With just two years under her belt as founder and winemaker of the boutique wine label, Raft Wines, Jennifer Reichardt is already generating quite the buzz in the wine world. The Petaluma native has been recognized by Women-Owned Wineries (WOW) Sonoma, Women of the Vine & Spirits and is the unofficial poster child of the Bâtonnage forum – a movement dedicated to promoting the challenges and opportunities that women in wine have faced both historically and present-day.
She’s a hardworking and talented winemaker with deep roots in agriculture. Since 1901, Jennifer’s family has been raising ducks in Sonoma County. She grew up in and around wineries but it wasn’t until 2011 that she caught the winemaking bug. She worked her first harvest in Sonoma that autumn and completed six additional harvest both at home and abroad in the few years that followed. In 2016, with the help of family and friends, Jennifer created Raft wines – producing small amounts of hand-crafted wines in Sonoma County.
Jennifer’s fourth release of raft wines recently hit the market. It includes a Sangiovese, two different interpretations of Syrah and her 2017 CAVAILLON, a skin fermented Viognier from Love Ranch vineyard. Production of these wines were super small so be sure to head over to raftwines.com and scoop up a few bottles while supplies last!
Know your winemaker, know your wine
TVP: Can you briefly describe your journey from duck farming to winemaking?
Jennifer: Currently, I am still full time in both businesses! But they both play a part in each other. I grew up in and around wineries because of the duck farm. We (mostly my Dad) would often be out there cooking duck for pick up parties and special events. It was that familiarity withit that made it an easy transition to both. Daily, I run all the accounts at the duck farm – which means all the invoicing for our customers and all the fun with accounts receivable, and occasionally I even go out on our delivery routes! During harvest it means a lot of back and forth time on the freeway (thank goodness for my Prius!) but the community of both worlds really go hand and hand. While I was working for other winemakers, it was hard to do both. But now having my own label, I am able to work in both industries, which I love dearly!
TVP: You completed seven different harvests prior to creating Raft Wines. What was it that motivated you to take the leap and produce wine under your own brand in 2016?
Jennifer: Correct! Seven harvests in three different countries! I made sure I focused a lot of time in Sonoma County as it’s my home and I knew that it was here where I ultimately wanted to make my wine. Five harvests here for a variety of producers, and then one in Chile and Australia. Ultimately, the stars aligned a few months before harvest 2016 to give Raft the final push it needed. A previous employer had some used barrels for sale, and a friend had some wine grapes available, and my preferred custom crush space was willing to take on a tiny little client! What started as one wine turned into six pretty quickly and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
TVP: How would you describe your winemaking style in 5 words or less?
Jennifer: Feminine, minimal, joyful, food-friendly, easy-drinking
TVP: Who has been the most influential person in your approach to winemaking?
Jennifer: This is a terribly hard question! Each different winemaker has given me the tools that I have needed to get me to the point where I am today. From some it was the confidence to trust your instincts, others handy cellar tips. I truly cherish each experience. But perhaps beyond one person, it is more the community around me. My degree is in Sociology and I always joke that I am “making wine for the people” so I need to know what they want! But jokes aside, it’s entirely true. The people are shaping the kind of wine that I want to make, and it is always growing and changing!
TVP: What has been the biggest challenge for you in establishing Raft Wines?
Jennifer: In general, people say it’s easy to make wine, but not so easy to sell it. Boy ain’t that the truth! It takes a lot to get out there and get the wines in front of people. But the response has been great so far and I am excited to get more wines out to the market! The first year there was so little so it was really hard to get out there. But as I have been increasing every year I am getting the opportunity to get more places. Forever thankful to those first few who took a chance on Raft!
TVP: You’ve had a Viognier offering in each of your past three releases of Raft Wines. What is it about this particular varietal that attracts you to it?
Jennifer: I am the accidental Viognier crusader! Originally, I thought about getting some Viognier to put some in the Syrah (my first fruit) a la Northern Rhone style, and then have a little white wine. But then as I was tasting the grapes I thought, wow, this could make a super fun skin fermented white wine, so I tried that too! Per my style in general, I wanted to make a lower alcohol, higher acidity wines, so I pick the Viognier around 21 Brix. The wine is both lively and fun, andnot heavy, or weighed down, and definitely not sweet! It’s been really fun to have people say – no, I don’t drink Viognier as a rule, to try mine, and give the varietal another chance! It is an aromatic white, so there’s some people who don’t like that floral aroma at all and that’s ok. But I am having fun showing people two versions of Viognier that they aren’t used to seeing.
TVP: What’s in the works for release four of Raft Wines and when can we expect it?
Jennifer: NOW! I am writing this email on a Friday and the release is to go out Monday! The skin fermented Viognier, two different interpretations of Syrah, and a Sangiovese. Really excited to share them with the world.
TVP: What advice would you give to the younger Jennifer Reichardt just embarking on her winemaking career?
Jennifer: There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in your future, but I promise it’s all worth it.