First Republic and Wine Spectator New York celebrate Women’s History Month with an inspiring panel of California women in wine. They discuss their unique perspectives as first- and second-generation winemakers along with their experiences navigating an industry in which only 14% of California’s 4,200 bonded wineries have a woman as their lead winemaker.
Thank you to our panelists and moderator Kristen Bieler for joining us!
- Cleo Pahlmeyer, Proprietor Wayfarer Vineyard
- Delia Viader, Founder Viader Vineyards & Winery
- Marla Bedrosian, Co-founder Domaine de la Rivière
- Suzanne Chambers, President Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants
Read below for a full transcript of the conversation.
Adrienne Mills - Good afternoon, good evening. My name is Adrienne Mills. I'm the Wine program Manager at First Republic Bank. We're excited to have you join us and Wine Spectator New York, as we celebrate Women's History Month with a panel of pioneering women leaders in the California wine industry. As part of First Republic's wine team, I'm proud to highlight the achievements of our clients and their dedication to the wine industry. In the next hour, our four inspiring guests will share their unique perspectives along with their experiences navigating this male dominated field. Today's discussion will be led by Kristen Bieler, Senior Editor at Wine Spectator. Before we start, a quick housekeeping note. At the end of the panel, we'll answer the questions you submit. To submit a question, please use the Q and A at the bottom of this screen. Also, this event is being recorded and the replay will be posted on First Republic's website. I'll now turn it over to Kristen to kick off our discussion.
Kristen Bieler - Thanks Adrienne. What an honor to be asked to moderate this panel. I had an opportunity to speak with all the women on the panel in advance of this, and it's just always so inspiring to hear so many stories of just creativity, problem solving. All the women on our panel today have really unique stories and journeys, but they are all entrepreneurs. They are all mothers. So navigating parenthood and the challenges of that, gain balance with running a really demanding business. So I'll start by just introducing who we have today. We have Delia Viader. Delia was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has a PhD in Philosophy from the Sorbonne. She studied Business at MIT, Enology at U.C. Davis, and she speaks six languages. In 1986 as a young single mother of three children, she now has four, at the time she had three, with no experience in the wine industry, she established Viader Vineyards in Napa in the remote part of Howell Mountain region to begin producing small lot Bordeaux red blends. Her first bottling was in 1989, which is 1200 cases. In 2000 Viader's 1997 Vintage, was named number two in the Wine Spectator, top 100 wines. And her son Alan, has been her winemaker since 2006. Next we have Suzanne Chambers, who is President of Chambers and Chambers Wine Merchants. Suzanne's father co-founded this wine import and distribution company almost 50 years ago. At the time Suzanne was studying, that's abroad in Switzerland and she returned home and partnered with her father in the business.
What started as a small portfolio of mostly burgundy producers in 1973, has grown to include some of the greatest cities in the world. Chambers and Chambers will celebrate their 50th next year in 2023. And her husband Larry Turley, founded Turley Wine Cellars in 1993. Today all four of the couple's daughters work in the wine business with them. Next, we have Cleo Pahlmeyer, President of Wayfarer in Sonoma's Coast. Cleo's father, Jason Pahlmeyer, founded the his Pahlmeyer vineyards in 1986, but Cleo didn't initially want to join the family business. She went on to get a BA in Art History from the University of Virginia and a Master's Degree in Fine Decorative Art at Sotheby's in London. After building a career in the international art world, Cleo returned home to the family winery and has worked closely with her father since 2008. Her father sold Pahlmeyer in 2019 and two years before that, she was appointed President of Wayfarer, which is their newer estate located in Sonoma's Coast. And finally, we have Marla Bedrosian. Marla is the Co-founder and Proprietor of Domaine de la Rivière in Sonoma. Marla's story is interesting because she came to wine from outside the industry and as a second career.
Her first career was running global sales for the Fairmont Hotel chain. Over the course of her 30 years with them, she learned to appreciate wine from the hotel's culinary wine teams and then developed a passion where she and her husband began traveling frequently to Sonoma and Napa. In 2011, they purchased a small Pinot Noir Vineyard in the Russian River Valley and eventually relocated from Westchester New York to live full time in Sonoma. Their first vintage was 2017. Marla oversees all sales and marketing for Domaine de la Rivière. So I will, maybe we can, let's see is that, do you have gallery view on? Okay, I guess this is my choice now. Now I can see you all, okay I had the wrong viewer. so let's start with Delia. So you are a young mother of three children, you entered the wine business with no industry background after graduating from MIT and with three children in tow, which is like hard for me to even imagine. And you convinced your father to invest in you. And when we spoke earlier, you talked about kind of crediting your success to your father, the fact that you had an MBA and then the role of serendipity in your journey. Can you please talk a little bit about that?
