Antoine Abou-Samra: Good morning.
Jaime Araujo: Good morning. How are you?
I’m very good and you?
Good. I should say good evening, I guess right?
Yes, it is. We’re like 10 hours ahead.
Goodness. You already know what the all day holds? I’m just at the beginning.
I would prefer to be in your shoes.
Ah okay. Yeah, mornings are good.
Yes, they are.
The day is always full of opportunity when it’s the morning.
Exactly. So, it’s a pleasure to welcome with us for this new episode of “One on One with…”. And I have to say that for our first guest from the Napa Valley, we couldn’t have dreamt better.
Oh, my goodness.
Okay. Because actually, Napa wines and Californian wines are well known for their innovation, for their breaking of rules because there are not that many rules as they are in the Old World like France, Spain or Italy. With Trois Noix, I think it fits perfectly the bill. I read somewhere that your friends describe it as “Jaime’s home for wayward grapes and wines.” Is it correct?
Yes, that’s a pretty good description too.
Okay, we’ll get back to that. But to get where you are today your path over the past years has taken some few twists and turns. From a London theatre actress to an MBA graduate from the famed Business School of INSEAD.
Like someone else I know.
Yes, we won’t tell that. To an entrepreneur who has started a consultancy firm called Terravina to tell the French how to sell their wines. That for an American it’s kind of a feat.
I make suggestions.
Okay, fair enough. To have worked for both Bernard Arnault and Francois-Henri Pinault, though not at the same time.
Very true. I think this is not a possible thing to do. I’ve never actually thought about that.
When I saw that it was like, hmm, interesting. Okay, there’re a few years apart. But, they’re not the best of buddies, I would say.
To say the least you have a very wide, deep, and eclectic experience. Then, after 24 years, of living abroad in 2016, you decided to return to Napa. Before we go on, I have to mention that you are second generation, the daughter of very famous vintners who had put their marks on the world of wine from Napa Valley with their Cabernet Sauvignon which are worldwide known. They used to run Eisele vineyards. So, there are these stories around your story. So, it’s actually fascinating to try to get into your mind a little bit to try to understand how you got to Trois Noix and what does Trois Noix represent for you. But before starting, I know that the news in the US are making headlines all over the world after the brutal killing of George Floyd…
And the whole Amy Cooper, Christian Cooper incident and countless others
Many, many others. It’s probably one too many but there’s been so many of these. And there’s been protests going on for the past 10 days now in the US. The world of wine and even Napa, even though it’s a very small community, has not been shielded from all this. What is the mood in Napa? What are you seeing in the world of wine currently, in regards to these events?
First of all, I just want to say Antoine thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. I am thrilled that you got in touch and super excited to be part of this project. I love what you’re doing. And because I’m always plotting I have great plans. I think this will not be the last time we work together. But yes, in terms of what’s been going on, it’s pretty extraordinary to watch and to be a part of. I think that finally, I hope, there is a large enough part of white America that is actually done, that doesn’t want to see another one of these videos enough that they are willing to educate themselves, act and not stay silent.
But what is different this time?
Gosh, if I knew honestly, I’d be a far more famous journalists probably, doing something much more important than what I do. I think it’s a combination of the fact. With all the other videos it’s been easier for white America who doesn’t really want to think about it to say: Yes, but. Yes, but what was he doing? Yes, but what was in it? Yes. But. This last incident. I think Christian Cooper and George Floyd. The two incidents are both super important because there’s no “Yes, but”. There’s no way out of the box. There’s no way to say that there’s any justification.
It’s hard to ignore definitely.
No matter how hard you try: but he was a thug. Yes, but he had a gun. Yes, but it’s not … There is literally no excuse. And I also think, honestly, that we have a younger generation here in the United States that’s better and more informed and more open, than generations before, and I think they are less afraid to have their voice be heard, and to stand up. Now, does that mean it’s all going to be perfect? It’s all gonna be great. Absolutely not. We’re talking about 400 years of institutionalized racism. It’s not going to get fixed overnight. But I’m heartened by the conversations that I’m seeing by the people who I would never have imagined in a million years would stand up and say something and I sincerely hope and believe that we’re on the way to real systemic change. It won’t get fixed overnight. It won’t be perfect. But I do think that there’s a before and after.
And what was the reaction in Napa, in the world of wine?
Napa? I think there were a lot of people who reacted in a really good way, in a really constructive way, in a very humble way. And I was heartened to see that. I was disheartened to see the lack of response from a lot of our peers. And I think most of it is because people are afraid to say the wrong thing. But I think the only thing that’s really wrong now is to stay silent and hope it just blows over and you can go back to business as usual. So, having said that, it’s been very interesting to me to hear about things that people want to do. And I mean, this is totally anecdotal and it has no basis in any kind of statistics or facts. But I went to a couple of my favorite small businesses yesterday to get dinner. I went to the butcher and I went to bakery. And in both places, there was a person of color. Actually, in both cases, they were both black women who were being trained, were obviously new employees and were being trained. Now bear in mind, this is also full on COVID. Like every people have had to lay off staff they have had to do all kinds of things just to survive. And so maybe, maybe we are looking at a time when we will see more inclusion and diversity in our Valley. Let’s be fair. Napa is so ridiculously white. It’s astonishing. And that’s despite the fact that we have an enormous LatinX community, and a huge Mexican American community, who are an integral part of what we do. And still when you go to the tastings, when you go to the tasting room, when you go to the dinner, when you go to the wine store, it is very rare to see a person of color. I think that has got to change. And I do believe that people are starting to realize that.
