Linda Reiff is President and CEO of the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), which celebrated its 75th anniversary last year. Reiff was named Wine Enthusiast’s Person of the Year for 2019—only the second woman to win the award since it was first given in 2000. She grew up in the Sacramento Valley in a 5th-generation farming family that grew wine grapes and ran a small winery. Reiff graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and agricultural news concentration, going on to work as a daily newspaper reporter covering agricultural and environmental issues in California. In 1987, Reiff went to work for U.S. Representative Vic Fazio as his district representative, then communications director and eventually chief of staff in Washington, D.C. In 1995 she became the CEO of the Napa Valley Vintners.
Karen MacNeil: The Covid pandemic has wrecked havoc on the Napa Valley, closing both Tasting Rooms and restaurants which account for a large percentage of wine sales. Is this the biggest test you’ve ever faced during your tenure at Napa Valley Vintners?
Linda Reiff: Absolutely. It’s like the Great Recession, earthquake and fires all rolled into four months. We’ve had to reinvent everything we do to promote and protect the appellation and help our wineries succeed, all while trying to work collaboratively remotely. I’m proud of what our team has accomplished, and I know the organization is stronger for it. Our member, consumer and trade engagement through virtual efforts is surpassing previous in-person endeavors and will be woven into everything we do going forward post pandemic.
KM: In 2007, you secured geographic indication status for the Napa Valley in Europe which, at the time, had no actual application process. Reportedly, you got on a plane to Europe and made your case in person. What character trait do you believe you possess that drives your success as an advocate and diplomat for the Napa Valley Vintners?
LR: That’s a true story. It was, in part, calling the EU’s bluff to apply for the status when no process existed to do so. It was also believing in their offer to help, knowing in the long run all regions could benefit. As far as my character traits, I’d say that’s probably having the spunk to take on challenges, the capacity to listen and learn, and the heart to believe in the greater good.
KM: Besides Napa Valley wine, what other types of wine do you love?
LR: I absolutely love trying new wines from everywhere in the world and especially varieties I’ve never heard of. And yet I’m also quite fond of the throwbacks my family used to make, like Chenin Blanc.
“It’s all about caring for our neighbors and this rather special place [Napa Valley] we get to call home.”
KM: Your efforts at the helm of the Napa Valley Vintners have redirected the spotlight toward philanthropic and environmental initiatives. Which of these are you most proud of?
LR: I’m proud of our leadership on all fronts and the two are interrelated. It’s all about caring for our neighbors and this rather special place we get to call home.
KM: Besides Napa Valley, what other wine region inspires you the most and why?
LR: We’ve formed partnerships with our colleagues throughout California, the United States and around the world. You can find inspiration in each of them and I could write quite a list! In an historic region like Champagne I love their diligence to ensuring quality and protecting their name, and in a newer region like British Columbia I admire how open their canvas is as they build and create their future.
KM: What was the best advice you ever received?
LR: Don’t forget to breathe.
KM: What 3 people (living or deceased) would you most love to have dinner with and why?
LR: That’s easy and it’s only one person. My husband, Richard Ward, who passed from cancer. I’d rather have dinner with him three times.
KM: You are an experienced writer. If a publisher approached you with a book deal, what would you choose to write about?
LR: I’ve been offered a number of opportunities to write about Napa and maybe someday I will. However, my dream from college still exists: to be a travel, food and wine writer and live in each place long enough to be able to write about it thoughtfully.