Using a Social Elixir to Promote Change: Sharon Kazan Harris, RARECAT Wines
For two hours, Sharon Kazan Harris and I laughed and chatted as if we had known each other for years. In reality, this conversation was our first. Sharon is the sole Owner and Director of Winemaking at RARECAT Wines, a company that produces single vineyard, small production wines using Old World vinification techniques, based in St. Helena, California. Sharon, who oversees all facets of wine production in Napa, Bordeaux, and Champagne, is the only American vintner producing estate wines in Bordeaux and Champagne. Her story is empowering and accomplishments many. Sharon admitted that her biggest challenge was graduating with honors from the Université de Bordeaux’s famed D.U.A.D. program, a technical oenology diploma taught in French.
Harris shows how wine can connect women and help them advance their careers.
Before Sharon Harris launched Rarecat in 2009, she went through a process of examining what wine really meant to her. She’d fallen in love with wine as a college student when she’d spent her junior year abroad in France. But since then she’d worked in publishing, advertising, and technology, and before she made wine her next career, she thought it important that she understand the source of her passion. “It was always that wine connected people,” she says. “Conversations happen with greater ease when there’s wine at the table.”
For Harris, one particular group needed connecting: women, particularly women at work. So Rarecat—the name, Harris says, is meant to suggest a woman of distinctive beauty—would be not just a business for Harris, but a means of advancing social change. “Helping women use wine as a tool meant that they could engage in conversation very often with people who run corporations, control budgets, hire individuals—in some ways, very similar to golf.”
She created a seminar called “Don’t Give Up the Wine List,” a reference to the idea that women at a business dinner often abdicated the wine choice to men, a symbolic transference of power. “What happens to subconscious biases when you give the wine list to someone else?” Harris asks. “That person subconsciously has the authority to control the conversation. They’re usually paying the bill. So taking control of that wine list was correlated to taking control of the authority at that table.”
Don’t Give Up The Wine List began as a seminar that laid the groundwork for women to think of wine “as a tool rather than a beverage to drink,” Harris says. Harris would help women who didn’t know a lot about wine develop confidence around ordering it. She encouraged women to learn the basics about what she calls “world-class regions”—as she says, “there’s no bad champagne, there’s no bad Napa cab”—while paying attention to whatever region a wine menu emphasized and engaging with “the most powerful person on the planet when you’re ordering wine”—the sommelier.
Harris has gone on to develop other programs customized for clients that focus on tasting, regional differences, and even the color of the wine. “My business today is not only focused on empowering women and diversity,” she says, “it’s about helping corporations leverage and connect to their clients and their teams with a specific purpose of driving sales and business development.”
None of this would work, Harris emphasizes, if Rarecat made lousy wine “If the product is crap, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “The wine had to be extraordinary or the message wouldn’t have merit.”
Rarecat, which only makes about 3,000 cases of wine a year, makes a flagship cabernet, along with excellent rosés, pinot noirs, and sauvignon blancs. Harris, who returned to France to study winemaking at the University of Bordeaux, even offers a champagne and a sparkling wine from Bordeaux. “When people taste the wine, they’re blown away by how beautiful they are,” Harris says. “It increases my credibility.”
For more information, visit Rarecat Wines.
Rarecat’s Sharon Kazan Harris Is Connecting Women Winemakers in Napa and Bordeaux
WORDS: KATIE BROWN
For many wine lovers, bigger is truly better. Rolling vineyards, bold flavor profiles, and magnum-sized bottles are often celebrated in the industry and among wine drinkers. But then, some oenophiles see the beauty in the small things. Sharon Kazan Harris, owner and director of winemaking at Rarecat Wines in Rutherford, Calif., is one such wine lover and producer. With an emphasis on artisanal winemaking and one-on-one interactions with consumers, Rarecat embraces old- school techniques with a modern twist.
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