Because when you talk about minority, I was going to say women. There’s a certain inequality. Women in wine, there’s way more of them than they used to be in the 70s or in the 80s because it was male dominant industry. Have you seen changes there as well? Is it is hard still to work as a woman, to own a vineyard, has this evolved? Have you seen that? Because you’ve been in the industry for a long time now.
Yes. It’s interesting and first of all, I just want to be very clear that I would never equate the struggle of women in the industry to the struggle of people of color.
I totally agree.
It’s a very different issue. And the issues that black and minority and other people of color women face are vastly different. I am a very socio economically elevated white woman like I can get away with a lot of stuff. I can do a lot of things. I have a lot more freedom, and a lot more access. This is one thing you know, it’s funny with Trois Noix, one of the things I wanted to do was: I need to find a new consulting winemaker because my consulting winemaker unfortunately, who is a woman, she’s gone on to another opportunity and I’m very happy for her. So, I need to find somebody and I thought, let’s get some people of color in the mix, at least interview, at least talk to them. And I reached out to all of my network and said with all of these wonderful people who do incredible things in this space, do you know of any black or, you know, other people of color? Mexican American consulting winemakers who work in Napa, and for the moment, I’ve come up pretty much with nothing. And that’s not to say that they’re not there.
But there are black owned wineries.
Now that’s very different. There are black owned and there are black winemakers. But when you look at the consulting winemakers who work with lots of different people,
That’s what I’m need. Unfortunately, because I’m so small, I can’t hire my own person. I wish I could. Not yet. Soon. But it’s also access. It’s about network and access. You know, when I look at all these amazing women winemakers who I know: how did they get their start because somebody knew somebody. Somebody knew somebody who gave them an entree into where they got. And, and that’s wonderful, and that’s great. Françoise Peschon who’s our winemaker, been our winemaker since 1983 is literally one of the most talented and extraordinary human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. But, you know, she got a stage at Haut-Brion because somebody in her family in Luxembourg knew the Duke of Luxembourg.
That kind of helps.
So yeah, right. But this is it and that’s fine. And I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing. I’m saying that we need to create those opportunities for people of color who may not have those key pieces in their network.
Basically, you’re talking about equality in the sense that for the same level of expertise and know-how and knowledge you should have the same kind of opportunity somehow.
Yeah. And so just kind of opening the door. Right. Sometimes we sit there going, but there’s nobody in the room. What the doors locked! You can’t expect people and then if somebody breaks down the door, it’s like, oh, my God, they broke the door down. Yeah, no, there’s a bull in a china shop. Get them out of here!. So yeah, I mean, again, if I could solve all the problems of the world, I do it in a heartbeat. I really would.
But each one can do their little parts.
If you can do your little part and I can do and somebody else can maybe we’ll be able to change something.
Yeah. And part of that is doing what I can do in my business. Part of it is making sure I vote, making sure that I ensure that other people can vote, educating my children making sure that they grow up with the right information and a good critical lens with which to view information. So, that’s what I’m doing. And making wine.
It’s very obvious that for you, the community you’re in is extremely important. The surroundings in which you live in are extremely important. But some years ago, you decided to leave that community. You could have stayed and continue the baton but you decided to leave.
Why is that?
I had always been fascinated by travel and other cultures. I did my degree at Georgetown in languages and linguistics. Communication is a huge thing for me. So, when I had the opportunity to do a master’s in the UK, I jumped at it. Because I get to live in the UK for a year. Who doesn’t want to do that? You know, it’s funny when you’re talking about the whole path and how it’s been very eclectic. That’s true. In retrospect, I see how with every single twist and turn I’d be here. Every single piece was an integral part. At the time, did I have any idea where I was going? Absolutely not. I was like going around the corners, around the corners, around the corners. And then here I am. But, I ended up in the UK and then went to drama school after I did my masters. Even though I’m a total geek, and I love academia, I really realized that was not a very dynamic sector for the rest of my life. I was an actress for seven years and then realized there were in that industry some ethical and physical sacrifices that I didn’t want to make. And I’m kind of proud of myself: at 29 I was able to say that. In order to get to where I wanted to go, I was gonna have to sacrifice some ideals that I had, and I wasn’t willing to do that. So, I looked around. And you know, wine had always been a passion. Wine had always been a thing that I loved. From the very first time I did my first internship at Joseph Phelps, in the summer when I was in college, and I came home and worked half in the winery, doing the most revolting and physically difficult tasks I’ve maybe ever done my whole life and half in the tasting room. You know, telling the story and taking people around and doing tastings and all of that. I loved it. I loved it. I loved it.
You remember your first your first wine, your first taste of wine.
I don’t. I vaguely remember that I snuck a glass of champagne at my friend’s Bar Mitzvah and felt very, very sick. I do remember sitting under the table because it was hot.
Was it a glass or a bottle?
