Set on a stunning Sonoma Mountaintop, surrounded by a magical farm land, Sophie Gray works fiercely to create delicious, distinctive, organically farmed Pinot Noir and Rosé wines. We visited Sophie James Winery to chat with Gray about how she became the best version of herself as a passionate business woman, wife, and mother.
On your vineyard…
You and your husband are Bay Area natives - what initially made you decide to move to the Sonoma Mountaintop?
James had been living in London for years, building his company and then eventually selling it. Similarly, I was working as a stem cell researcher at UCSF, working at a burnout pace. James and I reconnected after not seeing each other since high school, and the first thing he said on our first date was that he wanted to be a rancher. I was intrigued, and soon after this we fell in love and his dream of having a ranch became our shared dream. We started dreaming of a life outside of the city, out in the country. A place where we could bring people together - in nature - where we could have novel experiences. About 9 months into dating we found our magical property and took a leap of faith, left our city lives, and moved up to the Mountaintop. Little did we know the incredible adventure we were in for!
Did you always know you wanted to start a wine company, or did the idea come along with the land?
When we first found our magical property, we fell in love. James and I knew the moment we stepped foot on the land that our destiny was on the Mountaintop. There just happened to be a vineyard there. We never dreamed that within seven years we would be launching our wine company, and it would become a company that I personally would run.
What did you do prior to opening Sophie James? How did that help you transition into being a business owner?
I was working as a stem cell scientist at UCSF when James and I first started dating. I loved my work but after being pre-med in college, and working my tail off in the science world for years, I was reaching burn out. When we found our magical property I knew I wouldn’t be able to regularly commute to my job at UCSF from the mountaintop After struggling with the decision and feeling extremely vulnerable I quit my job and got rid of my apartment in San Francisco. I was terrified because I defined myself by my work. Sophie James has encouraged me to reinvent myself into the best version of myself, and I have done more growing on a personal level since launching Sophie James than I could have ever imagined. The purpose this company has brought into my life is a true gift, and I am eternally grateful that our journey has led me here!
Sophie James produces Pinot Noir and rosé wines – which came first?
When we first moved up to the property we put a lot of focus into switching to all organic farming. We harvested our grapes to make a Pinot Noir and then got a phone call from our winemaker saying that after we harvested the grapes they went through a very bumpy ride down the mountain and our winemaker recommend we make a rosé! We did just that and ended up serving our first vintage of rosé at our wedding and it was a major hit. People loved it and that planted a seed in my mind. We’ve produced a Pinot Noir every year since that first harvest, but our rosé has always inspired me and has a special place in my heart.
Do you plan on ever expanding your wine selection?
Oh this question gets me so excited!! My dream is to add a sparkling rosé to our line up.
You describe your wine as “mountain pure” – what does this mean?
Well this is really a distinguishing feature of our wines because we are located on top of a mountain. There is no runoff from above, and since we farm organically, it makes our vineyard pure. Sadly, a lot of vineyards in the valley get runoff that’s contaminated with herbicides and pesticides used on others vineyards.
Why was organic farming so important to you?
Organic farming has been a priority from the moment we moved to the property. Now with all the news coming out about RoundUp I am just so grateful that we have always prioritized our health and the health of our land over profits and saving money. Farming grapes organically is much more expensive but there is nothing more important. You can also see it in our land. Our property is covered with wild flowers and life. Bumble bees and honey bees thrive. It’s like a little oasis for life up there. We are from a generation that is very conscious about buying organic fruits, vegetables and meat, but people aren’t as concerned about how important it is to drink wine that is made from grapes that are farmed organically. What people need to understand is that just like with any other farmed product, in order to make wine you have to grow and farm grapes all year long, and this can be done with organic systems or non-organic systems.
Tell us more about the Sophie James Wine Club and what this entails?
We didn’t just want to start a wine club, we wanted to start a community. We wanted to offer people a one-of-a-kind experience at our property. We host sunset dinners and feature our favorite local chefs. We gather our members and enjoy dinner together at a long table; we have heard so many stories of people making friends at our events and also reconnecting with old friends by chance. It’s a beautiful thing. We have partnered with Shelter Co. and after our dinners our members can spend the night in a beautiful tent and experience a breathtaking sunrise above the fog!