Delia Viader - Definitely. It really speaks to my father beliefs, and he would always say very succinctly a famous phrase to me, "After all the money I poured into your education, "all you want to become is a farmer?" That's how he would put it to me when I proposed to start a winery and a vineyard, single mom, kids in tow. Something so kind of far, my father was more of a diplomat. So we lived a little bit all over the world and enjoyed wine. But this farming, as he call it, he couldn't understand wine business. It wasn't something that he had in mind for his only daughter and the role of serendipity was because somebody offered to him the land that became our vineyard and offered to start the business. And he would be the partner, the financial partner, putting all the money. And I thought, what a great opportunity. This will be an ideal place to raise my family and what I don't know, I can always learn and hire consultants. So I took a very bold step and asked my dad if he would let me make a proposal, because I said, "Dad, you're putting all the money. "I can do it." He was like, "What?" But he made me, he was very serious actually. He made me set up plans, three year plans, five year plans, 10 year plans because it was very important that to him, that I would be prepared. And the role of serendipity come along, came along because I had always enjoyed wine, but I came to Napa and befriended, what later became kind of my family in exile, which was, majority of them, 99% of them were French and winemakers or working at wineries. And one of them at that time, wasn't as famous as he became. This is 35 years ago. Michel Rolland, he was friend of a friend and he loved hunting and my place was the perfect place to come hunting.
We have 92 acres up in the backwards of mountain. So they would hunt for deer. Anyhow, long and behold, I commented about the proposal that I had made to my dad, I proposed certain amount of money and Michel brought Jean-Claude Berrouet who at that time was the winemaker at Petrus. Funnily enough, I didn't have a winery yet, I didn't even have a house. I was thinking about planting a vineyard in land that was as first sight, pure raw and poison oak. That was it. And on top of that, it was very, very hilly and very steep. And just out of the blue, I wanted to plant with the sun and nobody had tried that, that meant up and down the hill, with the slope non-terracing. And my idea was applying business principles to agriculture for a high quality. And that's what came about later as what is today a given high density planting for high quality, promotes competition between the rows and also it's some sort of protection for the clusters, everything combined. It was something that wasn't thought that way. Planting a vineyard in a 32% slope, four feet apart between the rows. Everybody would come and tell me, "But you can't put a tractor there." And I said, "I wasn't planning on. "It's so steep, I wasn't planning to put a tractor anyhow. "It will be hand picked." "But it will be impossible, it will be so expensive." And I said, "But it will be very exclusive "and very special." So it was interesting that with the development and with the kind of serendipity as it comes, I built it and then, the people that Contradict me or kind of mocked me at that time, later copied me, which to me is the great compliment. So there became...
Kristen - Was that just a hunch to plant that way or was Michel Roland, Tony Soter, I know you had a number of more experienced...
Delia - I had a more experienced guy coming from New Zealand that proposed it because our hillside is west facing and he had seen it and had had some results. The whole problem of a hillside that steep, was to control erosion and to go totally organic from the beginning. It was not a concept totally established by then, but I was going to live in the property and my kids were going to live and run and my dogs and everything was going to live and run in the property. So it had to be 100% organic. There was no doubt about it. So Danny Schuster, this consultant from New Zealand that proposed to go up and down the hill without terracing. Because of our rocky terrain, he would've allowed for more precise control of erosion and with interline of cover crop. That again, 35 years ago wasn't talked about. Today it is kind of, oh yeah, of course. But at that time I was the crazy lady on the top of the hill. Basically that's what people thought. And it turned out to be a blessing because we don't have the problems that you would have morning side or afternoon side, it doesn't really matter. Our canopy protects the clusters at the noon hours, which are the critical hours and they never burn. So that provides, and also they're closer to the ground. The rock is volcanic, it traps heat and in releasing that heat throughout the day, even after the sunset, it allows us to complete a harvest with an even temperature of maturation throughout the season. And we finish right before the rains, way before the rains where a 1300 feet altitude, which has something to do with maturation. But usually we harvest early September, mid September at the very latest. So that's way ahead the October rains and that proved to be and full maturity. That's why the varieties were chosen according to the place. But that is, we relied on common women intuition, but also observation of the side, adapting to the side. We would know when the breeze comes, where the winds, where the whole location and adapted to varieties. Jean-Claude Berroute knowing about, a lot about Merlot first thing he said, "No, you don't plant Merlot here. "It will not do well." So it's the only body of variety we don't have, because of his adamant. He said, "You won't be able to get a good Merlot here. "You don't have clay. "It's mostly sandy loam and Merlot doesn't do well."