It was a glass but I think I was like 12. That was not a very memorable one. The first aha wine that I remember having, I was with my family. My parents had taken me and my brother to Burgundy. We were in Beaune at a restaurant. I couldn’t tell you which one. I think it had like one Michelin star. It was quite fancy thing. But it was lunch and my dad ordered a bottle of Meursault and I was 18. I could legally drink in France. Just very excited. So, I had this glass of Meursault and I can’t tell you who it was what vintage? It was Meursaul that’s all I know. And I just was like: “What is this magical thing?. Oh my god, this is amazing.”
That was your epiphany.
Yeah. Now, it took a long time to actually be in the industry. And so, I started my career in wine really when I was 30, when I started working for LVMH.
You did some stuff in Bordeaux? The DUAD?
DUAD. Diplôme Universitaire d’Aptitude à la Dégustations. A very long name.
Well, actually, the funny thing, you know, part of the reason I did that, was that by its name, I was like, dude, I’m gonna fly to France every weekend and wine taste, that’s awesome. And yeah, it turns out, at the time anyway, it was super academic. And it was basically biochemistry in French.
So much for the tasting.
But no, the thing is, it was really cool. What they do is: they all the components that we can actually isolate in wine, chemical components, of which there are only about 100. There are over 10,000 in the wine, but we can only isolate about 100. They put them in solution water, and you identify the molecule. And then you can actually start to identify those things in wine with a language that is neutral, because you’re talking about the molecule no matter what it brings up in your mind. And the best example I have actually was this one molecule. So we smell and they say: what is this remind you of? What does this make you think of? Do you know what it is? I was smelling. In my head I was going wow, this is like Christmas, baking and warm, cozy things. It just smells so gorgeous and lovely. And you know, I was one of two Americans in the whole class. Everyone else pretty much was French. And all the French people put their hands up. They’re like: this is disgusting, it tastes like medicine. It’s like pain. It’s horrible. I was like: “What? How did I get it so wrong?” I didn’t get it wrong. It was clove. And in the US, clove is something that we put with our oranges at Christmas time and we put it in baking. Clove oil for years in France was used at the dentist to numb your gums before you operate on people. It just goes to show we knew we both recognized what it was. We had totally different experience.
Because culture is different.
Yeah. So, this long winded way of saying that it was a great experience because it gave me a sort of a more scientific view of tasting and of where those components come from. Do they come from a fault in the wind? Do they come from a certain winemaking technique? Are they part of the actual grape? And that’s such an incredible information to have.
And it allowed you to taste better the wines to better identify.
Definitely, tasting is a muscle. Tasting is something you have to continue to do. Back in the day when I was judging competitions, I was tasting a lot more. I would go to probably a tasting or two a week, and some of them I would taste 100 wines in a day. I definitely don’t do that now. But your palate gets fatigued, your brain gets fatigued, your nose gets fatigued. So, I don’t do a lot of judging and things like that now because I’m not in shape, my nose isn’t in shape. But I still have all the note cards like in the back of my head.
So education is very important.
Huge, and always has been my family. Education has been drummed into me since the very beginning. It’s what allowed my father to come from a more than humble beginning and really create enormous success for himself. Education was a crucial part of that. And education, it’s sort of easy for me too because I’m such a dork. I’m such a geek, like I’m a total nerd. I love learning. I love academia. I’m always reading and curious and want to know more. It’s easy for me to say education is a really important thing because it’s something I really enjoy.
So, the education parts in the wine, then you started with LVMH Moët Hennessy.
Yes, started with LVMH. Actually I started as a PA, as a personal assistant, to the managing director of Europe. And within about six months, I was doing that and managing a very small country. Then I did my studies in Bordeaux while I was still working full time in London, so I was flying back and forth every single week. Then I got sort of headhunted in a way internally by somebody else in the company. And my boss was really mad. So I said: “Well, look, I don’t want to be a PA for the rest of my life. It’s great. Being a PA is wonderful, but I want to do more.” And he said, “Well, you know what needs to be done on this team. So write me a job description and put it on my desk by tomorrow morning!” It was like.. Okay, what am I going to do? So I wrote my job description. And I was projects’ manager for the European team for just over a year. I ran all the cross European projects, whether they were marketing, IT and there was a huge, massive project at the time where they were putting all the back offices together between Veuve Clicquot and Moët Hennessy. That was really big. Supply chain. I ran a huge supply chain project for all the European countries and then realized that I really wanted to keep going. I really, really was passionate about this industry, but all of the people I was competing with none of them had done seven years as an actor so they live these years working or they had an MBA. A really good friend of mine who had done in years before she’s like, dude, INSEAD you’re perfect. You should totally. It’s in France. They take people who have had experience. They’re interested in profiles that are a little…
Unusual. And it’s a year, you know, it’s not a two or three. I was one of the original INSEAD poets, as they say, I was like, the ultimate poet profile. And the second oldest person in our promotion too.
So and one of the very few women in our promotion, I don’t know if you remember but we were
There were not that many
The glorious. The glorious 15, in fact,
There were not that many. But I think I was older than you.
Nah. Boris was the only one who’s older than me at the time.
There was Daniel Behrendt who was the oldest and I was just like a one year shy of him.
We’ll have to… we’ll compare birth dates.
