For some parents, it’s almost impossible to get children to turn down and hit the sheets without a nightly bedtime story. When André Hueston Mack’s oldest son was little, however, he had a different bedtime request.
“Every time I was home, I would put him to bed. And it didn’t matter what time of the year it was, he would always say, ‘Pop, take out your phone, so you can take some notes.’ And we would plan his birthday party,” says Mack.
Mack wasn’t in the business of taking orders from others; he’d moved from being head sommelier at some of the most esteemed restaurants in the U.S. to running his Oregon-based winery, Maison Noir Wines. But for his son, Mack sat, listened, and took notes as he was told.
“He’d give me all these requirements. We’d talk about the cake and all that, and eventually, during our planning, he’d fall asleep,” says Mack.
Mack’s son is a teenager now and isn’t so interested in planning parties with his father. And Mack now has three more young sons pulling his attention in every direction. However, moments like those nightly bedtime chats, according to the winemaker and entrepreneur, are the most rewarding. For much of his children’s lives, Mack has been busy developing a business from the ground up and is often away for days at a time selling his wines. Any ounce of time he gets with them is time to cherish.
Plenty of fathers in the wine industry feel the same. Time, or a lack thereof, is the most challenging part of what they do as parents and winemakers.
A labor of love
“There’s definitely some correlation between raising kids and making wine,” says Ryan Sherman, winemaker and partner of Field Family Wines in Lodi, California.
Sherman started his wine career when his oldest daughter was four years old, with his second coming along just a few years after Field Family Wines launched. His kids grew up at the winery, giving Sherman a unique perspective on fatherhood and winemaking.
Grapes need time to grow. Wine needs time to age and mature. Patience is a must. So is dedication and care, attention to detail, and willingness to learn from past mistakes. Every bit of that relates to parenting, Sherman says. And when you’re “present early on in both winemaking and with children, those things pay dividends down the road.”
“It’s long hours, stress, worry, and anxiety on the parenting and winery sides. But I look at my girls now and know they’re good people. That’s what I’ve always wanted,” says Sherman.
After all the work of managing the vineyards and the winery, releasing a bottle of wine gives similar feelings of accomplishment.
“Having something that brings people together — that’s the real reward,” says Eric Flanagan, owner of Flanagan Wines in Sonoma County. “The brand is not about me. It’s about family and our commitment to giving people an experience they appreciate.”
A father of three, Flanagan welcomed his first child Riley Flanagan just as he set up shop in the heights of Bennett Mountain in Sonoma, where he planted his first vineyard in 1999. Thinking back on those early days, adjusting to fatherhood while also running a wine business took a tremendous amount of work. “It doesn’t matter how many parenting classes you take or books you read — when the first one comes, you have no idea what you’re doing, and it seems impossible to raise this baby. You’re just winging it,” he says. Developing a winery and trying to get wines on restaurant lists and retail shelves can feel equally perplexing. But after a few vintages, “it all starts to come together.”
Flanagan knew all his work had paid off when Riley Flanagan followed in his footsteps by becoming a winemaker. While working as an intern at her dad’s winery in 2017, she even launched her brand, Riley’s Rows, using vines her father planted when she was a toddler.
“She was always very interested in helping me with everything. From the time she was two years old, she loved coming to the winery, and she’s been a great help to the success of our business,” says Flanagan, noting that he’s happy to have her help, but it’s “super rewarding seeing her come into her own as a winemaker.”
The challenge of balancing time
Ask any winemaker, and they’ll tell you that the nights are long and the work is grueling during the harvest months. For many, life becomes imbalanced, and the winery becomes the main priority, leaving the weight and responsibilities of child-rearing and maintaining the household on the shoulders of winemakers’ significant others for months at a time.
“Managing work and family during harvest is something I could improve upon,” says Ben Jordan, winemaker at Early Mountain Vineyards in Virginia. “I’ve looked back, and I’ve definitely missed out on some special moments.”
Having a partner who understands the demands of the job helps. But even with a supportive co-parent, absence caused by harvest each year is stressful.
“You miss your family, and you wish you could do more. And you know that you’re not doing enough,” says Jordan.
Sherman says balancing personal life and work is achievable. It just takes effort.
“We were very dedicated to maintaining balance in our families from the beginning,” says Sherman. “Our wives were very involved in that too. We’d be working, and they’d show up with food so we could still have dinner with the kids.”
Mack brings his family with him on his travels for work. And even now, they spend summers together in Oregon at the winery. Having his family tag along has eased some of the guilt of not being at home. It also allows him to soak up more of those special moments.
“My kids helped me kick my business into gear. I’ve been really diligent about the work I do, and a lot of that is because of them,” says Mack.
Wines for dads, by dads: 5 bottles for Father’s Day:
Boden Young Middleburg Albariño 2021 (~$31)
Produced by husband-and-wife winemaking duo Nate and Sarah Walsh, this wine is made in Virginia’s Middleburg AVA, and is a bottle that Ben Jordan often enjoys. An easy-drinking, light-bodied, high acidity wine, this Albariño displays stone fruit flavors and a wave of salinity.
Haarmeyer Wine Cellars Cresci Borden Ranch Chenin Blanc 2019 (~$27)
Ryan Sherman can’t get enough of the wines produced by Craig Haarmeyer and his family at Haarmeyer Wine Cellars. Haarmeyer works with fruit from the Borden Ranch sub-AVA of Lodi, where pink granite and quartz soils plus a coastal influence help wine achieve tantalizing minerality. The Chenin Blanc has lively aromas of crushed rocks and ginger. The palate displays flavors concentrated apple, pear, and lime.
Glen Manor Vineyards Virginia Petit Manseng 2017 (~$35)
About 70 miles west of Washington D.C., on a western flank of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, resides Glen Manor, a winery Jordan can’t get enough of. The winemaker is particularly fond of Glen Manor’s Petit Manseng, an off-dry, medium-bodied wine that displays rich aromas of candied fruit and spice. On the palate, flavors of honey, pineapple, and almonds shine.
Sandland Wines Lodi Cinsault 2019 (~$36)
This intense ruby red wine comes highly recommended by Sherman. It is made by Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua, a couple that pride themselves on showing the best of California’s forgotten grape varieties. This wine’s fruit came from vines first planted in Lodi in 1886. The wine displays aromas and flavors of violets and pomegranate. A hint of minerality surfaces mid-palate and the finish is long and smooth with silky tannins.
Lucien Crochet Sancerre Le Chêne Marchand 2017 (~$45)
According to Mack, there’s no better way to kick off a special holiday than with a white wine from France’s famous Loire Valley, particularly bottles from the Sancerre region like this Sauvignon Blanc produced by Lucien Crochet. Bright and elegant, this wine offers intense aromas of apple, lime, and white flowers. The palate is taut with minerality tied to a crisp finish.