“From Bubbles to Boardrooms” is the two-act story of how Michaela Kane Rodeno, a young woman with a master’s degree in French Literature looking for a job in the Napa Valley, rose to prominence in two French-owned wineries: first as vice president of marketing with Domaine Chandon and later CEO of St. Supery Vineyards & Winery, a new startup winery in the Napa Valley.
In “Act 1: Startups are Such Fun,” Rodeno recounts, often with wit and a little frustration at having to negotiate a steep learning curve at a young age, her experiences learning on the job at Domaine Chandon, with mentor John Wright. (For a review of Act 1, go to WRO Wine Blog, November 10, 2013.) Act 2 is the story of how crossing Highway 29, from Yountville to Rutherford to become the CEO of St. Supery, becomes more involved than she imagined.
“Act 2” is the bigger of the two books, crammed with 50 “chapters,” each two-to-three pages, beginning with “How I Got the Job.” Readers can jump in almost anywhere in the book, selecting a chapter title that looks intriguing, such as “Macs Rule,” or “Winemaking Consultant.” The former is a serendipitous account of how Brian Bell, jazz musician Herbie Hancock’s technical consultant, helped merge the Mac computers used by St. Supery, with their PCs. “Winemaking Consultant” takes an inside look at how the controversial 2004 film, “Mondovino” played a part in severing the relationship of Michel Rolland, the high-profile French consultant from St. Supery.
Coming “Full Circle,” the author wraps up her wine experiences in the Napa Valley with a brief transitional history of Villa Ragazzi, the small Rodeno family winery started in the Napa Valley to produce wines from Italian varieties.
Bracketed between chapters 1 and 50, Rodeno skims along with brief accounts of her experience working for an absentee French owner and the trials and celebrations of being a winery CEO. In “A Tragic Accident,” Rodeno relates the tragic story of the accidental shooting death of the foreman at St. Supery’s Dollarhide Ranch, east of the Napa Valley. While celebrating with his crew, the foreman, who was taking target practice with a pistol, fell over backward, causing his gun-hand to jerk up, shooting himself in the head. Making matters worse, St. Supery’s insurance company would not pay, claiming that the foreman’s death was a suicide. In full CEO mode, Rodeno fired off a strongly-worded letter to the insurance company, which eventually relented and paid up.
In another set piece, Rodeno relates a cautionary story, titled, “Another Vinous Adventure,” when in an effort to put some of their grapes to profitable use, St. Supery got into the kosher wine business in the 1990s with Mr. Maroma. “There was only one problem with this plan: No one at St. Supery knew anything about kosher wine production,” recalls Rodeno. It was a costly adventure that tanked after a few years. A more wide spread and costly venture is related in “Phylloxera,” the story of how planting at St. Supery’s Dollarhide Ranch was nearly completed, using AXR #1 rootstock, when UC-Davis announced that the rootstock they were recommending for years was susceptible to Phylloxera, the tiny vine root louse that nearly destroyed the Napa Valley wine industry in just a few years.
These are but a few of the easy-reading glimpses into winery leadership Rodeno packs in to her “adventure” at St. Supery in “Act 2: Becoming a CEO.” Readers will find cherry-picking easy from the long series of short chapters. The author closes out the act with an expanded Glossary, and three appendices, one of which talks about St. Supery’s much-talked about version of the aroma kit called “Smellavision.”
“Act 2: Becoming a CEO” is an inside look at how success was attained by one of California’s noted wine executives. It’s a good read and is available, as is “Act 1: Startups are Such Fun,” in print ($11.99) and electronic ($7.99) from Amazon.com.
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WRO Columnist Emeritus Gerald Boyd contributes book reviews in this space on a regular basis from his so-called "retirement."