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Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2024: Remi Cohen — Supporting Employees as a Mentor and Role Model

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By Paul Vigna

 

There are 160 employees at Domaine Carneros, a landmark California producer of méthode traditionelle sparkling wine and Pinot Noir.

[Photo by Damion Hamilton, courtesy Domaine Carneros]

Beth Posey, the winery’s human relations director, tells the story of CEO Remi Cohen inquiring one day about a kitchen employee who had been missing for a few days, wondering whether she was OK. “I remember thinking, ‘What CEO actually knows every employee and takes the time to notice when they may be absent?’” Posey says, adding that “Remi knows every employee by name and truly cares for them.”

Employees First

At a winery where sustainability has been one of its pillars since Claude Taittinger purchased the property in 1987, a similar philosophy that emphasizes “people sustainability” is evident in the programs established for those who work there. In addition to a comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion program, the business offers several mentoring programs that complement its ongoing tenets of employee engagement, employee advancement and open-book management. 

The result, Cohen says, is a business with “a lot of great values that keep people here.”

Cohen’s leadership is an integral part of that retention, earning her a place among Wine Industry Advisor’s Most Inspiring People in 2024. Kimberly Charles, principal of Domaine Carneros’ longtime marketing agency Charles Communications, calls Cohen “compassionate, energizing, motivating and truly a polymath. She has mad operational skills, knows how to make wine and grow grapes, but also has all the 360 skills of making the company more profitable, running a team-building HR division, encouraging mentorship for the next generation and instilling a sense of purpose and engagement with her team both at the winery and as vendors.”

Cohen’s impact has been all the more impressive considering the challenges she faced after taking over in the summer of 2020. She succeeded founding CEO Eileen Crane, who charted a course of excellence for more than 30 years, then faced everything from COVID-19 and regulation challenges to threats from wildfires and drought — “And that was only her first week here,” says Posey.

Mastering the Field

Born and raised in New Jersey, Cohen headed west to attend UC Berkeley with the ambition of becoming a doctor. But a different field, one filled with grapevines, took precedent as she earned a master’s in viticulture from UC Davis along with an MBA in finance. For 10 years, she took on a variety of roles at several Carneros AVA producers before advancing from director of winemaking and vineyards to VP of operations to, eventually, COO during a decade at Cliff Lede Vineyards in Yountville, Calif.

Along that journey she was guided by several mentors, including Mike Richmond, then GM at Bouchaine Vineyards, where Cohen had her first full-time industry job as vineyard manager (but her tasks were far-reaching, from writing copy for the website to sales and marketing). “He was the person who inspired me to think outside of just the vineyard in terms of the wine industry,” Cohen says. 

[Photo by Damion Hamilton, courtesy Domaine Carneros]

It was at Napa’s Saintsbury winery, where Cohen interned, that she remembers meeting winemaker Mark West for a “catch-up lunch” and telling him that she was thinking of getting her MBA. “He was really strongly encouraging of that,” she says. “In fact, I came back to the office from that lunch and submitted my application. That was another pivotal moment of encouragement in my career.”

These days Cohen, 47, is the one providing the wisdom, guidance and inspiration.

Chris Kajani is winemaker and president for Bouchaine who was a winemaker at Saintsbury when she met Cohen, then a vineyard consultant. By now longtime friends, the two collaborate regularly and, through the Wine Women organization, support each other and other women in wine industry leadership. “Remi doesn’t shy away from problems, she tackles them,” Kajani says. “She is the epitome of a fearless leader.”

Adds Evyn Cameron, another friend who consults on numerous wine brands based in Napa and Sonoma and who also first crossed paths with Cohen at Saintsbury, “Remi has a gravitational pull. She is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met as well as the most humble.”  

Work/Life Immersion

Photo by Mario Piambo [Courtesy of Domaine Carneros]

For someone who remains invigorated by a stroll through the vineyard (“It’s still my favorite part of the business,” she told the North Bay Business Journal last summer) the job admittedly keeps her on the run. “In this type of role, it’s like your personal life and work life are all in one,” she says. “I feel like I take a good amount of personal time to see friends, [make time for] fitness and family time. But also, the first thing I do in the morning is work — when I’m not even here — and it’s the last thing I do at the end of the day.”

Part of that time is devoted to career conversations with employees, from reviewing goals to brainstorming their next steps. Says Cohen, “Sometimes that turns into more of an elaborate relationship and other times it’s just those one-offs, but that’s been really rewarding. [I enjoy] seeing where those people take that information and those conversations. It’s very inspirational for me.”

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Paul Vigna

Paul Vigna is a writer and editor in Harrisburg, Pa., who has been covering East Coast wines for 15 years. He
was the first winner of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association’s Birchenall Award in February 2018. You can
find him at www.pennlive.com.

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