To start with, you have that academia part of wine to understand the product itself. I know you grew up amongst vineyard. So you have that relation to Earth, to the Terroir. You have that knowledge that you got from your academic learning of wine tasting. Then you had that professional experience, what happens on the on the back end. How business is being run and, okay, having a wine is a nice thing but to sell, it is a different ballgame.
So you had that experience as well. With Moët Hennessy and Veuve Clicquot, even though it’s champagne, but it’s the same fold. Then you go into an MBA to hone your business skills. In fact you covered almost all the grounds until…
Until afterwards, after INSEAD.
Yeah, so after INSEAD, it was funny actually after INSEAD I thought wow, I am like, such an amazing commodity now, right because I have all these experiences. I have this MBA. I am this super fascinating profile that could really add value to these companies. I…. Oh man! I had just interviews after interviews with all the big French companies. And I mean, bear in mind this is 2003, 2004, right? The entire marketing department for the wine arm of Pernod Ricard was a guy and an intern. That was it.
Well, they don’t need marketing it sells on its own.
And at the time, and I’m prefacing this by saying that I think the French industry has grown leaps and bounds and probably is ahead of Napa these days in a lot of ways . But at the time, there was very much this “you don’t fit into any box”. Like we have all these boxes here. There’s no box for you. I was like: “No, that’s kind of the point”. I don’t fit into a box because this is innovation and maybe this is like a profile that could help you move outside those boxes. “No, no, no we need to check the box”. I quickly realized, I mean, like junior jobs are too junior, senior jobs are too senior. Oh, well, you haven’t done “assistant directeur de machin”. You haven’t… I was like Holy moly. Okay.
Welcome to the French system.
Well, yeah, it was delightful. So I thought, well, good, I’ll start my own company. I mean nobody else wants to hire me. And I really do think I have value to add. So, put my money where my mouth is, and start my company. So, I started Terravina in 2004. And right at the end of 2004, and I was like, I don’t know, I’ve literally like no frame of reference. At the time. There was nobody. There were PR agencies where there was nobody doing branding and strategy outsourced for wineries like that. There was no wineries that were willing to pay for that. So, it was very interesting. And very quickly, within two years, I think there were 10 or 20 agencies, kind of doing a similar sort of thing. I’m not saying I started it, don’t get me wrong. It’s not. I’m, my head is not that big. But I think a lot of people were thinking along the same lines. And a lot of things were happening at the same time that I was doing that too. So, we all sort of grew up together in these agencies. And, and it was really interesting, you know, I got my first clients, and then I got, you know, within six months, I was actually paying my bills as a startup, which, I mean, it was tiny, and my bills aren’t that big, but it’s still I was paying my bills, like that’s a big deal. And within about a year, I got a phone call from some American wineries, who were like: “Can you do this stuff for us too? We hear you can do this for French wineries. Why can’t you do it for us?” I was like, no reason I totally can. Sure, why not. So ,I worked with some American wineries. And I worked with the Napa Valley vintners, I did a lot of their work in Europe and a couple of things in Asia when they were just starting out and they kind of wanted to get a toehold over in China. And because I did briefly have an office in Hong Kong as well, so I was working in Paris in Hong Kong. And then…
You did some reports as well at the time.
Oh my gosh, God, yeah. That was amazing. It was, it was a fabulous project I did with Jeannie Cho Lee.
A Master of Wine.
A very good friend. Yeah. And, ridiculously smart individual. At the time, there was literally nothing on wine. There were no reports, there was nothing whatsoever. And we had this grandiose idea of creating this report that would be like a McKinsey report, like a really serious report. She was getting all the data from China, and I was doing a lot of the marketing and interviews. We produced this report and it was awesome. It was a great report, and nobody bought it like nobody. We realized very quickly. No, people want silver bullet, they want you to tell, but they don’t really want the research. It was a great exercise. It was wonderful. I loved working with her. I learned a lot. But it was also at a time of huge change: the Chinese market grew so exponentially, in size, knowledge and performance. It was absolutely extraordinary to watch. That was also one of the reasons I decided that I needed to step back from Hong Kong even though I still love working over there and have lots of friends there. I still keep an eye on what’s going on. I realized very quickly that it was moving so fast that I could not be a legitimate voice unless I was there full time on the ground. It wasn’t enough to dip my toe in. I decided to let that go and focus on Paris and the US, Europe and the US.
Terravina went on for for how long?
Terravina went on for 12 years, from 2004 to 2016.
In the meantime, you were you’re doing back and forth trips. What did your parents think of what you were doing?
You know that’s funny. I don’t actually think they had any clue what I was doing. Then this must have been like Thanksgiving or something. We were sitting around the table and I was talking about one of the projects I was doing with a client. And my dad looked at me and he’s like “Why aren’t you doing this for us?” I said, “Because you never asked me to do this for you”. And he’s like, “Well, I’m asking now. Draft me a proposal.” I was like, Okay, I will. I drafted a proposal and we went back and forth. And I worked for Araujo Estate for the last two years. I was a consultant. And then, ironically, I actually came on full time as an employee, as Vice President of international markets, in January 2013. In July 2013, the business was sold. Not my fault! Nothing to do with me coming on board. I just want to make that clear.
It was sold to Artemis.
For which you consulted afterwards.