Kristen - I wanted to ask you about, because you've had terrific success, but also some pretty serious challenges, namely two catastrophic fire incidents. Your first fire that you suffered was in Jason five where an arsonist set a fire that wiped out your entire 2003 vintage, a massive economic blow. And then more recently the Glass Fire in 2020, which impacted you. So, what did the process of sort of building back from that devastation, teach you about resilience, both personally and also for your business?
Delia - I think it's teaching me about resilience. I think resilience is something part of me. I'm very perseverate, my kids would say hardheaded, but what happened in 2005, I'm always looking at possibilities. There isn't a problem without a solution, I just need to think harder. I need to look at a different perspective. And what happened with 2005, is I had a business model that was at that time, 50% direct to consumer and 50% export and distribution. Within 90 days, I became a 100% direct to consumer. I had nothing to sell because everything went up in the fire basically, except for the very small amount of big bottles that stayed here for hand labeling. So what did I do? I started selling futures. What I had in divine. That's all I had to do and had to rely on my loyal consumers to trust me enough to buy two years ahead of time, to be able to pay the bills at the end of the month because I had nothing else. So it also opened a conversation with distribution and export because you conquer a number of accounts, let's say 400 accounts in this State or the other State. They won't hold your place with a little, "Oh, she's coming on next vintage." It doesn't happen. So you need to talk to your distribution and explain what is going on. And when can we do the transition because you can't leave them hanging also. So it took a lot of planning and talking and being transparent about what would be a win-win out of a total loss at that time. It also opened doors because in 2005, direct to consumer was a great idea, shipping was not all together put together. You couldn't ship almost anywhere and the compliance was a nightmare. It still is, but it was even more then because nobody decided that it was a good idea in my state or that state or that state. Everybody had a different idea. So it really teaches you a lot about jumping hoops. If you are not, if you don't believe in what you do and you are not really enamored with that, it just kind of pushes at you, but everything has a solution in talking.
Kristen - I love it. I love also that Alan became a firefighter after 2003. He studied fire patterns and understand, prepare for future fire events, which will happen and that was hugely beneficial. You mentioned in sort of protecting a lot of your property that could have been even worse damaged. So I want to keep moving just to make sure we get everyone's story in there. And speaking of distribution, we have Suzanne Chambers. Distribution is definitely like the less romantic side of the wine industry. For audience members today who are less familiar, wine can't, producers can't just directly sell in most cases through our traditional distribution system, they have to go through three tiers where distributors sell the wine from the, buy the wine from producer, sell it to restaurants and retailers. But it's a critical part of our industry, it's the way. And having curated portfolios from passionate import distributors like Chambers and Chambers is so critical to the wines that reach us as consumers. So give us a little bit of background here Suzanne, and explain how your father created this business and then how you decided, made the him as a partner. Oh, you're on mute.
Suzanne Chambers - Okay. I'm sorry. I'm going to make a quick correction. In the State of California, wineries can sell direct to,
Kristen - That's true, thank you.
Suzanne - Consumers, restaurants and retailers. So that sort of helps me get into what Chambers does. And in the early 70s or late 60s, my father was, until he retired, an airline pilot. And his first flight with, as an airline pilot, he met someone named Joe Swan, who was the captain of the flight. And Joe became very historical in clones and in having in a winery later in life. But listening to Delia, I go back to a time that it's really, when you look at it today, it was so early in the second generation of California wines. And my father was really educated on European wines because at the time California had, I don't know how many wineries, but it was a very small number of wineries. He started to make some wine, was introduced to someone who could, he could buy a barrel from and his name was Dick Graff. And Dick Graff is very historical in the California wine industry. Sadly, what the brand that he built, I think went a very, did go a very different direction. But that was called Chalone Winery and Chalone was in the Pinnacles and which is Monterey County. And my father made some wines with him and through that, he had tasted a lot of Burgundy but he, or a lot of wine, European wines, really Bordeaux in the beginning and graduated or not graduated. Through his taste profile he became interested in Burgundy and he read some books about it. He tasted the Chalone Pinot that Dick Graff made. And he said, "Wow, there's something "really special about this." And at the time he had no real idea of how you could get in the wine business other than being a Bitner. And he read a book by a fellow named Fred Wildman Jr. and it was travels through France. And he thought, wow, that's pretty interesting. And so I was going to school in Switzerland and he, that year he went to Burgundy four times and it was, we're talking in 1972. And Burgundy, when you talk, when Delia talks about California, my God, really the world didn't know about Burgundy.
