Remi Cohen is the Chief Operating Officer of Lede Family Wines, which includes Cliff Lede Vineyards in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley and FEL Wines in California’s Anderson Valley. Remi studied molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, but fell in love with plant biology and subsequently received her Master’s Degree in winemaking and viticulture from the University of California at Davis. She also holds an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University of San Francisco, and in 2014, she transitioned from winemaking and viticulture to become general manager of Lede Family Wines, overseeing winegrowing, winemaking, sales and marketing.
Karen MacNeil interviewed Remi Cohen for WineSpeed in September 2019.
Karen MacNeil: How old were you when you tasted your first wine and who gave it to you?
Remi Cohen: When I was in high school, a friend’s older brother turned us on to craft beer when craft beers were emerging in popularity. A wine shop opened near our hometown in New Jersey, and we were among the very few customers who were knowledgeable about craft beer at that time, so the staff loved to chat with us. They had no idea how young we were. This was in the early 90’s, and we used to buy Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and Marques de Caceres Rioja from them. I laugh now to think we had pretty decent taste for 16-year olds!
KM: Besides Napa Valley. What other wine region inspires you the most and why?
RC: Lately, we have been tasting incredible wines from the right bank of Bordeaux, including 1976 Château Ausone and 2000 Château Angelus. These wines are the inspiration behind one of my favorite wines that we make at Cliff Lede, our “High Fidelity” red blend. High Fidelity is inspired by the wines of the Right Bank of Bordeaux and the blend is dominated by cabernet franc and merlot. We currently source the cabernet franc from David Abreu’s Madrona Ranch and the merlot from our estate in Stags Leap District. Recently, we purchased a property in northern Carneros and are excited to plant merlot and cabernet franc in the rolling hills there.
I have also recently become fascinated with wines from the Priorat region of Spain, so I was thrilled that Lede Family wines partnered with Mas Doix. They make incredible wines from old vine carignane and garnacha with incredible depth and complexity. We look forward to an exchange of ideas with their team and many visits to this beautiful region.
KM: Is wine good for a culture, for a society?
RC: Drinking wine breaks down communication barriers and makes it easier to relate to one another. Wine also represents the story and history of a culture, and to me, that is intriguing. Personally, I have met many wonderful people in my community through wine, beginning at the University of California at Davis and extending to my life in the Napa Valley, a region enriched by its viticultural roots.
KM: I’m not going to ask what’s your favorite type of wine. But what wine or type of wine do you like the least?
RC: An equally difficult question! I would have to say that I don’t like wines that are mass produced and highly manipulated to taste the same vintage after vintage. However, I do appreciate that these wines are approachable to a wide audience. Hopefully, people who are introduced to wine first through these types of wines, will, over time, develop an appreciation for wines that are artisanal and tell a story.
“Drinking wine breaks down communication barriers and makes it easier to relate to one another.”
KM: In addition to wine, what’s your other favorite beverage?
RC: I enjoy a cocktail or two when kicking off a celebration or a weekend evening. I tend to like refreshing gin or tequila-based cocktails, but I have an appreciation for a wide range of cocktails.
KM: We know that you joined Cliff Lede as the Director of Winemaking and Vineyards, and then moved up to Vice President and General Manager, and now Chief Operating Officer. Describe your day.
RC: Today, I checked in with our winemaker Ryan Hodgins at FEL Winery, our sister winery in the Anderson Valley, about how the harvest was going, and he shared an update on the fruit maturation at our estate vineyard, the Savoy Vineyard. Then, I walked vineyard blocks with Cliff Lede Vineyards’ winemaker Chris Tynan and vineyard director Allison Cellini to schedule our first harvest of merlot at our Stags Leap District estate. This afternoon, I met with our hospitality team to discuss the release of the 2016 Poetry, our flagship wine from our hillside vineyard in Stags Leap. Now, I am writing this!
I love that if you were to ask me this tomorrow, it would be a completely different schedule. At Lede Family Wines, I oversee winegrowing, winemaking, sales, and marketing, so I have the opportunity to wear a lot of different hats (and, if you know me, you know I also literally wear a lot of different hats because I am out in the vineyard a lot!).
Winemaking, in general, tends to be a very dynamic profession, as every day and each vintage has its unique characteristics, qualities, and challenges that always keeps it interesting!
KM: Did you have a mentor? Tell us about her/him
RC: I’ve had many influential people throughout my life, but I consider Cliff Lede to be my mentor. I admire the success he has had in the wine business, which is a second career of his, having left the construction business to follow his passion for wine. He established Cliff Lede Vineyards in 2002, and the winery has flourished under his direction.
I appreciate that he has a unique voice and vision, and he stays true to that in the winery’s direction. Working with Cliff is both serious and fun—we are very serious about the quality of our vineyards and winemaking, but we have a great time doing it, and we provide a fun hospitality experience. One example is that Cliff named all our vineyard blocks at our renowned Stags Leap estate after his favorite rock songs, so we call them the Rock Blocks, and the theme of great music permeates the winery’s culture.
Cliff is very present at the winery, but he lets us all work very independently. I appreciate the autonomy, but I know he is always there with sound advice when I need it.
KM: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
RC: I have been fortunate throughout my career to have the opportunities I’ve had. My first full-time job in the wine industry was as the vineyard manager for Bouchaine, a wonderful winery in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. I was hired shortly after completing graduate school at the University of California at Davis, and I knew Bouchaine was trading someone with experience for someone who was passionate and hard-working, and I appreciated the opportunity to prove myself in that position.
It was during my tenure there, through the influence of GM Mike Richmond (co-founder of Acacia Winery), that I realized that my skill set would be better utilized not just focusing on viticulture, but in a general manager position. However, I knew that there were not a lot of positions like that available in Napa Valley, and very few were occupied by a young woman. I told myself at that time that I wanted to become a GM of a winery before I turned 40. I am forever grateful to Cliff for giving me that position in 2014 (I was 37).
KM: When you think of your own success, what character trait do you possess that’s been the most helpful in getting you there?
RC: I would say my interpersonal skills have been the most helpful. I relate to a lot of different people, I stay connected to people from all phases of my life, and I maintain a vast network of colleagues. It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know. I love my community!