Love may well be all you need. But to make it work and to make it last, you can’t skimp on patience, compassion and understanding. That’s certainly true when it comes to making wine — a mashup of talent, sweat and sacrifice that often makes a very personal project a very grueling one. These three Santa Barbara couples are proof that love has a lot to do with success in the wine business — love, plus a few glasses shared at the end of the day.
Brooke & Mike Carhartt
Like me, Mike Carhartt married way up. And he agrees. “She’s smart, intelligent, good-looking, creative — she takes care of everything,” he says of his wife of almost 37 years and partner in the Carhartt Vineyard business, which they launched in 1996. He grows the grapes and Brooke makes the wine — a labor of love, these days, with their son, Chase. When the 30-year-old — a whiz both in the winery and across myriad social media platforms — entered the business, “that made the whole thing blossom even more,” adds Mike. Carhartt produces 7,000 cases of wine a year and sells all of it directly to the consumer, both through the wine club and the trendy new tasting cabin in Los Olivos. It is a seven-day-a-week gig, and a family affair, which means that the lines between work and home often blur. “We have a rule that, after 6 or 7 o’clock, we don’t talk shop,” says Brooke. And then she adds with a laugh, “It’s not always successful, but it’s a good theory!” This partnership — and it’s clearly a happy, healthy one when you spend time with the two of them — is a reflection of a mutual respect for boundaries.
“We both have our own tasks and roles in our business and we both trust one another in those roles,” says Brooke, “so we don’t have to micromanage each other.” Their intimate understanding of their brand and their wine-growing philosophies helps: “We started it together, it’s our business, and we discuss everything with each other,” she adds. And they both acknowledge their good fortune — “an incredible ride,” Mike calls it. But does this couple’s venture bring its share of trying moments? You bet. “The hardest part,” Brooke says, tongue in cheek, “is that I have to make him lunch every day!”
Sarah & Blair Fox
This is a story about high school sweethearts who went on to get married, have two kids and launch not one, but two, successful wine labels. “I feel fortunate to be able to work alongside such a talented husband/winemaker who loves what he does and who’s so good at it,” says Sarah Fox, who started dating Blair during senior year at Santa Barbara High. She studied at Santa Barbara City College, and he at UCSB, before the two graduated from UC Davis. This year, as parents of 14- and 11-year-old soccer star daughters, they’ll celebrate 20 years of marriage. There’s no denying Blair Fox’s credentials, or workload: When the winner of the prestigious Andre Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year Award is not making wines for Fess Parker Winery, he’s working on his own, for both Blair Fox Cellars and Fox Wine Co. Sarah helps with the winemaking, runs the tasting rooms and manages the businesses. Sticking together as a couple for decades goes far in making the wine businesses work. “We’ve been together so long, and we’ve been doing this together so long, that we’ve figured it out,” says Blair.
Sarah admits that “no matter what time of day or night, a conversation arises about business, (so) we have to constantly remind ourselves to keep our evenings as personal as possible.” Kids’ schedules and interest beyond wine keep things fresh. And defined roles keep the business moving, “When it comes to hardcore winemaking decisions, that’s where I step in,” says Blair. “In terms of business and ideology and what needs to be done, that’s her. And that helps the relationship — usually!”
Sonja Magdevski & Greg Brewer
Wine is what brought Sonja Magdevski and Greg Brewer together, and it’s what’s keeping them together, too. She’s the mastermind behind the fun, popular Casa Dumetz brand. He’s the phenom who’s made the Brewer-Clifton label synonymous with the best in Santa Barbara pinot noir and chardonnay. For the two of them, wine is more than a job, of course — it’s a lifestyle. And like any passion project — any endeavor that means putting your heart on the line day in and day out — it’s defined by its ups and downs. “It’s beautiful when you understand someone’s industry from the inside so well, so that the second they say one word or make a comment or have a certain expression on their face, you know exactly the gravity of what that means,” says Sonja.
Her marriage to Greg in 2016 was her first, his second. It was a business relationship first, then a friendship. And then the mutual respect they had for each other as a winemaker “ramped things up,” recalls Greg with a laugh. He agrees with Sonja that empathy is key for them — he calls it “really healthy in keeping our spirits going.” But a successful personal relationship in the wine biz is also about checks and balances.
“Wine projects are so emotionally fueled that they’re really our own identity — we’re really deep in it, 100 percent in,” he says. “Having someone to read that and help navigate that for the other is a beautiful equilibrium to maintain.” Sonja brings it back to that mutual respect that fueled their romance in the first place: “We’re each other’s No. 1 fan.”