The weather conditions were very challenging, the wines that came out of Burgundy, one in five vintages was historical, but it was beyond amazing. And he thought, "Maybe I could import some wine." And he had already started a little import business, which was too much for him to do as an airline pilot. So how did I get in the wine business? I was coming out of school and he said, "You want a job?" And I was in college, had no real interest in what I was learning and I said, "Sure, I'll do that along "with going to college." And I, it goes back so far, but anyway, the genesis of Chambers and Chambers was really about the passion of wine. It was not about building a distribution business. It was more about being able to bring wines in that he loved. Our first customer, this may not speak to a lot of you, but was a man named Darrell Corti who is very, very historic in California wines. And at the time there really were no women, there were a couple of women in wine business on a national distribution level. And I really knew very little about wine and Darrell really along with a handful of other amazing men were my mentors. And we, at the time did not have a portfolio of wineries. We imported wines, we would get offerings and Darrell would oftentimes give us those offerings. And we would import wines for six dollars a case in 6%. And that our commission was 6%. So that was, and we started Chambers and Chambers with a 10,000 dollar loan. And our idea was someday we could make a million dollars, that would be unbelievable.
Distribution, when you're talking about it being the less glamorous part of the business, I was lucky enough to meet winery owners that taught me the passion behind taking what they did and making sure that I had that same passion in the market to convince restaurants, retailers, that this was really worth them my presenting. I was at a funeral a couple of weeks ago in France, and it was with our own producer. And many of the people that I had grown up around in the wine business were there and not to drop names but to explain, I sat next to Obero Duplan who was a very historic person in the wine business and Obero said, "Your dad came to Burgundy "when nobody cared and that was what was important." And he hadn't well, so we started the wine business at the same time, I knew nothing. He was passionate and we did what we said we'd do. And through the history of Chambers and Chambers, we've represented, we want to represent family owned wineries of integrity that make best of quality. We have a passionate staff that I believe learns the wineries and tells those, we're storytellers. That's what we do. We're also a logistics team. We have, there's 100 people at Chambers and Chambers now. We've grown way over a million dollars. We're considered the medium wholesaler in California. What I think sets Chambers and Chambers apart from other distributors, is we partner with our wineries. We don't bring on competing brands and even with that, we've been able to become, we represent 170 wineries. We do the job that's being asked of us, or we give it our all to make sure that happens. So California's probably the largest seller of, third New York probably largest sellers of wines. And so you look at a State like California, and we probably sell 25, 20, 25% of all of our domestic winery, wineries they've their production.
And if you talk, so imports are 50% of what we do, domestic is 50% of what we sell. And when you talk about small family wineries, I think what we were very early on and doing is being able to identify wineries as the wine, as the wine business was growing. So when California wines became an instant success, was after a very famous tasting that was done in Paris. And that was in the mid 70s. That gave an opportunity for California to really show that they could do unbelievable things and their wines were just as great as anything that Europe could produce. From that, I believe a lot of people came in and said, "Hey, I can do this." And I'm always challenged when I hear people talk about France or Europe, making better wines than California or California making better wines than Europe. I mean, we are in a moment in the wine industry, that there is so much great wine in every category. And I think that's what we do really well. We find those very, very special wineries that we can partner with to make sure that they get into the right hands and that we do it in a way that it excites people. I also think to mention, we do it from buying the wines, to explain distribution, we buy all of the wine that we sell and we take possession of that. We have a warehouse, both in California and Hawaii. I'll tell you about it Hawaii in a minute, but we take possession, we do the deliveries. So we do, we're very integrated in everything that we do. And during the pandemic we, I moved the company and after 46 years in San Francisco, I moved it to the Napa Valley. And we ship about 1500 cases a day in California.
Kristen - Wow.
Suzanne - In 1979, my father was domiciled in Hawaii and there was no great wine in Hawaii. So he decided that we should be in Hawaii and we are still in Hawaii today. During the pandemic it was a big question mark, whether we could stay open because so much of our business is on premise, restaurants. That is a huge part of what we do.
Kristen - Which is a big point of difference too. I mean, not every small distributor is doing that. And something else to mention is that there's been such tremendous consolidation distribution, the landscape of distribution has changed so much over the last number of decades. You've seen that. And I was going to ask you, how do you stay competitive? And I think you've sort of answered that. It's about you still have that same passion. It's not a commodity business for you and the partnerships you form with your wineries, it makes you really competitive, even in the face of these mega wholesalers with these multi-state footprints.
