So honored to have another Q&A with an amazing, fellow female wine professional. Allow me to introduce Danielle Shehab, Director of Operations at Forlorn Hope Winery in the Sierra Foothills region of California. Forlorn Hope is the passion project of Matthew Rorick, and Danielle has been his right hand for the past few years. (In other words she is a wealth of knowledge about all things Forlorn Hope from winemaking to viticulture to label design -- you name it!)
But let me also tell you a bit about Matthew. He received his degree from the University of California at Davis and then worked in wineries around the globe -- Australia, New Zealand, Chile – and finally back in Cali. He worked at various styles of wineries and ultimately came to his own style of low intervention grape growing and winemaking. He also has a penchant for grape varieties rarely seen in Cali. The name "Forlorn Hope" comes from the Dutch "Verloren Hoop" meaning "lost troop" -- these were the soldiers who volunteered to lead the charge into the enemy line. Rorick felt like this was an apt name for his mission of bringing back esoteric varieties!
Over the past six years, we have watched Matthew grow from sourcing grapes around northern Cali to creating his own estate vineyard in the Sierra Foothills (where he still has a penchant for those esoteric varieties).
Danielle joined Matthew a few years back, and she is a force to be reckoned with (in the very best way)! Without further ado...
Q & A with Danielle Shehab
How long have you been working in the wine biz?
I've been in the restaurant industry since I was 16 years old. I didn't become interested in wine until I overheard a wine rep and my friend talking about how wine from the same grapes but grown in two different soil structures tasted differently. After that I started studying on my own and realized there was a career in wine out there somewhere. I moved to Charleston to sell wine and met Matthew Rorick [founder of Forlorn Hope] when he came to town to work sales. I asked if I could come out to his vineyard during harvest and see how wine is made. That was in 2016.
What initially drew you to this world? Happenstance? Or even a certain bottle?
Learning that soil could change the flavor and structure of wine blew my mind as I was always really into rocks and minerals as a kid. A wine that drew me into the world was the Viña Tondonia 2006 R. Lopez de Heredia. It drew me in completely and I was mystified.
How has it felt to run a winery during the COVID pandemic? Even as the world pauses grapes keep growing, which must be soothing, but on the other hand the business infrastructure of so much of the hospitality industry is collapsing....
It's incredibly stressful and sad, to watch an industry I've spent more than half my life in fall apart. There's a lot to be angry about right now. People are still drinking wine and seem to still want to spend their money on small businesses which is amazing.
The grapes are still growing, and we still have to turn them into wine so we will continue and see what happens in the future.
What has been your own therapy during this crazy time -- Wine? Food? Exercise?
Spending a lot of time at the vineyard and exploring the area. We have a small bubble of us so we try and keep each other sane. Swimming hole trips, dinners, dance parties. That's been a big mental health savior through all of this. Doing a lot of emailing, petition signing, and some protesting as well.
Have there been any especially memorable bottles or meals during this time? I know I have certainly tried to find reasons to celebrate and open special bottles. There has also been that “smoke ‘em if you got em” feeling to this whole thing!
Yes we've had some birthdays to celebrate and have had a lot of great meals together. I think our drinking style in general has always been of the near-apocalypse feel to it. Why wait - if you want to open a "special" bottle, just do it.
How does 2020 harvest look to you? From a perspective of quality? But also from the perspective of staffing? Is that any different from “normal” non-pandemic years?
The biggest difference will definitely be our interactions with people, or lack thereof. We are very isolated up at the Ranch, and rarely leave the property during harvest. We sell fruit to a lot of our friends and having them come up and stay the night, have a big dinner together, and all that is part of what keeps us going through harvest. We will have to change the way we interact with people and that's going to be difficult. It's also going to be a challenge with our vineyard manager and picking crews to keep distance from them and make sure they are safe. It's just going to be weird all around.
On a personal level what lessons do you hope to take away from this tumultuous year and what is your vision for moving forward as a country and as a global citizen?
There is so much tragedy in this year but also so much hope. There has been these glaring, gaping wounds in this country for its entire existence and it's way past time to make changes. There is a fire in so many of us to do the work. We have a long way to go in this industry to make everyone feel included and welcome. To ensure that we are putting the lives of those working in the vineyards in the highest regards. There are many leaders in this industry out there educating and advocating; Miguel de Leon,
Jirka Jireh, Ashtin Berry, Julia Coney are a few to seek out.