Drink A Conversation with Staglin Family Vineyard
Amber Mihna, Global Sales Director from Staglin Family Vineyard joins us August 2-4 for a multi-day experience that celebrates exceptional female leaders in the food, wine and farming industries, and whose reverence for the land is the foundation from which their businesses and their passion flourish.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the wine industry?
I grew up in Wisconsin and my grandparents owned a dairy farm; farming and agriculture has always been in my bones. My best friend’s parents owned a supper club beside our house, and at 6, I was washing dishes for them and getting paid in french fries. I have always worked in hospitality. First at restaurants and bars, then at a private club. I moved into distribution and I was one of the first female wine focused sales gals in Wisconsin. During that time I studied and became a certified sommelier. I took a dream job and moved to Napa Valley to be the marketing manager for the Napa Valley Vintners before moving to Staglin. Shari and Shannon Staglin are female owners/operators; I love working with these strong women, they are very inspiring! And…back to the question – I love wine!
Why did you choose to work for Staglin over other wineries in the region?
This is a powerful question because fortunately, I was able to choose: Staglin was always on the top of my list. They are a first class winery with a very talented team. And the wine is balanced and delicious and I think, one of the best in Napa Valley.
We are also women owned and operated. Shari and her daughter, Shannon, work every day at the winery. We think about diversity and women’s rights now but 40 years ago running a winery was a mans’ job; you never heard about a woman running a winery back then, and Shari was a force in blazing the trail for other women in this industry. She still works harder than any person I’ve ever met.
Caring about the land: We hear about organic farming now, but in the 80’s that wasn’t a thing; Shari was a leader in sustainability and organic farming since the beginning.
Philanthropy: Shari figures out a way to make things happen and is also the type of person that truly wants to connect with people and give back. For example, her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia half way through his first year at Dartmouth, and at the time there was so little
information available on mental health. She started their own mental health charity in 1989 called ONE MIND and has since raised over $535 Million for brain and mental health research.
There is a wine that Staglin produces called Salus, named after the Roman goddess of wellbeing which is on their bottle labels – and 100% of the proceeds from the sales of Salus go towards mental health research. Salus makes up ⅓ of their overall production, so Staglin donates ⅓ of their overall profits to mental health. It’s incredibly special.
What excites you about the future of winemaking at Staglin – what are you excited to try differently?
Our winemaking team is tiny – just 3 people total. Our focus is on traditional ways of grape growing and viticulture, but also using the innovative technology that is at our fingertips. A lot of the elements of wine making can now be controlled with the right technology on your smartphone which doesn’t sound romantic but it produces great quality wines in a constructive way rather than winging it in the old traditional way.
For example, if we see that overnight temperatures in the spring are dipping down below 30 degrees we can remotely turn on fans to help keep the vines at a certain temperature and prevent them from frost.
We can also make things hotter or colder in a tank with the touch of our phone. We have optical sorters and density sorters that help us pick out the best quality grapes. Technology is a tool that we utilize in our tool box.
How has climate change impacted the way that you conduct your operations?
I also own my own vineyard in the UK: I have 3 acres on which I grow pinot noir and chardonnay. In the last 3-5 years, wine-making in the UK has really taken off. There is a lot of limestone in the soil which provides a unique terroir for the grapes, similar to champagne; due to global warming the weather in the UK is not quite as dreary as it used to be which makes it more conducive to wine making. As we know, climate change is a big issue for winemakers in California; Fires over the last couple of years and California is getting hotter, we have less snow and rain, and have only a certain amount of water allocated each year. This is where the technology piece can really help, as it can optimize the conditions that we now all have to work with.
Why are you looking forward to partnering with The Lodge at Blue Sky on this experience?
I love working with Auberge; I’ve now done wine focused events with 10 Auberge properties in the last few years and each property is utterly unique to the destination. In fact, I met my partner at Auberge Esperanza at a Staglin Wine Dinner that I hosted there years ago! I’m so excited to work with other powerful and talented women; Chef Silvia Barban is a friend, and being able to spend several days together in such a special place doesn’t happen very often. Being able to share our talents while also layering in Lynsey Gammon, Blue Sky’s Director of Farming, is the perfect recipe; guests can really learn about where their food comes from and ways in which we cultivate it with true care for the planet.