CEO Eileen Crane and continuing the tradition of female leadership at the company. She’s since used her expertise to further the company’s sustainability efforts and make it a part of the day-to-day vision of Domaine Carneros.
Remi Cohen, CEO of Domaine Carneros
WT: How did you get your start in the industry?
Cohen: When I discovered the master’s program for Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, I realized that a career in wine would encompass so many of my interests and passions. I had just received my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley in molecular biology, but throughout that education, I had discovered that I was most interested in plant biology, ecology, and sustainability. Working in viticulture, I could combine those interests with my background in biology and chemistry to create a fun career that involves growing and crafting wines that tell the story of a place and time. After completing my master’s at UC Davis, I moved to Napa Valley and started my career in viticulture in the Carneros region.
WT: What is your favorite personal achievement?
Cohen: Earlier in my career, I set a goal to become a general manager of a winey before I turned forty. I achieved that goal, but I am even more proud of my current opportunity as the CEO at Domaine Carneros. Here, I can build upon an amazing legacy of female leadership and a robust sustainability program to give back to the community, not only through our amazing wines and excellent hospitality but through environmental initiatives, employee professional and personal development programs, and scholarship and mentorship programs in the community.
WT: What sustainability efforts would you like to see for the whole industry in the future?
Cohen: The wine industry in Napa Valley does a great job of advocating for continuous improvement on sustainability initiatives. It is exciting to see the commitment to creating carbon-neutral enterprises and expanding the use of regenerative farming techniques. I am further inspired by the social responsibility component of sustainability, creating equitable work environments and advancing diversity in the industry.
WT: Can you tell me about any challenges you face along the way?
Cohen: Working in agriculture presents changes and challenges along the way, but that is an exciting part of the wine industry which has developed a community of resiliency here in Napa. It is this type of fortitude that has gotten us through the pandemic, fires, droughts, and other challenges that have brought the people together to learn, respond, evolve, and emerge stronger.
Regarding being a woman in a male-dominated industry, I have been fortunate to work with many male mentors who had encouraged my career advancement in the industry, from Mike Richmond, who was the general manager when I worked at Bouchaine, to Peter Huwiler, who was the CEO during my time at Merryvale and recently to Cliff Lede, the founder and CEO of Lede Family Wines where I worked as COO. Each of these men recognized my potential and promoted me into key positions during the course of my career.
I am fortunate that, despite a few occasions of gender bias during my career, I have not only had many great male mentors and opportunities throughout my career, but I am grateful for pioneering women like Eileen Crane, my predecessor at Domaine Carneros, who paved the way.
That being said, I recognize that there is still a gender disparity in the industry, especially in the more senior positions. Men still hold the majority of the top winemaking and executive positions, and recent studies have shown women’s compensation to not be on par with men’s in these roles.
In order to overcome any bias in the industry, it is important to be willing to step outside of your role and help other people and departments. That helped me gain insight into the sales and marketing sides of the industry early in my career when my jobs were primarily focused on grape growing and winemaking operations. This also helped prepare me for becoming a general manager. It is important for anyone in the industry to know their value, work hard, and ask for roles and compensation that are commensurate with their contributions.
When I interviewed with Domaine Carneros, it was apparent that the company and the family ownership were poised to continue the legacy of female leadership at Domaine Carneros. Over half of our management team at Domaine Carneros are women, and Vitalie Taittinger was recently appointed as President at Champagne Taittinger. This was something I was excited to pursue and enhance through further diversity programs.
WT: What do you hope the future holds for you and for Domaine Carneros?
Cohen: 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 of Champagne Taittinger, believed in a long term approach to our vision. I joined Domaine Carneros in August of 2020 upon the retirement of Eileen Crane, our founding winemaker and former CEO, who was a visionary leader and established our commitment to women in leadership. With over half of our management team comprised of women, we have a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion which we encourage through mentorship and educational programs at the winery.
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 to use the energy we generate in the evenings and in the event of a power outage. With the drought conditions being what they are in California, we have developed new water conservation and recycling strategies.
We are always looking at ways to make continuous improvements in the quality of our wines, and we are currently investing in new wine presses. These presses will bring the latest in gentle pressing technology to extract the purest expression of our sustainably-grown grapes.
For our guests, we have noticed that visitors to the chateau are looking for more meaningful and memorable experiences, so we have recently launched some new offerings. Our Bubbles and Bites tasting menu now changes seasonally, highlighting flavors of cuisines from around the globe to illustrate how versatile sparkling wine can be. The most recent menu brought out the depth and vibrancy of regional Mexican cuisine, and now we are celebrating Moroccan cuisine.
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! Everyone is in celebration mode, so we’ve also developed a concierge-style custom tasting called Your Ultimate Carneros to help plan the perfect wedding proposal, birthday, anniversary, or anything that needs a special touch.
You’ll see that there is a lot of dynamic change here at Domaine Carneros, all of which builds upon our foundation of creating memorable sparkling wine experiences!