Margo Van Staaveren, Chateau St. Jean

Margo Van Staaveren has celebrated more than 40 harvests at Chateau St. Jean. During her tenure with the winery, she’s played a pivotal role in every facet of the winemaking process. As a winemaker, she makes the final decisions involving blend and style to consistently produce the highest quality wines in the super premium and luxury category.

After growing up in San Rafael, Van Staaveren graduated from the University of California, Davis in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in fermentation science, despite originally going into college to study special education. Shortly after graduation, she joined Chateau St. Jean as a laboratory technician in 1980. By 1989, she had worked her way up to assistant winemaker and was later named associate winemaker. She was named winemaker and general manager for Chateau St. Jean in August of 2003, continuing a rich legacy of winemaking as the fourth winemaker in the winery’s history. In 2008, she was crowned “Winemaker of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Van Staaveren is a firm believer that great wines are grown—a conviction she shares with the Chateau founders who led the way for Chateau St. Jean to become a pioneer of vineyard-designated wines in the early 1970s. Dedicating her working life to the quality of Chateau St. John’s wines, she also met her husband of 38 years at Chateau. They worked together for 17 years. When Van Staaveren is away from the winery and the harvest season, she loves to hike, exercise, cook and enjoy the autumn.

How has the wine industry changed from the moment you joined to present day?

Certainly, there have been changes in ownership of wineries, changes of philosophy of winemaking and viticulture, people coming and going in the business. But what hasn’t changed is the excitement and passion for growing and making wine. We’re an optimistic group – we always believe the next harvest might be the best one yet.

What podcast are you recommending to everybody?

I like to listen to the New York Times The Daily – I listen on my way to work. They always seem to engage me on stories I didn’t know I would find interesting.

What advice would you give to yourself at age 15?

Everyone has goals, but it’s really about the journey and building relationships along the way.

What sparked your original passion to be a special education teacher?

In high school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a local school for children with disabilities. The next summer I was a camp counselor with the same school. The experiences were rewarding, and I saw a potential path for me.

What’s your refrigerator look like on the regular? What always has a home in your fridge?

My refrigerator always has a chilled bottle of sparkling wine or Champagne – always ready for a celebration or just to smooth out the wrinkles of a rough day.

What’s your favorite part of the harvest season?

This is the season I get to spend the most time in the vineyard. The first half of each day is spent visiting different sites to determine the ideal time to pick. Watching the season change from summer to fall is so subtle, but happens quickly – acorns have fallen, the tone of the light has changed. Also, harvest is a time of camaraderie with the folks you work with, growers and neighbors.

After the harvest, what’s your favorite thing to do to unwind and relax?

After a season of more hours at work than home, just being home is lovely. I’m indulging in the fall by cooking and baking.

What’s your favorite libation when you’re not sipping wine?

There are so many styles of wine and regions to enjoy, that wine is always my first choice. But, on a hot day by the pool, a mai tai is just right.

Do you have a special ritual to kick off the harvest season?

We celebrate by gathering when the first load arrives and raise a glass to toast the new season. The wine for the toast is made from the same grapes of the last vintage and the rest of the bottle is poured on the new grapes!

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