Sonoma County’s mother-daughter wine teams bring love and collaboration to the bottle
Erica Stancliff was the kind of kindergartener who had a rat in her pocket and a garden snake in her hands while she was chasing a rabbit.
The fertile schoolyard was a familiar habitat for the blonde in braids. Stancliff grew up on a two-acre spread in Forestville, one she refers to today as the “animal sanctuary.” It's still teaming with life – quail, hummingbirds, robins, 18 chickens and an angry Cotton Ball Rooster.
Stancliff and her mother, Rickey Trombetta, sit at the kitchen table, looking out into the “sanctuary,” and talk about how they first became fascinated with grape growing and winemaking. They never expected to be business partners crafting a family brand - Trombetta.
In Celebration of Mother's Day, we talked with four sets of mother/daughter winemaking teams - Trombetta and Stancliff, Nancy Cline and daughters Megan Cline and Hilary Cline, Heidi Barrett and Chelsea Barrett and Diane Wilson and Victoria Wilson. Their stories, while unique, have a common theme. The bond between these mothers and daughters is the shared fascination with growing and creating something from the earth - bottling Mother Nature.
The kitchen is filled with enticing aromas from a pork tenderloin in the oven, a commingling of flavors – cumin, chili powder and garlic.
Erica Stancliff says her mother used to have huge stacks of magazines with recipes until the family revolted and made her come up with a less cumbersome system of archiving recipes.
And yet it's her mother's Italian cooking – the delectable Calabrian risotto and pasta carbonara – that Stancliff credits for shaping her palate.
Stancliff was 10-years-old when her tasting prowess revealed itself. After sniffing a glass of merlot, she rattled off descriptors – vanilla, cinnamon, blackberry, pie crust.” Vintner Paul Hobbs was at the house for dinner, looked at Stancliff's parents and said “she needs to be a winemaker.”
Stancliff and Trombetta, it seems, were on a path destined to converge. Trombetta and her husband, Roger Stancliff, were home winemakers and once their daughter decided to study winemaking in 2006 at Fresno State, they started talking about possibilities. Trombetta had worked for Paul Hobbs in 1998 and later for Kendall-Jackson in 2008, so she was well-versed in everything from organizing picks to public relations and marketing.
“We figured out our sandboxes very early on,” Trombetta says, with a laugh.
After a tiff over the timing of a pick, Stancliff says “my parents understood that if they wanted me to be winemaker, I had to have complete control over the fruit and winemaking.”
Trombetta, 68, says she had to look at her daughter, now 31, differently.
“I had to move from a mother/daughter and an older/younger relationship to a level playing field,” Trombetta explains.
Stancliff is no longer the kindergartener in the schoolyard, even though she still has one long blonde braid in the back.
“My mother and I are very similar people,” Stancliff says. “We're both opinionated and strong women so there are always going to be some clashes. But at the end of the day, we both want the same thing. We want this business to succeed and we're family.”
The big gold van, the Ford 14-seater is where Megan and Hilary Cline, along with their five siblings, got their first lesson in wine.
“On the way to school my dad would quiz us on all the grape varietals,” Megan says. “He wanted to make sure we'd know all these random, obscure varietals like Alicante and Palomino.”
Megan was eight years old and her sister Hilary was nine when these early bird lessons began and they apparently made an impression on the girls. Both found their way back to Sonoma's Cline Cellars, the winery their father - Fred Cline - founded in 1982 by putting money on a credit card.
The call to winemaking came for Megan, now 27, after she graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2014. That's when she decided to join some friends going for their sommelier credential.
“I fell in love with wine and the wine world,” she says. “When you grow up in it, it's not that romantic. But when you study it, wine has so much more to do with culture. It's food, history and people.”
Hilary, meanwhile, made her way back to the winery by way of Siberia. After graduating from Lewis & Clark in 2012, she taught English in Siberia as a Fulbright Scholar. After a few other adventures, including working harvests elsewhere, Hilary, now 28, is now back at Cline full time.
The sisters taste and weigh in on the final blends before they're bottled, but what they're most excited about is what's happening in the vineyard.