This month, we’re diving deep with Renee Saint-Amour into the purposeful and challenging work of making wine, raising kids, relishing in the small moments, and aging (!!). We got to visit her beautiful home in Oregon’s wine country to chat over tea and pastries and play with her rambunctious pup, Daisy. Renee is electric– and we are thrilled to be sharing her with you all. <3
We’re so happy to be talking to you this month, Renee! I hope it’s fair to say you’re quite the epitome of a “cool mom” ;-). We love a bad-ass, smart (& wine-makin’) mom like you who isn’t afraid to get dirty, work hard, and take pride in the finished product when the work is done. What do you hope to teach your kids by leading with your example, and what have they taught you along the way?
Thank you! I’m beyond thrilled to chat as I have been a huge ARQ fan from the beginning.
For the kids our work is a way of life: the vineyard is their backyard and the winery is their after school program. We are constantly grinding at the winery and vineyard doing everything from scrubbing tanks and pulling brush to hosting tasting events. They are acutely aware of our work ethic because it is such a part of their daily experience, but we hope they are organically understanding the value of hard work, determination, and grit.
Additionally, it feels important that both my son and especially my daughter see me doing work that has not always been considered traditional for women. I want them to see me using tools, driving forklifts and tractors, problem solving malfunctioning machinery. These were not behaviors that were modeled for me as a young girl, and it might have reshaped my path if I had known those things were open to me.
What do they teach me? Patience...(Just kidding.) They remind me of the beauty of openness. Wine can be stuffy and make people feel self conscious. If we ask them to smell and describe a wine, they just do so without fear of being judged. I love that and it has taught me to trust myself and let go in the same way.
The wine industry is one - like many - that has roots in centuries of tradition, knowledge, and respect for the land. Can you tell us the story of how you got into winemaking and share anything you’ve learned that you weren’t expecting, or anything you know you’ll hold onto?
I owe my earliest memories of wine to my Uncle Bob, who was an avid lover of wine and approached wine (and all things really) like a philosopher. When I was a very young adult, he would send mixed cases of wines that were way above my pedigree, always accompanied with poetic tasting notes and suggestions for paired meals I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea how to make. The experience for him was not about the details of how it was produced or what clone the grape was; it was about how it made him feel. It was visceral, emotional, sexual even. While he had the patience and space to age his wines, he urged me to drink the extraordinary wines he sent with good food and even better people. He taught me that wine is a portal into companionship, community, conversation, and feeling alive. When I met my partner, he was a winemaker who shared these ideas, and we knew in the first month of dating that we would one day start a winery project together.
My most recent take-aways stem from the fact that winemaking begins with agriculture. The greatest wines begin with conscientious farming, and grape growing in particular is heavily influenced by weather. The recent instability in our climate has very real implications for our livelihood. Smoke damage from wildfires in our particular vineyards led us to leave almost an entire vintage on the vine. Unusually late frosts can drastically affect fruit yields. As climate change makes weather patterns more erratic, we’ve learned to brace ourselves for more of these events while also doing our part to farm sustainably and live with an awareness of our own environmental footprint.
Do you have any traditions or rituals that you use to rejuvenate, relax, and take care of yourself? That can sometimes look like a long shower after an even longer day, reading a few pages of a book over coffee in the morning, or just enough glasses of wine over dinner with loved ones. What are your favorite ways to recharge, reset, and deep-breathe?
There are really so many things that fuel me and recharge me: baking with my kids, and cooking with my partner, walking to the top of the hill across from our house with our puppy, my yoga mat...
Some lucky mornings I drink my coffee and read my book in our sunny living room before the kids wake up. Mt. Hood hovering on the rainbow horizon fills me with gratitude and also reminds me how big the world is. It is so easy to think that the challenges and victories in my orbit are everything, and I find it grounding to remember how small I am in the world. On winter weekends I love to stay up late with a glass of wine and work a jigsaw puzzle. I live for those quiet solitary pockets that bookend the chaos of the day. My personal meditation studio is really my car. During the work day I can drive happily for hours just listening to music or a podcast of MY choosing, or often just in total silence as I process whatever is on deck in life at that time.
My partner (in business, marriage, and parenting) is also my most supportive, loving, and funny friend. Sitting toe-to-toe on the couch at the end of the night while sharing the tales of the day is my favorite way to wind down.
You turned 50 this year! With any birthday, but especially major birthdays, comes a time of reflection, a period of renewal, and quite possibly some (eagerly accepted?) changes in life. How have you been experiencing 50? Do you have any words on aging you’d be willing to leave us with?
For the record, I still feel like I am that sixteen year old kid in heavy black eyeliner playing Depeche Mode records on repeat! Strangely turning 50 was so much easier for me than turning 30. At 30 I was in the wrong place with the wrong person and felt like life was getting away from me before I had really tapped into what made me happy. In my 40s, when we decided to start our own winery project, I left my established career to pursue something completely foreign and new. It was a scary time to jump off that ledge and find myself a novice again, but it was empowering to realize that I could still exist in a space of reinvention and self-discovery. An incredible confidence has come from learning new skills. Winery work is also intensely physical, and using my body to foot stomp fermenters or move tanks around is an exhilarating and grounding source of pride for me at 50. Maybe just being happy and feeling fulfilled has given me the space to accept the changes that come with getting older.
Even though my body is clearly aging, I’ve never been more comfortable in my own skin. Over lockdown I decided after 30 years of coloring my hair to let my greys come in naturally, and it was transformative emotionally. I realized that I looked older as a result, but I still felt beautiful, vital, loved, sexy. If I could feel all those things in isolation when I looked in the mirror, there was no reason I couldn’t walk that way in the world. It liberated me as though I were finally telling the truth after years of holding a secret. Obviously that was my personal journey, and we should all do whatever makes us feel most authentically ourselves, especially as we age and develop a better sense of what that is.