Buoyed by Community: Jennifer Reichardt of Raft Wines
“I’ve learned that agriculture is a tricky business, and that you’re always at the mercy of Mother Nature. But the reward—to share your craft at the table—is incredibly fulfilling.”
What does it take to make a new business successful? This question burns in any entrepreneur’s mind as she maps out a business plan and powers forth. While seasoned executives inevitably have insight to share, some of the most powerful answers can arise from those who are just setting out on their way. Jennifer Reichardt is a Petaluma native embarking on her third year as principal of Raft Wines. As the company name subtly implies, her secret to success is: a strong support network.
If Reichardt is bastioned by a little help from her friends, she gives back in equal measure, volunteering regularly in the community. Her latest wine offerings include a skin-contact Viognier from the Sierra Foothills, Syrah from Dry Creek Valley, and Grenache from Lake Mendocino.
Could you talk about the name of your brand, Raft Wines?
The most literal sense of the name is a fun way to refer to a community of waterfowl, like ducks. When you see a group of ducks floating on a pond, it is a “raft” of ducks.
From the earliest I can remember, I knew that I wanted to work in a business where I was making and creating, and that was directly related to my upbringing.
My Dad started the duck farm when I was five, after he had spent his whole life working for his own family’s duck farm. The first ducks were in our garage, and he grew the business from there. Slowly and organically over the last 25 years, it has grown to the business it is today.
When I went to start Raft, I really went back to those original days of Liberty Ducks : start small, be self sufficient, and have total control. I’ve learned that agriculture is a tricky business, and that you’re always at the mercy of Mother Nature. But the reward—to share your craft at the table—is incredibly fulfilling.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve faced running your business, and what you’ve learned from those challenges?
It seems sort of ridiculous to be talking about this in 2017—but honestly—one of the biggest challenges I have had is actually convincing people I am the winemaker.
When I meet a new person and tell them about the business, they nearly always assume that I have someone else (read: a male someone else) making the wine for me. I get this once over—looking at my shoes, my outfit, perhaps lipstick if I am wearing it that day—and get a “Well, you don’t look like a winemaker.” Why on Earth does a winemaker have to look like a 50-year-old male, wearing blue jeans and a flannel. I’ve even given a whole 15-minute talk on the wines, about my process and philosophy, only to then be asked if my boyfriend makes the wine for me. Infuriating.
Through it all, I am learning I am just going to be exactly who I am, and nothing else. Its okay to wear work boots, and ripped jeans, or high heels with a dress, or have tattoos, or wear makeup or look however you want to look. As long as you’re doing your best work, that’s all that matters.
Who are some of the women in business who have inspired you the most?
There are certainly a few women in both food and wine that have inspired me. It may be too obvious to state Alice Waters, but she really has made people stop and talk about the food they are eating for many years. I appreciate her goodwill and her perseverance to keep the conversation alive.
Clare Carver, of Big Table Farm in Oregon, is a force! She is one of the only people I know who can skin a pig, bake a pie, write tasting notes for her and her husband’s wine label, and paint a beautiful landscape—and probably all on the same day.
Locally, I have been inspired by Megan Glaab of Ryme Cellars, and Laura Bissell of Inconnu Wine. Both are superhuman moms and make amazing wines. To see them in the cellars with their kids makes me know that some day in the future, I’ll be able to do it too.
Your company has actively been involved with the fire relief effort. Would you like to speak about that organization, and your part in it?
There isn’t anyone in Sonoma or Napa counties that wasn’t in some way affected by the fires. While I got incredibly lucky that the winery was saved on the first day, I know so many people who lost everything.
From that day, I used my social media channels to help get information around. There are so many people outside the area who’ve cared so much about it, but they weren’t able to get factual, up to date information.
Within the first week, Raft Wines partnered with theteam of Senses Wines who started an organization called Rebuild Wine Country. We are focusing on harnessing the incredible immediate outpouring of support and turning it into long-term rebuilding efforts with Habitat for Humanity. My involvement was in the social sphere. I was running their Instagram for the first few weeks to raise awareness for the organization. It has been incredible to see restaurants we sell to, or individuals I know, gather support and raise amazing amounts to go to rebuilding efforts.
Additionally, Raft Wines was involved in the first two events with the Winemakers and Sommeliers for For California Wildfire Relief, started by Patrick Cappiello, Pax Mahle & Sara Morgenstern . They have been holding amazing events across the US to raise funds for CA Wine Strong, Redwood Credit Union North Bay Fire Relief and Napa Valley Community Foundation.
Which wines are you planning to have on your holiday table?
BUBBLES and lots of them! I think we have a lot to celebrate this year—Raft Wines first (and now second) release in 2017, a second harvest for Raft, a winery still standing. Counting all my blessings.
During the holidays, I really enjoy drinking wines from other friends in the industry. Nothing warms my heart more then drinking a wine that you know your friend or peer has put their heart and soul into. I think it’s what the holidays are all about.
Your brand is still very new. Where would you like to see it go next?
Right now, I am just so thrilled to be wrapping up the 2017 harvest, and the release of the rest of the 2016s. I am so thankful to be in a supportive custom crush facility with an all-star cellar team.
I think the first step is expanding the market outside of California. Wine sales are intriguing, and challenging, and it is fun to see how the market changes in new places.
In the far future, I do hope to have some small space of my own, at least a small shared space. There are some really neat wine collectives popping up, and I love the community that they create.