Suzanne - Yeah.
Kristen - Just in the interest of time, I'm going to, we're going to come back, but I just wanted to make sure we get everyone in here. Cleo so you grew up surrounded by the wine business with your father. And I love it when you told me that you didn't think what he did was cool. I guess, because most of us don't think what our parents do is cool even when our parents have really cool jobs. You established a career in the art world. Talk about your decision to come back and work with your father.
Cleo Pahlmeyer - Sure, thank you. Yeah, now I think that's probably true for even children of movie actors don't really think other parents do is that great? Or maybe it's just because my dad would always talks, speak so highly of himself. I was like, okay dad. But after I was in the workforce, I've been graduated from school, I, he started expressing the desire to step back from the business and retire and it was around that same time that I was becoming aware of the reach of the Pahlmeyer brand and what he had created and the value of that. And so I stepped into the family business really to carry on my father's vision. I started out at a very much entry level position, interviewed for the job. My stepmother actually emailed me and asked me if I'd any friends that were interested in this entry level job in the business. And at that point I was like, "I think this might be the right time "for me to get involved." And so, but to be able to be that family member with the last name and having that connection, the family connection really, I think makes such a big difference and it cannot be replicated even by the most talented CEO. And so that was, that's what really drove me to get involved and to over. So that was in 2008, I started working with him and with the team really, because I really learned so much just by getting my hands dirty, worked with incredible people over the years, wonderful mentors, coaches, consultants, and that's how I got my education in the wine industry. Yeah and, yeah so I worked, so I continued working with him, even though he had pulled back from business and became President of both Pahlmeyer and Wayfarer businesses in 2017. And then just a couple years later, my family made the really tough decision to sell Pahlmeyer.
Which is, which I did. I led the company through that process, but the, my consolation prize and what was really important to me I guess, is, was holding onto the Wayfarer Vineyard and that brand. So my dad started Pahlmeyer in the 1980s and like other wine lovers that we've been talking about this conversation, his tastes were also gravitating towards the wine lines of Burgundy. And so he became interested in starting a Pinot Noir label. And our winemaker for Pahlmeyer at the time was Helen Turley, who is obviously famous for her carbonated wine-making, but also for Pinot Noir. And she introduced my dad to a property, not for far from the Marcassin Vineyard that she had established. And my dad fell in love with the spot and bought the land and got David able to come out from Napa Valley and plant the vineyard. Apparently he bribed him with helicopter rides because it's, from Napa it's a solid two and a half hour drive to get out to the coast there. And so I think it's still the only vineyard that he's developed out in Sonoma side. And so my dad planted in 2002, but for several years we were blending the fruit with other, with Russian River Vineyards to bottle into the Pahlmeyer label. And so as I got to know the wines better and know the vineyard better through the eyes of the business and not just the teenager that was being drug out there on the weekends, I, we started talking more and more as a family about how Wayfarer really deserved to be in a State label. And so I got to kind of make that my own and start that brand with the 2012 vintage. And then launched that in 2014. And so now I'm running that...
Kristen - I think that's really nice because you, it's just like the blessing and the curse of having this famous father, right? And so here you are getting to do something that's really different. I mean, he was Napa CA, this is cool climate Pinot Noir, I can really make a mark in your own way with this project.
Cleo - Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's, there are a lot of differences between the two businesses, but what really carries through is expressing the highest level, the highest potential of the terroir, doing everything at the highest level, not cutting any corners, you're not answering to any investors, nothing like that. And it's a business that you have to have passion for because you have to make the tough financial decisions in the name of really building a brand and making sure that whenever a customer opens a bottle of wine, that the promise of that name on the label is coming through in the experience that they're having with that wine. And that's the most important thing if you're really trying to build a great wine brand, make great wine. My other, my dad definitely had his own style in building his business. And so he, I think, well I know many, Delia and Suzanne, you definitely interacted with him. And so that's another differences in the industry has also changed so much. When my dad started Pahlmeyer, he, it was like very much out there, cowboy, he was Jayson Pahlmeyer, he traveled all over building that brand. There was no marketing plan, there was no strategy. It wasn't like that then, but the industry is changed so much and I'm a completely, and I'm me, not him. And so it's, so I've also had to figure out how to carve my, figure out how I'm going to go about building Wayfarer. And when we talk business from time to time, my dad and me it's, there's just so many things that details and plans and spreadsheets and all these things that I just don't even, I just don't even bring up. The whole can of worms. But yeah a lot, definitely a lot of differences, but having the, that experience of learning from what my dad built, learning from his example, having the knowledge of what we did right with Pahlmeyer and also what we might have done differently is really valuable now as I move forward.