Yeah. I did. Since I no longer had a full-time jobs, I did consult with them for a year on the transition and helping them to better navigate, because they’ve never worked in Napa. They’d never worked in the American wine industry. Now, they had worked a lot in different areas of France. But this was their first foray into an international American milieu.
For those who don’t know, Artemis is the owner of Chateau Latour, for example.
Chateau Latour, Chateau Grillet, Domaine d’Eugénie,
Very high-end vineyards under their belt, and then they added Eisele.
They did and you know, honestly, that was one of the reasons why my parents did decide to sell. It wasn’t that they plan to sell in any way shape or form, especially not with me literally just coming on board as a full time employee. But I think they had always said that they felt like they were stewards of that place rather than owners. And they felt that Artemis, with Chateau Latour and all that they do would not only take good care of it, but they would be able to help the winery, go further faster and help the wine be more recognized. And then you know, we would get there but it might be my kids’ generation whereas Latour could maybe do it in five or 10 years.
And during the harvest of 2013. Something happened. From what I understood.
A lot of things happened in 2013 it was a beautiful vintage.
Yeah. During the harvest, the inception of Trois Noix came to be.
Ah, well, not during the harvest. 2013 we founded Accendo, my brother, my parents and myself, and it was kind of cool because whereas at Araujo, I had been an employee, I was a VP, but I’m still an employee, right? I was working for my parents. At Accendo, we made the conscious decision, the four of us to go in as partners. So, my brother and I are working with our parents. It’s a small difference, but I think it makes a big difference,
Is it hard to work with your parents?
No, I think family businesses are always sometimes tricky to navigate, because you’re dealing with a whole another level. And, if it goes really badly, you can’t just be like, well, that guy’s an asshole, I’m out of here, right? It’s like you still have to see them. They’re your family. So, there’s a lot of layers. But it’s also super rewarding. And it’s amazing to be able to work with people who you know, that all the sacrifices you’re making, and all the work that you’re putting in, is going into something that benefits your family and your kids and that’s really, really wonderful. So, we started Accendo in 2013 with the 13 harvest. And when we started doing the blends a little later, so it was probably 2014, 2015. We were doing the blends to see what this first wine was gonna look like: there was this one lot of wine that just refused to play with the others. I mean, it just was bizarre. Chemically there was something in it that it just was oil and water with the other lots that we were working with. Having said that it was beautiful on its own.
It was a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Coombsville. Whoo, somebody’s being some work.
Just a little bit.
Coombsville fruit, and it just would not blend with Rutherford and Oakville. My brother and I, actually, at the time, were like: this is crazy. We’re not going to bulk this out. This is so good. I don’t know, we’ll start a little company. And we’ll buy it from ourselves. And we’ll see, maybe we can do something. So, that’s kind of how Trois Noix started. The reason we called it Trois Noix was because even though we had our children on opposite sides of the world, we realized we actually called them peanuts when they were little. I have two, he has one. It’s our three little nuts. It was sort of second generation nod to third generation. And then all of a sudden, I realized that for me, Trois Noix was super important, because I’d had so much independence and I’d been very far from my family for a long time. And I had a lot of freedom in that way. And I had a lot of space to make decisions on my own and to take risks and to experiment with things and to try things. And that’s much more difficult to do when you’re dealing with four people, be they family or not. But you know, when you have to make decisions by committee, you don’t have that freedom. I realized that freedom and creativity is really important to me like it’s viscerally important to me. I have to have that or I feel stifled and I don’t work well. For me Trois Noix as it grew and developed, part of the reason it was so important to me was because it gave me that outlet. It was this place where I could try things and do things and speak with my voice. For my brother, at the beginning, it was so much fun. We had such a great time out on the road together, which is great having someone on the road together, so you’re not by yourself and. You know we really enjoyed it. At a certain point, he wasn’t enjoying it. It wasn’t fun for him. And I said: “Look, I don’t want to damage our relationship, how about I buy you out, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. And I will just kind of take it because it is important to me it is something that I really want to continue”. He agreed to tha, which is great. In the end of 2018, I took over Trois Noix.
But in the meantime, 2013, 14, 15 you were still going back and forth in Europe. You didn’t move back till 2016?
I was back and forth a lot because I had to find a school for my kids. I had to find a house. The funniest thing actually is I can tell you how to set up a household in London, in Paris. In Hong Kong. I can literally set you up with your phone, your car, your rental agreement, everything. I had no idea how to do that in the US, because I’d never done it. I left when I was 22 right out of college and I never came back. I never lived here. So I’m like “How do I get electricity? How do I buy a car?” I had no idea. And people thought I wastaking the piss. They were like “Come on, give me a break”. I was like “No, I sincerely have no idea. I need help. I don’t know how to do that. How do I get a mobile phone?”. It’s just the most basic things. It’s pretty funny. So, I was back and forth a lot getting our life set up here. All the other times when I’ve moved country. It’s just been me. I’m pretty easy. I like pack up and go, boom, I’m done. But packing up a whole life and a whole family is a whole different kettle of fish.
Was it hard to go back? Was it hard to take the decision to go back? Was it Trois Noix only or there was more than that?
No, the decision to go back was really for Accendo, honestly.
