The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 16 of 108

16 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2016 FOR 35 YEARS, WINEMAKER MARGO Van Staaveren has cycled with the seasons at Sonoma's Chateau St. Jean: budbreak, thinning, harvest, dormancy, pruning. At times, those seasons have jostled with the responsibilities of her personal life; at oth - ers, they've been its shelter. Van Staaveren grew up in the Bay Area and studied at U.C. Davis with the intention of teaching special education, though she ended up with a degree in enology. "I had a leg up knowing that the wine industry even existed, though we wouldn't have called it an industry then," she says. After a brief stint at Beringer, Van Staaveren joined Chateau St. Jean in 1980 as a lab technician under winemaker Dick Arrowood. On her first day, she met Don Van Staaveren, Chateau St. Jean's Assistant Cellarmaster and the man she would marry three years later. Discussing Margo Van Staaveren's career trajectory as sepa - rate from Don's is impossible, as the two worked side-by-side for many years, even as they climbed the ranks. By the time Don replaced Arrowood as Head Winemaker in 1990, Margo was Assistant Winemaker. "It really was an evolution," she says. "I took on different roles and responsibilities as I rose to each challenge." When Don left Chateau St. Jean for Artesa Winery in 1996, the vacated head winemaker position was offered to Van Staaveren. She and Don had two children under the age of six at the time, and the winery's iconic Cinq Cépages Bordeaux blend had begun to take off with the media and consumers. "Just being a winemaker is tough for a parent of either gender," she says. "Between travel, harvest, and being at the winery so much, it can really be unmanageable. When Don left for Artesa I didn't throw my hat in the ring, because what are the chances that the requirements of the job would meet up with those of our family?" Instead, Steve Reeder came from Kendall-Jackson to fill the position, and Van Staaveren stayed on as Assistant Winemaker while raising her children for another eight years before the opportunity arose again. In 2004, Don scaled down his own career to become the pri - mary parent to allow Van Staaveren her turn as Head Winemaker for Chateau St. Jean. With regard to gender, Van Staaveren finds winemaking a level playing field. "I can't recall a time that gender had any impact on something I wanted to do here," she says. "The novelty of a woman winemaker is more interesting from the outside than the inside. I've never felt different or held back. That's probably a result of my slow evolution!" she laughs. "I'm kind of a fixture around here." Three years ago, just before harvest, Van Staaveren's son Coby died in an accident while attending Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo. "When we found out, Don and I disappeared for a week, maybe ten days. But it was our most compelling time of the year, so we had to dive right back into work." To add insult to injury, their daughter, Leiska, would leave two weeks later for col - lege. "Walking into an empty nest situation, harvest actually helped," Van Staaveren says. "We immersed ourselves in work - there was no question about scaling back. When your world is turned upside down, working gives you normal things to count on." The quiet growth of Van Staaveren's career offered a sanctuary when she needed it most; it's also what makes her one of the most lauded and respected winemakers in the industry. "If you consider I've been here 35 years," she says, "that means I've only had 35 chances to make wine. That's not very many times to get a shot at something. Getting familiar with the vineyards and confident in the wine takes a long time, especially if you change regions or types of wine. You have to wait patiently. The pace was just right for me; by the time I was in this role, I had the confidence to make the decisions it required." Margo Van Staaveren: A Woman of the Vine PHOTO COURTESY OF CHATEAU ST. JEAN About Women of the Vine® Women of the Vine is a membership- based alliance that empowers and equips women worldwide to advance their careers in the alcohol beverage industry, fostering gender diversity and talent development across the industry at large. The Women of the Vine Global Symposium is scheduled for April 4-6, 2016 in Napa, CA. For more information, visit by Jaime Lewis With regard to gender, Van Staaveren finds winemaking a level playing field. Save the Date! Third Annual Women of the Vine Global Symposium, March 13–15, 2017, Napa, CA.

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