Kristen - That's great, thank you for that. So Marla, I want to move on to you and hear your story, which also not from the wine industry, didn't have a wine family and had a whole career in hospitality, as a very successful running global sales for Fairmont and just fell in love with wine as a consumer and as a tourist visiting California. And as we all know, one of the easiest ways to lose a fortune is to enter the wine business yet you've been really successful. And talk a little bit about what you think has made you so successful. Kind of the way you've built your business and where you found revenue streams.
Marla Bedrosian - Sure, so just to take you back a few years. Being in hospitality, overseeing a group global sales team, managing a team of people, the relationships that I formed with meeting and event planners and those that plan their own organizations, conferences has been 10,000% vital to the successes that our little tiny brand or my little brand is seeing today. So back at Fairmont Hotels, and I had a great career there, I was there for over 25 years. And what better opportunity to learn about wines than being able to travel the world, spend time with chefs and food and beverage experts and touch so many different regions, so many fantastic wine regions. And ironically, I joke around about this, but I never, you really drank alcohol. And when I started in the industry, I was, I would start with a white Zinfandel. Yes, that is so true and I enjoyed it. And I was drinking that wine and I was digging it and it was actually a Sam in Bermuda at the water-laden who kind of took me aside and he said, "Come on down one day, "let me bring you through some wine." So my love for wine really developed while I got to travel with my job. It then turned into me opening up our home in Westchester, New York. And we had an annual event, it was called the Food and Wine Extravaganza. And we did it for about 12 years and it was at my home in Westchester. We took meeting and event planners by a bus, no joke. We bused them out on a Friday, it was always the first week of November. And we'd have different chefs from different regions. And we would always pair the foods with Sonoma county wines and the reason why we chose Sonoma county wines, was because Fairmont had a hotel sitting right out here. And I'm always very, very brand focused and where can we support the brand? Where can I support women?
I know this is part of this conversation today, but we've always been focused on the right things to support, the right things to include. So anyway, fast forward, we had a lot of great parties. Lot of stories came out of them, but I developed this incredible passion for wine and came out to Sonoma Napa with my husband. Now I had a hotel to stay at, it was really cool and started Napa loved Cab, ended up just falling on the up with Sonoma county. The people, the wine were big, huge Pinot people. And Jeff and I, my husband and I, we purchased a little tiny vineyard here in the Russian River Valley in 2011, we actually started farming it in 2010. And really with no intention of making wine, we were, we actually just bought the property for some day we would retire here and hope that the sale of our fruit would pay for our farming costs and our taxes. And we became obsessed with farming and with the community that was surrounding us. And what could we do to be more involved in the community and the community gardens, I was planting on the property that brought in the right insects, but the end result was the, those that worked at our vineyard, they got to enjoy the fruits and vegetables with their families that came off the property. And again, we weren't even thinking about making wine. And unfortunately, as Kristen knows, in 2014, we were unfortunately blessed with that Red Blotch Virus and had to rip out our entire vineyard. And we could have made sparkling, but you know what, that's not why we were here. So anyway, we decided to make this jump and we were going to systematically replant our vineyard. At the same time, I was hosting this fun neighborhood barbecue with all of our neighbors and we, our wine maker, kale Anderson, who also was Pahlmeyer winemaker, he actually said, "If you guys are going to make wine, "you need to start now." And I'm like, "Okay, why?" And he says, "Because as you're ripping out "your original vineyard, "you can start with making a rosé. "So you can start your wine label with the old." And we had already replanted three acres, and then in 2018, we can move it into the new one.
