Diary of a Winery Kid

By: Leiska Van Staaveren, SomethingAboutSonoma.com Intern

Growing up, when asked what my parents did for a living, I would respond with a sigh, “they’re winemakers.” Nothing cool. Nothing unique (especially to this area). They didn’t make movies, art or music, they made wine. I couldn’t even drink it anyways! Plus, most of my friends think we live at the winery or in the middle of a vineyard and drink wine all day. During these early days of suffering from “uncool parents,” my mother always told me, “you know, one day you’ll think our jobs are cool! You’ll realize!” Well, mom, you were right (what’s new?).

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I may have started thinking my parents’ jobs were cool, but it wasn’t because of an appreciation for wine. Certainly not. It was because almost every month for the first half of the year my brother, who is four years my senior, and I packed up and headed off to a “wine event.” These “wine events” were either a short plane ride or a long car ride away. They always involved endless hours in the hotel pool, daily (if not twice daily) Shirley Temples, dancing at concerts nearly every night and a load of free stuff. I later found out that most of these “wine events” were conventions where cork suppliers, barrel suppliers, labeling companies and the like all came to entice winery representatives.

The daytime tradeshow offered hours of running amok with my brother and collecting all the free branded corkscrews, bouncy balls, water bottles, lanyards, notepads, pens and stickers we could. After dinners with my parents and their traveling clan including an Associate Winemaker, an Operations Manager and an Enologist, we would attend some pretty rockin’ concerts. I saw The Village People when I was 7! If only I knew then how awesome they are! These conventions and the treasures we got from them hold some of my fondest memories.

That wasn’t the only reason why I started to love my parents’ jobs. I was also enamored with the people. My father started at St. Jean in ’76 and was the Winemaker from 1985 to 1996. He invented the first vintage of Cinq Cépages in ’96, which garnered Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 1999, how cool! He moved on to create Artesa winery and is presently Winemaker at Three Sticks Winery. My mother, having been at St. Jean since 1980 took the reigns in 2003, and has remained since. As a child, I was unaware that other people didn’t have three birthday parties. Yes, three. One family party, one friends party and one winery party. The people who have been at Chateau St. Jean through these 36 years of the Van Staaverens have watched me grow up and have become my extended family. Every year, without fail, a good bunch of us gathered on the big lawn outside St. Jean’s tasting room with wine, cake and a live band. Yes, we’ve shortened the name to just ‘St. Jean’ when talking to each other about the winery.

St. Jean was a magical place for a young girl. When neither of my parents could pick me up from school, it was easy to forgive them because I’d usually find the Operations Manager in the parking lot (which meant I got to go to the Winery!). I would draw on the whiteboard map of all the tanks on property and buy myself a Squirt. Paradise. Long harvest hours weren’t a big deal for my brother and me. It just meant we got to stay overnight at the house of our sitter and her husband, who have three children in our age range that have become our other brothers and sister. The wine industry never did me wrong!

In fact, it indirectly helped me choose the career path I am pursuing. As an eighth grader, I followed my mother on one of her many Winemaker trips, this time to New York, New Jersey and Maryland. There, I fell in love with public relations (well, and New York). Her public relations assistant was constantly on hand organizing everything to make her feel comfortable and better prepared to represent the brand. The hospitality aspect and importance placed on the brand’s image intrigued me. A little anti-climatic, I know, and I am interrogated to this day, (“you mean you’re not going to do winemaking like your parents?”) but hey, at least I found something I want to do; and who knows, maybe it will be advertising for a wine industry brand.

These days, I’m the one bringing dishes to the annual St. Jean alumni potluck and babysitting the Associate Winemaker’s daughter. The staff at Chateau St. Jean is a family, with a new generation of “winery kids” taking highlighters from desks, just like my brother and I did. It’s an interesting thing, the way that mom’s are pretty much always right. Today, I think winemaking is awesome and I realize the accomplishments both my parents have made. In the future, I plan to enjoy wine as a hobby. My family background has helped immensely on wine-related projects in my marketing internships. As I try to learn about wine from my brilliant parents, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity I had to grow up in the wine world.

Cheers to you, mom and dad!



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