10 Aug Sibling Synergy: Claire and Alan Ramey continue their father’s legacy
The wine industry is a multigenerational business but most winery owners will tell you that they do not demand that their children follow in their footsteps. When more than one child wants to work in the family business, they each find their own positions and do not compete with each other. Earlier this year, I wrote about the yin and yang of the Pisoni brothers who have found their callings, one in the vineyard and one in the winery. And recently I wrote about the sibling synergy between Claire and Alan Ramey of Ramey Wine Cellars in the Napa Valley Register and share here.
While many wineries are multi-generational, if you ask a winemaker if he or she expects their children to one day take over, they will tell generally you that they want their children to pursue what they love. If their inclination happens to be wine, great but they can’t demand it.
For David Ramey, not one, but both of his children, Claire and Alan, have decided that they want to continue the legacy their father built with Ramey Wine Cellars.
David Ramey earned his graduate degree in enology from UC Davis in 1979, followed by working at Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus Estate, and Rudd Winery.
In 1996 he created Ramey Wine Cellars, sourcing fruit from top Napa and Sonoma vineyards such as Hyde, Hudson, Ritchie, and Rochioli. In 2012, he and his wife Carla purchased Westside Farms, and today they have 40 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir planted on their Healdsburg property.
Claire and Alan Ramey grew up in the wine business. Claire described it as “being raised with another sibling who got lots of attention.” Even though their dad had lectured them on wine for most of their lives, neither child considered it as a business to pursue.
Claire graduated from college in 2013 with a degree in religion and thought about getting her master’s degree in interior design. A creative, energetic type, Clair, who calls herself a “figure-outer,” wanted to explore various career paths. When she was rejected from a job at a kombucha bar, however, she took a summer job at Ramey. Her brother Alan and her now-husband Ivan Pejovic were both working at Ramey that summer.
After an intern at Ramey could not keep up with the work, “they needed someone who could wield a hose,” Claire explained.
For Claire, strength was not an issue, so she took the position of “hose wielder.” She has been working at Ramey ever since.
Alan, who is two years younger than Claire, is not a “figure-outer” like his sister; rather he is one who sets a goal and then figures out what needs to be done to achieve it.
He attended the American University School of International Service, in Washington, DC, with double minors in business and economics. His first career goal was to be a diplomat, so after his freshman year he did a summer internship on the Hill.
In his sophomore year, he began thinking about business as a career but at the same time became curious about wine. In 2013, the summer after his sophomore year, thinking that wine could be a career, Alan came home and worked in the cellar at Ramey. For his junior year, he went to Oxford University in the U.K. for a study abroad program.
It was this time at Oxford that really piqued Alan’s interest in wine. He joined wine tasting groups and fondly remembers the dining hall. Every Friday night was a formal dinner in the dining hall, and students were encouraged to bring wine. He would go to the local Tesco market to purchase wine and found the new experience to be fun.
Growing up, Alan had never made the decision as to what wine would be on the table. The wine was something his father chose. For the first time, he was in control and Alan described it as “invigorating” to discover the “intellectual side of wine” he had not seen in the cellar.
After the UK, Alan spent another summer at Ramey before returning to DC for his senior year. He graduated in 2015 and returned to Ramey to work in the cellar. In 2016, Alan worked two harvests abroad, one in Casablanca, Chile and the other in Burgundy, France. On Nov. 2, 2016, Alan flew home to California, watched the Cubs win the World Series, and started working full-time for Ramey that same day.
Both Claire and Alan have learned from the ground up, starting in the cellar and learning how everything is done. But they have also have been listening to the decisions being made for years by their father, as well as Cameron Frey, vice president of winemaking, who joined the team in 2002, and Lydia Cummins, associate winemaker, who came to work at Ramey in 2008.
Although their dad has not retired, Clair and Alan have been named owners of Ramey Wine Cellars. As the next generation takes their place, the transition has been smooth and gradual.
When more than one child decides they want to work for the family business, it is common that they find different roles to avoid tension and rivalry. But for Claire and Alan, “our story is different,” said Alan. As co-directors, they collaborate on all major decisions, as as a family and as a business. “We are traditional,” Alan said. “We are together on most things and not splitting responsibilities. Functioning in a business as an individual is a losing battle.”
Claire added, “Teamwork does not diminish individual success, it is just a great way to double-check your instincts.”
The two describe their co-management style as a Venn diagram, an illustration that uses circles to show the relationships. “We talk about everything all the time,” Alan said. They are both in the winemaking room and involved in all discussions. They talk to the production team and the tasting room team on a regular basis. They taste wine with their dad. And they lead all team meetings together.
Working closely together, they said, is easy because they have a strong relationship based on friendship and good communication. Claire said, “The best way to resolve an argument is by discussing it and not fighting.”
Each focuses on different aspects of the business. For Claire, it’s the vineyard, while Alan, with his outgoing personality, finds himself on the road representing the winery in the market.
In the time since Claire and Alan joined the family business, there have been challenges and successes. When they first started working at Ramey, it was while recovering from the recession. Since then, there has been a drought, a proliferation of brands, multiple fires, a pandemic, and politics. “It has been an emotional and intellectual struggle,” Claire said. “Some have been controllable, some out of our control. But we are learning under the conditions, and it is making us stronger.”
Ramey Wine Cellars, however, has continued to see success. The 2018 Rochioli Chardonnay and the 2018 Hyde Chardonnay both received 100 points from Wine Enthusiast and a bottle of Ramey Hyde Chardonnay is on the front cover of the July 2021 issue.
Looking to the future, Claire and Alan plan to continue their father’s legacy of innovation, experimentation, and a willingness to push boundaries. They have no visions of making drastic changes. Believing in the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,”, Alan explained that “if we make a splash, we mess with our success.”
Alan summed it up: “We have such a responsibility stepping into this world and we are working together to do it.”
Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.