Practicing Patience in the Winemaking Process

2/14/2019

Women in Wine Margo Van Staaveren


Breakthru Beverage is proud to present our “Women in Wine” series — an ongoing effort to highlight the women shaping today’s evolving global wine industry. From winemakers to sustainability specialists to executives, these are the women among the vines to watch in 2018 and beyond.

Chateau St. Jean was founded in 1973 with the idea of producing vineyard-designated wines to fully capture the unique character of a particular site. 

Margo Van Staaveren, the brand’s General Manager and Senior Winemaker, joined Chateau St. Jean in 1980 and, as she explains below, has held several positions at the winery which has helped her become one of the industry’s leading voices.

While making moves in her career, she also met and married fellow winemaker Don Van Staaveren. They worked side-by-side for many years before he left to take on head winemaker at a nearby winery, which created a fun rivalry. More on that later.

We spoke to Van Staaveren about her 38-year career at Chateau St. Jean, innovative packaging and the latest wine trends.

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What first attracted you to winemaking?

Van Staaveren: I actually almost missed my calling as a winemaker. I was attending the University of California at Davis studying an entirely different major, but it’s hard to be at UC Davis and not be aware of the winemaking program.

I first became attracted to winemaking study through the science of it, enjoying chemistry, microbiology, soil and water sciences. Growing up in the North Bay, I knew I was near a very special wine region of California. Let’s just say: we found each other, and I’ve never regretted changing majors.

Describe your career path at Chateau St. Jean over the last 38 years.

I began in the quality control laboratory as a wine chemist. From there, I became an enologist and lab manager, assistant winemaker, associate winemaker and finally, senior winemaker and general manager of the winery.

Today, I still make the wines of Chateau St. Jean, but also serve as the Director of Luxury Winemaking for Treasury Wine Estates here in California. Each step along this journey integrated well with my personal and family life, allowing balance between professional pursuits and home. It’s essential for longevity and being able to sustain excellence.

Tell us about your winemaking philosophy. 

Having refined my winemaking approach at Chateau St. Jean, single vineyard wines are in my blood. I strive to make wines that genuinely demonstrate the variety, appellation or site they come from.

Whether a wine is a varietal or a blend, creating a wine with a balance between fruit character and structure is my goal.

And truthfully, since my husband is a winemaker, and we worked together for a time at CSJ, it should be no surprise that my philosophy and guiding goal is to make more highly acclaimed wines than my husband – and he’d probably say the same thing with me in mind!

It seems to work for winemaking and marriage, since we’ve been pursuing both, together, for a very long time. 

Who are your female role models or mentors?

While several great women winemakers paved the way for my career, I knew them most often from afar, admiring their work. We often think only of mentors as those who forged the path before you, but I often find myself being mentored by my own colleagues as they build their careers in an environment that is sometimes more different than the environment I faced. Single vineyard wines quote

What is one of the most difficult things in winemaking? 

Winemaking requires patience. The time from planting a vineyard, nurturing it and helping it find what it can be, to opening a bottle from the fruit we’ve watched over from that very same vineyard, is a long process.

Most changes you make in a vineyard or in the winemaking process aren’t realized for months or sometimes years. And as with anything, finding patience in our character can often be a challenge. I’ve learned that patience is a duty, not just a virtue.

Conversely, what is one of your most favorite things in winemaking?

The seasonal nature of grape growing and winemaking always keeps me engaged and anticipating the next season, the next harvest. I truly enjoy the annual cycle of winemaking.

There is no doubt that opening a bottle you’ve made with friends, and seeing their enjoyment, is the most rewarding part of making wine. 

What wine trends have you been seeing lately?

Aside from the explosion of rosé, we’re certainly seeing more innovation in packaging. Our Living Wine Labels app includes the California tier of Chateau St. Jean, and when consumers use the app, they’ll find me telling a brief story about Chateau St. Jean and how our wines pair well with life.

Innovative wine blends are on the rise. Even as trends bring new red blends to market, or sommeliers search out a little-known varietal, traditional wines from classic regions will always have their place.

During my time at Chateau St. Jean, we’ve shown why Sonoma County and Sonoma Valley are among the very best places for a wide variety of varietal wines. We’re able to adapt to trends without sacrificing old favorites.
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What can you tell us about the living wine labels for the various Treasury wines? 

Our living wine labels have been met with great reception and vary from zombies on our Walking Dead wines to great women feature stories with emBRAZEN. There’s something for everyone! 

The surprise element when a live label isn’t expected makes them fun, and the stories they can tell have great potential for the consumer. We’ve learned a lot since introducing augmented reality and the next generation of the labels will broaden to include education, excitement and entertainment.

 

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