Eileen Crane began her wine career as a part-time tour guide at Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley. Today, she looks back on 42 years in the business as she steps down as CEO of Domaine Carneros, one of California’s leading sparkling wine producers, and transitions out of her winemaking duties.
“I started working at a Howard Johnson’s when I was 16 and now I’m 71. Some people wait too long, and maybe I’m one of them,” Crane says with a chuckle. She will stay on as lead sparkling winemaker through this year’s harvest and then Zak Miller, who has worked with her for more than 10 years, will take over.
Although she grew up in New Jersey with her father working in international finance, Crane’s upbringing led her into the wine business. Thanks to her dad’s extensive cellar, she was talking about and tasting wine early on. “I fell in love with sparkling wine as a kid,” she recalls.
After earning a master’s degree in nutrition, then teaching and taking courses at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Crane drove her Chevy Impala across the country to study enology and viticulture at the University of California at Davis in 1978. A male professor there told her she could never be a winemaker because women couldn’t handle the barrel work. She persisted.
After getting her foot in the door at Domaine Chandon, Crane moved up from tour guide to pastry chef, then was offered a job doing technical work in the winery lab, finally ending up as an assistant winemaker for Dawnine Dyer. (Learn more about the history of women in California wine and other trailblazers of the 1970s and ’80s.)
Excerpt taken from Wine Spectator
Author: Tim Fish