Trois Noix was the cherry on the cake. But it was definitely a decision that was not easy or quick to make. You know, my husband and I both had always wanted our children to live their double culture because they’re half French, half American. They were born in France and they had lived there their entire lives, gone to school there their entire lives. So, they were at an age where they were old enough to still feel very French and have that memory and all those memories still intact, but old enough that they were going to hate us forever for taking them away from their friends. So, we felt like that was a good time. Definitely, for me professionally, it was a really good time. I just kind of felt like I had to give it a go. And it was funny because I was very worried about the US. It was a different place than when I left. And I was a different person than when I left, right. I wasn’t quite sure how we were gonna get along. I wasn’t quite sure how I was gonna manage it. It ended up being kind of great, actually. I mean, there’s tons of problems and there’s tons of issues, don’t get me wrong.
Like everywhere. But it’s been really exciting to move to a new country where I kind of have a shorthand like I know a lot of the secrets already. I don’t have to learn them. I don’t have to go to all groups and read the chats and everything to figure out how to do stuff. I mean yes for getting cars and all that but like I know how the education system works. I know how farmers markets work, silly things but things that make it really fun
And at the same time, you’re returning to a place which is very nature oriented so it’s not as if you’re going into a place which is super crowded.
I can get pretty crowded in the summertime.
Not very polluted.
No for sure. It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s amazing. It’s something I try actively remind myself. I didn’t do this in Paris to be honest. After a while you stop looking up. You stop looking around, and I think it’s really important to constantly remind myself of the beauty of this place, the extraordinary gift that I’ve been given to be able to make my life here. That I mean, I’m so lucky. And I try and remind myself of that at least once a day if possible. Because it’s true it’s such an amazing place. It’s so cool. You know, a lot of people have this idea about what Napa is and like I said with all this going on at the moment, Napa has always traditionally been very white, very affluent. But there are a lot of really cool things about Napa too. It always makes me laugh because when we go into tastings and people say “Oh, well, I had this other wine but I won’t tell you about it because I don’t want to make you mad.” I’m like “No seriously, who was it? Was it good? I hope it was good as long as good I won’t be mad.” We collaborate all the time. We work together all the time, we host dinners together, we talk to each other about issues that we’re having in the vineyard or in the winery. That’s part of our DNA in Napa. It’s also what makes me hopeful that we will be able to create some serious change and, and that diversity will be something that’s maybe a little easier for us. You probably didn’t grow up in Napa. Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t, but you probably didn’t. You’re probably from somewhere else, you probably had another life before. As long as you’re committed to doing good work in Napa. Bring it. You’re part of us. That’s what my parents got when they arrived in Napa. They arrived to Napa in 1990, so they didn’t have any experience. And they had this extraordinary group of people. You know, the Eisele’s obviously, Barbara and Milt. But Bob and Margaret Mondavi and Jack and Jamie Davies, and Bill and Kathy Collins, Belle and Barney Rhodes and so many others. All of these people were like “Alright, you want to do good work? Awesome. This is how you do good work. And here’s how we can help you.” And one of the things that’s been interesting these last couple of years to watch is how my parents are moving into that role for other younger winemakers now, or new additions to the valley. And I think that’s really cool. And that’s something that I’m proud to be a part of.
And they’re supporting you as well or they stay at arm’s length?
[Laughter] I think they’re sort of watching. Okay.
Because what you are doing because what you’re doing is actually very innovative. How was it received in Napa what you’re doing? To rephrase the model, you go to growers or to vintners who have lots that they haven’t used either because they get some canceled orders or that don’t fit with the other grapes that they harvested. And you take them on and you do wine with it.
Yep. There are things that for whatever reason somebody else can’t use, but that I still think are beautiful. So, it’s trying to find that and give that beauty a home. Give that beauty a place to be and recycle, I guess. Recycle, reuse, repurpose. It’s so important. I love the idea that somehow it’s cutting down on a little bit of waste, and also helping some of these places. Two of the wines that I make are white wines, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. White wines traditionally have always been grown in Napa. But more and more vineyards are getting planted to Cabernet because, let’s face it, Cabernet is what makes money. You can get a ton of money for Cabernet grapes, even if they’re really not that good. You can get a ton of money for Cabernet, even if it’s not that good. So, it’s very tempting if you’re a grape grower. And I totally understand if you don’t have people who will support you by paying good money and continuing to help you have a good livelihood: butt it over to Cabernet, I get it. But that’s such a devastating thing for the environment of our valley. Not only does it make it just a kind of a monotone palate in terms of the wines that we make, but also ecologically and environmentally. If you have a monoculture and we already have kind of a monoculture with the number of grapes that we have in Napa. Thankfully, there are places where we have fruit orchards and we have this amazing law that was passed in the seventies, the Agropreserve, Ag preserve. They basically said that if land is agricultural, you cannot make it into homes or businesses. It has to remain agricultural. It’s a little more complicated than that but that’s what’s really allowed us to remain so beautiful with the demand that we have with the Bay Area, people wanting second homes, people wanting to come up, with all of this demand on our space. And we’ve been able to really hang tough, which is great. But that being said it’s a tough place to make a living as a grape grower in some ways, and particularly if you are growing whites. So, I feel like it’s an obligation for people in my position, coming from the family that I do and with the ability and privilege that I have to be able to say let’s make Chardonnay. Let’s make awesome Chardonnay. Right. Now it has to be good grapes too. I’m not going to buy bad grapes just to like make somebody feel better. Because that doesn’t make any commercial sense whatsoever. But, you know, the vineyard that I work with, Michael Hanna, has this amazing, the Muir-Hanna vineyard in Oak Knoll. I mean, those grapes are just… They make the most glorious crisp, clean, beautiful Chardonnay that is so tasty. And it would be a huge shame to lose that.