Because we were starting out with the rosé. So our first vintage was in 2017. And it's an important year because as you ladies know that your 2000 other than rosé, that you're releasing in 18. Our shards and our Pinots were really being released until when? The fall of 2019, right? We know what's coming around the corner. So I'm a little tiny winery. Our focus of finding our customer was, I was marketing to meeting and event planners. And we didn't have a list of people that were lining up, "Oh, we want to buy your wine." And so I was reaching out to all of my girlfriends. And I'm sorry, all of you guys out there that were also meeting and event planners and people I knew in the industry, but I just found myself reaching out to a lot of women. And these women were so supportive of what we were doing, that all of a sudden, I started to become engaged and okay. In 2020, we have conferences here in California, here, here, would you come and pour the wine? That would be really cool. And yes, sign me up. So 2019 happens we're releasing our stuff in 19. And I had a very good friend, who is a Head of Marketing of a hotel company who called me up one day and said, "Hey Marla, if I buy a few cases of wine, "will you like FaceTime "with my entire sales and marketing team "and teach them like the one on ones of wine?" I'm like, "Okay, you have to give me a little notice "I do want to put makeup on my face." That was the joke of the whole conversation. She's like, okay. So anyway, I sent her the wine. I FaceTimed with her team. It turned into so many sales that from that one phone call that I was like, okay, this is really cool. Let me start sharing this now with other people that I know. And so by the end of 19, I had engaged in probably about five or six experiences like that. And it was so immature, it was so fun, it worked, everyone was having fun. And then we all know what happened in 2020, right? So, oh my goodness, what are you going to do? I did not have a Suzanne, we did not have a distributor, we're so small.
We make less than a thousand cases of wine a year. So being 100% engaged in contact and with deep rooted relationships with these meeting and event planners, I started reaching out as soon as I knew meetings were now moving to this like Zoom Platform, no more FaceTime, right? So as I started doing that at first, there was hesitation, oh yeah, we're just going to get our people together. By April of 2020, we were engaged that month alone in probably 30 virtual wine experiences with corporations. That turned into somebody's husband or a partner, you just peeking in at the Zoom and that turned into, oh my gosh, my wife is having a 60th birthday party, what can we do for her? And truly by the end of 21, we really truly sat in on over 300 virtual wine experiences, whether they were 10 people, our largest was 450 people. And I do want to share with you that officially, as of yesterday, we have done our first in person, 300 person wine experience in Orlando. We had one of our customers who did virtual experiences with us, reach out to me about a month and a half ago and she said, "Our meeting is going live. "We're going to be in Orlando, "can you guys come?" Oh my gosh, how can I actually get that done? So we did. And someone said this on the call earlier today, "We figure out a way to make it happen." I was losing sleep over, okay, how am I going to get the wine to this hotel? Get it, make sure that wine is cool, the rosé and the Chardonnay is chilled for 300 people that the hotel staff is pouring the wine. And unfortunately, I couldn't even attend. We just ended up adopting two little tiny baby Labrador Retrievers on Saturday. So I could leave. So, my husband and my son, they went to Orlando and the nice thing about the end of the experience was I Zoomed in from the middle of the vineyard with a glass of Pinot and which was a surprise to everyone. And I had worked that out with the meeting planner. So that's just, I know I just spoke a lot, but that's...
Kristen - That's incredible for such a small brand, the inroads you've made and the challenges you faced in launching in a pandemic. And you have just started making more wine. You have so many customers now, you don't have enough wine. I want to quickly ask everyone about so, something our industry's been grappling with. In every tier over the last couple of years, increasingly is this issue of lack of diversity. For a while it was about kind of including more women. Women are now pretty integral to most parts of the industry not as much distribution but most other tiers. We still have work to do but where we really, where we really lack is people of color and other forms of diversity. So there are a number of new initiatives that have launched over the last two years, doing really important work and some really critical conversations are happening. I just wanted to ask everyone here about any initiatives they might be involved in, and then what you think it's going to take to achieve real change in our business. I know Suzanne you're involved with the Roots Foundation. If you want to speak a little bit about.
Suzanne - I'm actually not, Jeremy Seysses from Domaine Dujac, is very involved with the Roots Fund. He is on the board and I'm very aware of what they're doing and I'm involved in helping raise money. They're doing something quite unique in that they really are making a point of bringing in people, young people who are either not able to, or unaware that there is an opportunity. And all you must know Dwayne Wade and he just did a dinner to raise a lot of money and he's very, very involved in bringing people of color to understand that wine does not need to be intimidating. He has recently, which I am involved with, the Enology Department at Davis, UC Davis. He sits on the board now and the real idea behind all of it is, how can we break down those barriers for us obviously, but also for people who think there is no way that they could compete? And quite frankly, I would have to say that I have four daughters and they have done a lot of educating for me about the barriers that are in the way. And I think that it is something that is not going to happen overnight, but I definitely think that we, that people who are involved in the industry can put out feelers who are out come have an intern, wants to come and work. How can we open up what we do? Doing David Block, who runs the Enology Department at UC Davis, he is very willing to come and bring young kids from high schools and thinking of entering college through the Enology Department, which is incredibly impressive. So I really think it's through giving an opportunity and making it, I mean, for those people who that aha moment. Somebody gave them a glass of wine.
Kristen - Right.