What would the perfect 24 hours in Sonoma look like?
Waking up at sunrise and taking a walk on our property above the fog, soaking up nature, drinking coffee with James, and talking about our dreams while our little girls play. Then, maybe stroll into Sonoma, pop into Scribe for a tasting, and then go back up to the Mountaintop to host friends for dinner. Cooking while the kids play, enjoying some Sophie James wine, and capping off the evening with star gazing in the hot tub after putting the kids to sleep while sipping our rosé. That would be a perfect day.
When is the best time of year to visit?
Every season is so beautiful in its own way. The wild flowers covering our whole property in spring blow my mind. The rolling golden hills in the summer are just perfect. The crisp fall breeze feels sooo good, and the winter is just magical. Being cozied up next to the fireplace sipping some Pinot, and hot tubbing in the rain… It even snows up at our place sometimes!
What are some of your favorite restaurants/bars in the area?
We love love love Della Fatoria. They have a tuna melt that James and I have loved for years.
Do you have any favorite shops?
I love HEROSHOP in San Francisco. It has an eclectic mix of fun clothes that make me want to get outside of my style comfort zone.
When you’re not working, where can you be found?
Up on the Mountaintop with my daughters and James, fishing in our pond, hiking around the property.... Just enjoying the simple things in life, surrounded by nature and enjoying good food and wine.
If you had to live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
I couldn’t ever leave the Mountaintop - it is our family’s legacy and is the beat of my heart.
Describe your style in one sentence.
Functional, fun, flirty and comfortable.
What is your ideal wine-drinking outfit?
A jumpsuit or a long flowy dress. I like being able to move freely and lift a case of wine if I have to… You know - normal stuff for a wine-slangin’ mama. :)
What do you consider your wardrobe staples?
My Janessa Leone hat, Ariel Gordon custom Sophie James necklace and her imperial disc necklace with my daughters’ names on it. My Levi’s denim jacket.
Is there somewhere or someone you look to for fashion inspiration?
I love Sienna Miller, particularly in the early 2000s - she always looks so sexy but effortless.
What do you love about Joie’s Summer Collection?
It’s flowy and a little sexy - and has a lot of pieces that show a woman's decolletage (which is my fav part of my body!). I also love how it is all practical - I can where all my hats in these outfits - whether I’m in mom mode, hostess mode or whatever!
Do you have any favorite pieces that you wore for the shoot?
I love all of the flowy dresses and blouses...
How did you and your husband meet?
We went to high school together but didn't date then. We then reconnected after college in San Francisco at a holiday party!
Is it ever messy mixing business with pleasure?
Well luckily James and I don't really work together. I run Sophie James and James is the CEO of another company, so we have completely separate work lives. We are obviously a team with the wine company, but overall it is my full time job, and I would say he helps with the you know what hits the fan. :) He has helped a ton on the business side of things (especially in the beginning and when we were first launching). James is the spreadsheet guy for our wine company behind the scenes and helps with the budget.
You have two adorable little girls! How has becoming a mother changed your outlook on life?
100%! It has not been easy switching from a full-time mom to a full-time working mom but luckily with Sophie James it has been a slow progression. I started with 5 hours a week and then it became 10 and then 20 and so on. I used to try to "do it all", and at one time. For example, I would bring the girls to school and then work for a few hours and then run to ballet and then back to work, and I went crazy living like this. So now I have work days and mom days, and I try not to mix the two. When I have days with the girls, I turn my phone off and am 100% with them, and when I work, I am a machine and am incredibly productive because I want to get home to be with my babies. In general, since I have less time with the girls now, I really try to make it quality time. It's like bliss when you go from hustling and throwing a dinner party for 140 people, to just hanging at the park pushing my girls on the swing. I've received a great dose of perspective that has helped me a ton.
Between being a mother, wife and entrepreneur, how do you find “me” time?
Well let's be honest here - I don't have a lot of ‘me’ time, but that’s OK, because running our wine company makes me happy and really brings out the best in me. I feel a creative and productive flow in my life that was missing before Sophie James, and I love it. But when I am feeling burnt out, my ‘me’ time is really just going out to dinner with James, having a margarita or some nice wine, and talking about our big dreams together - that makes me happy. Then waking up to coffee with my little girls and just running around our property as a family - those moments are what I live for.
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