It’s a historical vineyard
Very historical, his grandfather was John Muir.
This is where they got the grapes for the famous Paris tasting.
Yep, absolutely. Yeah.
Le Jugement de Paris. The famous one when the French were saying the Americans got us this time.
Yes, but it’s the fault of the English somehow, I’m sure.
So, how hard is it to start a new wine brand and to actually work on such a new innovative approach to winemaking?
I mean, the approach isn’t difficult.
Yeah but nobody did it before.
I mean there are people who make wine from all kinds of things in Napa. You may not hear about them. They may not go very far. But definitely, people do all kinds of innovative things. I’m certainly not alone. And I look up to and I am constantly in conversation with people who are doing interesting things in Napa and Sonoma or Lodi or Santa Barbara. There’s a friend of mine who is a winemaker over in Sonoma. And we’re always joking. Like, “ooh, can you breathe on the side of the mountain?” Because this whole idea that there is huge divide between Sonoma and Napa and it’s like a 10 minute drive. She’s like, I was a little afraid, I was gonna get arrested when they saw my license plate but you know, I think I’m okay. We are always having those conversations because at the end of the day, I think we all want to do what’s best for our Valley. We want to make great wine. And we’re interested in learning and learning how to how to do things better and better. So, I think that’s not necessarily difficult. Starting on the winery is really hard. It’s expensive and it’s hard and it takes every single bit of energy and love and passion and it takes a village. My village is the only thing that allows Trois Noix to exist.
So teamwork is very, very important. Community, team work.
Teamwork and the generosity of people who have helped me, who have given of their time and their knowledge and their expertise and their work to help this thing get off the ground. It’s amazing. I love that people appropriate it you know. People feel like they’re part of Trois Noix because they are absolutely. You know, I am not Trois Noix, I am one little piece of a whole group of people and a bunch of community that allows Trois Noix to happen.
So even with all your experience, it’s hard.
Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s such a crowded field right now. It’s ridiculous. Why should anybody be interested in yet another wine? It’s practically the most insane thing you can do to decide to make another wine.
So what makes Trois Noix different from the others? That’s your elevator pitch.
Oh my god, here we go. I think, honestly, Trois Noix is about making Napa a little more accessible. Trois Noix is about community. And Trois Noix, I hope will help to be an agent of change.
In what sense?
in the sense that hopefully we’ll have a little more respect for things like the white varieties in our Valley. Also I’m trying a lot of things with packaging. Partially because I think it’s important and partially because sometimes I just like… To be totally transparent, when I went to go bottle my first Chardonnay, I had forgotten to order capsules. I didn’t have foils because I totally forgot. And when I called the foil company, they’re like “Oh, we have to airfreight them from France and you’ll have to push your bottling day back and you’ll have to pay $100 additional per thousand because we have to airfreight them”. And I was like “I can’t afford that”. So guess what, guys, we’re doing no foil! And it’s gonna be good. But the interesting thing is that I start thinking why do I do foils? Why?
What’s the point?
Maybe there is a point but I’m thinking for this wine. The wines I make are made to be enjoyed right now. Please open and enjoy them. Have fun. Don’t worry about getting too intellectual. You can go down the rabbit hole if you want, but you don’t have to. You can literally just have it be a moment of pleasure. And I don’t need a foil. Foils are pain. Everybody hates taking foils off. Foil cutters are literally the worst thing. And so, I thought, okay, I don’t want to do screw cap, I do want to do a cork. And that’s for a lot of reasons. But mainly because I worked on a project for the World Wildlife Fund when I was in Paris that educated me about the importance of the cork forests and how that prevents desertification in southern Europe. So, I feel like supporting cork is an important thing to do.
Spain, Portugal, they have huge places where they have those cork oaks and trees to develop the cork.
So I thought I don’t need foils. Then as I was ordering my glass from the same place that we always had our glass because that was the contact I had and they were great, I wondered if somebody makes glass like more locally, because right now we’re flying it in from either China or France. And that seems like environmentally not a very smart thing to do. I found that there’s an American company that makes glass literally like four hours away. And so not only are my lead times shorter, but the transport is shorter, the cost is less, and the quality is the same. So, all of a sudden my carbon footprint just went. Now, it’s not zero. But, you know, two little things and it just makes such a difference. I think it’s just so awesome.
We were talking about the outside, the bottles, the great design. You have great designer actually.
I know my designer Stefan Copiz is literally the best human. He’s so talented. This is a guy who is ridiculous. He does art direction and produces ads for like BMW, Comcast, Nike. I mean, the guy has literally done it all. And he, for whatever reason, decided he loved this project. And he just like gives and gives and gives to Trois Noix. And I adore him and his dog Wally who’s amazing too.
So, we talked about the outside.