Suzanne - What Dwayne has said is, "You gotta have it offered to you. "So you even know it's there."
Kristen - Right.
Suzanne - And that I have to say, I didn't quite understand the extent of, so yes, I definitely think that there are, there's a lot that needs to be done, a lot. And I think the Napa Valley, which is where I live, is trying to open their minds to it. So, I think 10 years from now, we're going to see a lot of change, which is for me exciting.
Kristen - And that's the plan. It's because it's not an overnight fix, it takes a lot of investment and real commitment.
Suzanne - It takes a generation.
Kristen - There is a fantastic retailer, TJ Douglas in Boston, he owns Urban Grape and he started the scholarship where his recipients spend six months working at a restaurant, six months working at retail, six months working for a distributor to really get a comprehensive understanding of the industry and understand what kind of career paths there are. But it'll be years before those folks are in leadership roles. So it's kind of a sustained effort, not just brainwashing.
Delia - The Napa Valley Grape, sorry. The Napa Valley Grapegrowers has a internship for high schoolers and it is open just to let them have that aha moment. If you are thinking of remaining in agriculture, these are avenues which you can take and just put them in positions whether to work in the vineyard or to work next to the winemaker, to discover that actually they may have an affinity because the earlier you open that door and you make them think about it, the better it is. So there are several wineries that partner with the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and also the Napa Valley Vineyards has a leadership program, open to create the next generation of leaders. And that's what it entitles. Just leaders in the community. So it's going to take some work but there is a lot happening and we're happy to be involved in, promote that kind of mentoring that we can do, because I think that that's what we do best as women and what works.
Marla - Though Kristen one of the things that we are very involved in is, we're involved in the Cornell University Wine Program and every year for the last, well only last two years, because we're so small and we're in our infancy. We have a partnership with a woman, Cheryl Stanley, who runs the program for Cornell University. We donate our wine to the program. They have a thousand kids in this group and because of COVID over the last two years, we've been Zooming in to their programs. And what it's created and at the end of the program is we offer these students to reach out to us depending on what field they want to go into. In hospitality and this happens to be in the hotel program or in real estate, my husband happens to be in real estate and we've really taken on this role of becoming mentors to these kids. They reach out to us, we help them with their resumes. We introduce them to some of the other relationships that we have and same thing, we invite them out to the vineyard and to really experience what we have here. But we recently met someone who came out of that program and reached out to us to actually purchase our wines for an establishment that he works for because he had tasted our wines at that event. And that was great. But the purpose for us doing it is more of a dedicated focus of mentorship. And we have two boys that graduated from that program. So we do have reasons as to why we really jumped into that. So I just wanted to add that in and then and from a vineyard perspective, we are very focused on hiring our team. Our management company is a minority owned company. And as you all probably do as well, we don't even realize we do it. But we are so focused on supporting a minority owned, women owned companies and organizations in everything we purchase or other in other companies that we actually partnership with.
Kristen - Terrific. Cleo we have one minute left, but you were going to say something.
Cleo - Well no, I was just going to say the, we are still a very male and white heavy industry and the more diversity that we can bring into our industry, it's better for everyone. Consumers these days are way, much, much more focused on who is behind a brand, how do they make their product? Rather than how exclusive or luxury that product is. We all here know, anyone in business knows how important connections are and having that mentorship and just even getting your foot in the door. And so programs like the Roots Fund are incredibly important in doing that. And also I think we all know how important representation is and as we get more women and more people of color into the wine industry, people are going to, more and more people of color and women are going to be gravitating towards that as well.
Kristen - Right as consumers too.
Suzanne - I want to say one thing only, because you just mentioned that. I am so embarrassed to say this. I didn't think that we should have women working in the warehouse because I was worried they hurt themselves. We now have four women working in our warehouse and they're doing an amazing job. And the whole idea of how people interface with each other has shifted. It's much nicer.
Kristen - Unbelievable energy, that's great. I'm not surprised to hear that. Thank you all so much, we're totally out of time. I'm going to hand it back over to Adrianne who is going to close us out.
Adrienne - Here we go. Thank you all, Kristen and all of our panelists, we greatly appreciate you for making today's event a memorable experience and for sharing your stories with us. First Republic is proud to support our wine industry through banking services and to support the growth of diversity in the industry overall. I'm so sorry, we didn't get to your questions today. Please feel free to reach out to our team. Also as a reminder, there will be a replay of this session available on our First Republic website, where you can find additional information. Thank you and be well. Happy Women's History Month and goodbye everyone.
Kristen - Thank you, bye bye.