Women of Wine (From the 2011 Fall issue of SONOMA)
As a happy, outdoorsy child growing up on her family’s 160-acre cattle ranch in the hills between the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, precocious Ramona Nicholson’s dream was to raise her own family on the ranch someday, and make it a gigantic flower garden. Nicholson went off to the Ivy League, graduated from Princeton, came back to the ranch and tossed around ideas for the land: a child-care center, a bed and breakfast, perhaps an olive orchard. Instead, she left the ranch each morning to pursue a career in human resources. Until 1995, when she married, started her family, and dug in. Finally.
Situated on a crest of hill, where cool breezes blow off San Pablo Bay, it was obvious that Nicholson Ranch was perfect for growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. It was also a glorious setting for a wedding or special event. Nicholson took viticulture classes, planted 30 acres of vineyards, dug a wine cave, and built an elegant winery that blends into the hillside and offers stunning views. Now her ranch produces 5,000 cases of estate-grown wine per year and, with its tasting room in such a prime location, almost all of it is sold directly.
Most important, her three children, Zander, 15, Taylor, 13, and Natalie, 11, are growing up on the land she cherishes. The one wrinkle in the fairy tale? She and Deepak Gulrajani, who works the winery with her, recently divorced.
Nicholson’s life–like most women’s–is all about multitasking. While her children are paramount, she wears other hats, too: vineyard manager, special events coordinator, groundskeeper, personnel manager, and right hand for her adored father, Socrates, who lives on the ranch as well. She believes women excel in the ability to prioritize. “As primary caregivers, women are more prone to being able to do many things at once,” she says. Her business life and home life appear to seamlessly blend.
“Perhaps because I’m a female I’m more open-minded. I have great conversations and people don’t hold back with me.” She does not feel she is treated differently in the wine industry because she’s a woman. “I can do anything anyone else can do, and probably better,” she laughs. “I think I get more recognition, though, because I’m a woman. I’m more of a novelty.”
Nicholson farms sustainably, using cutting-edge, gravity-flow winemaking facilities and dry-farming the pinot noir vineyard. She doesn’t spray for insects but admits that weeds are her Achilles’ heel. “I love my Roundup,” she confesses.
She prefers working the land to catching up in the office, and girly frocks are only once-in-awhile attire. In rare quiet moments she curls up with her favorite wine, the reserve chardonnay Cuvée Natalie, named for her daughter, and ponders the Nicholson Ranch dream.
“We’re not famous,” she says. “Not yet.”
(From the 2011 Fall issue of SONOMA)