Let’s talk about the inside. How about the wine?
Would you say that this wine is in your image?
That’s really funny. I’ve never thought about that before. I mean, in some ways, yeah, I guess. I mean, it is easy to approach. I think the thing that’s really interesting when most people try it, because it is certainly not cheap, but much cheaper than a lot of Napa wines, they have an idea of what that’s going to taste like. And they’re like it’s gonna be this kind of fruit bomb or it’s gonna be a dumbed down version of this or that. I had this woman recently, who is just amazing, she wrote this huge post and she was like: “I only like European wines. California wines are too jammy they’re too hot. They’re too this, they’re too that. They’re never balanced. And, you know, people just aren’t about freshness” which, by the way, I don’t think is totally true. And I’m sure she has other examples too. But in Napa, she was like, I just don’t like Napa wines usually, and they always disappoint me. All sudden she was like “Whoa, this is amazing. This is completely elegant and fresh and balanced and clean.” And I think a lot of that comes from my experience living in Europe, definitely having the experience of my palate with those wines from France, from Germany, from Italy, from Spain. I think that definitely has an influence on the wines I like. And I make wines that I like to drink.
Because at the end of the day, you’re the boss. You could basically decide the direction of the wine, the taste it should have, the way it is.
Yeah but I never say this is how this wine has to taste. It’s always a conversation with whoever I’m working with at the time. And actually, it’s one of the things I’ve been thinking for my next vintage because obviously, I have to get a new winemaker. And I was thinking what about if I just opened it up to all? I mean, I don’t have that many people on my mailing list. We have some very fabulous passionate fans. But you know, we’re still small, we’re still new. So, I think of opening up saying: ”Look, if anybody’s ever been interested in what a blending session looks like, I mean, once obviously COVID is sort of passed and we can all get together again. You know, send me a note, if you want to join one of our blending sessions. They’re kind of fun, like I play music. And, I mean, they’re serious, obviously. But we try and make it something that that’s actually enjoyable and gets the creative juices flowing. And I think sometimes like we taste wine in such a very technical and it’s important to be rigorous. It’s important to be technical, but it’s also important for Trois Noix to remember that people are gonna be drinking this when they’re enjoying themselves, hopefully. And they’re going to be sharing it with people and they’re going to have music and food and, and hopefully a lovely moment. So why not taste the wines in that atmosphere? To an extent it’s not like we have a party, but I think it’s important to be serious when one doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s always been my sort of motto.
And how do you see the future for Trois Noix?
I think the future is bright for Trois Noix. I’m really excited about it. I think we have a long way to go. And again, it’s a super crowded field. And I would never assume to say that we’re gonna be the best, we’re gonna be this, we’re gonna be huge. No. I think we’re doing the work that we need to do to make it a success. And it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not as if you’re walking down the street and somebody discovers you. It is every single day showing up, doing the work, talking to people, getting the wines out there, and hopefully doing a good job and making it so that people want to join. I always say that you’ve got to be crazy to do this job. And I always call my customers like it’s the nuthouse, right, we’re all totally nuts. I’m completely nuts, obviously, because I’m doing this literally like there’s so many other smarter ways I could spend my time I feel certain, but we all love it and like we’re all part of this nut house. So, I just hope to grow. I hope that we have even more nuts and that’s of all shapes, sizes, orientations, colors, creeds, abilities and denominations. I want Trois Noix to be a place that’s really, really welcoming to everyone. Trois Noix is a safe space in Napa. That’s what I would love. That’s what I would love.
It’s more than wine then.
Absolutely. Absolutely. If it was just wine, there’d be no point. There’d be no point. It is about so much more than wine to me. Like I said, I’m a little nuts, but it really is about how wine creates community, how wine encourages conversation, how wine, again, hopefully can be an agent for change. And I’m still working on how that works. Because, you know, I’m not curing cancer, I am not resolving poverty, I’m not doing all of these things. But I do you think that I have a voice that can be used in an important, hopefully, constructive way. And that’s my challenge is to figure out how this goes into that next level.
I wish you all the success.
Thank you, my dear. Thank you.
To end the interview. This is the dreaded moment.
Oh, I’m so scared. All right.
The wonderful Pivot questionnaire. It’s a series of question. First answer that comes to your mind. Are you ready?
Okay, what is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What is your favorite virtue?
What is your favorite quality in a man?
What is your favorite quality in a woman?
What is your favorite curse word? It won’t be beeped. There’s no beeping.
Okay, bollocks. Definitely bollocks.
What sound or noise do you love?
What sound or noise do you hate?
What is your favorite drug?
What profession other than your own, would you like to attend?
What other profession would you not like to do?
Okay, what plant or animal would you like to be reincarnated in?
Dolphin every time? I know it’s so cheesy.
And the last question if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
It’s so nice to see you.
Jaime Araujo, it was a great, great pleasure and honor to have you on. I could go on for hours. It’s so fascinating a discussion. Thank you very, very much for your time. It was very much enchanting and inspiring. Thank you.
Thank you so much for the opportunity. And as anyone who knows me knows I can obviously talk forever, but I appreciate the opportunity and, and I look forward to continuing our conversation soon.
Yes we will. Thank you. Goodbye.
Take care. Bye bye.