Keep checking back for updates to our exciting list of speakers, mentors and moderators.
Maryam Ahmed (she/her/hers) is a creative entrepreneur based in Napa, CA. She specializes in community activation, strategic programs, and project management for food and wine brands with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and sustainability. Most often, her work takes place at the intersection of chefs, sommeliers, activists, sustainability experts, creatives, media, and visionary organizations. In 2022, Maryam + Company launched Field Blends, an immersive food and wine travel experience focused on opening up conversations about what’s emerging in wine and agriculture. Field Blends features unique tastings, tangible takeaways, and local provisions with educational experiences and critical discourse.
Winemaker Matt Brain, possessing a master’s degree in biosciences and a background in process engineering, brings naturalist philosophies and highly technical abilities to winemaking at Alpha Omega where he began as Associate Winemaker. After leaving a successful career in the Toronto area to pursue his dream of winemaking in California, the Ontario, Canada native joined Phase 2 Cellars, a custom winemaking operation in San Luis Obispo, for the 2006 harvest. Matt was quickly promoted to supervise cellar operations for the facility’s premium label, Tolosa, while receiving mentorship from some of the most renowned and respected professionals in California.
Matt earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in biosciences at Sam Houston State University, where he was a decathlete. He also earned a winemaking degree from UC Davis and held winemaker titles at prominent California wineries and winemaker/lecturer positions with Enology and Viticulture programs at both Cal Poly and Fresno State universities. He partnered with The Vineyard Team, which promotes sustainable winegrowing, as a Sustainability Auditor and continues to educate as a Podcast Host for the organization. Matt’s passion for the environment benefits Alpha Omega, where the land and winery are both Napa Green certified and the Vineyard Management team practices sustainable farming.
Anna Brittain is the Executive Director of Napa Green. Anna has worked locally, nationally and internationally on environmental management and policy with organizations ranging from the environmental economics think tank Resources for the Future in Washington, DC to the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Hanoi, Vietnam. She has spent a decade facilitating and growing sustainability in the wine industry, with an expertise in communications and certification standards. Anna has served as a lead sustainability consultant with Ontario Craft Wineries, Sustainable Winegrowing British Columbia, Crimson Wine Group, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, and individual wineries including Benziger Family Winery and Seghesio Family Vineyards. She has helped lead the growth of the Napa Green program for over six years, and stepped into the position of Executive Director of the now independent non-profit in fall 2019. Anna has a Master’s of Environmental Science & Management from the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara and a BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies from Williams College.
Portland native Janie Brooks Heuck spent more than a decade in the health care industry before finding herself responsible for the business operations at Brooks Winery. Struck by the generosity and guidance from the Oregon wine community after her brother Jimi’s passing, Janie quickly realized the importance of Jimi’s lifework and has been keeping the Brooks boat afloat since 2004. Janie is passionate about Brooks, family, travel, and Riesling. She loves to golf, sail, work out, and take photos when she isn’t working. Her karaoke song is “Rapper’s Delight,” which is also Brooks Wine’s winemaker, Chris Williams’ karaoke song, yet none of us have witnessed either one of them on the mic. Can someone say duet?!
Mimi grew up on her family’s vineyard, Bethel Heights. Her adventures fueled her passion for studying botany, forestry, and ecology. Mimi earned her MS from Oregon State University in Forest Science, and spent the next several years working as a botanist and ecologist for the Forest Service, living in the backcountry. Her work in the forests led her to realize that the greatest threats to the future of the planet and all species had to be addressed at its root – in the agricultural and working land base. Mimi returned to Bethel Heights in 2005, where she implemented new farming systems and began a journey of experimentation and discovery. In 2016 Mimi left Bethel Heights to grow and make wine at her home vineyard and living laboratory, Hope Well. Hope Well is the living model for a habitat-based regenerative model for agriculture. Mimi’s experiments are all with the goal of producing the most nutrient-dense, healthy food and wine, while recovering the natural systems of nutrient cycling, improving biodiversity and species retention, and maximizing the function and output of a diverse ecosystem.
Remi Cohen joined the Domaine Carneros family as CEO in 2020, bringing with her a diverse, over
twenty-year track record of experience in all facets of the fine wine business, from sustainable vineyard management and winemaking to sales, marketing, and brand development. The role brings Cohen’s career full circle, for it’s in Carneros where it all began.
Cohen is also a certified sommelier, which makes her adept at providing luxurious and educational
hospitality experiences. She served as the President of the Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association for five years and was previously a Board Member of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association. Cohen was recognized as one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 in 2015 as a tastemaker and influencer in Napa Valley. She resides in Napa and enjoys traveling to wine regions around the world, sampling diverse cultures and cuisines, and loves dance, hiking, yoga and world music.
Dr. Comendant is a conservation scientist with over 15 years experience developing innovative methods, visualization tools, databases, and science-based solutions that increase knowledge-transfer, enhance stakeholder engagement, and inform natural resource management decisions. She is a Napa Valley native and completed her doctorate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She joined Pepperwood as the Conservation Science Manager in 2017 where she conducts and manages complex research projects, supports monitoring and restoration initiatives, and cultivates impactful cross-sector partnerships. Additionally, she serves on the boards of the Napa Valley Watershed Information and Conservation Council, the Society for Conservation GIS, and the Steering Committee of the Conserved Lands Network Science Expansion.
With a sense of determinate optimism and the need to further engage his right brain, Matt leaned away from a career in finance after earning a degree in Economics from the University of Virginia in 2003 and instead was drawn to winemaking. Starting at the very bottom in the cellar, Matt internalized the words from his father, “Smart people in the world are a dime a dozen. All you can do is control how hard you work.” Years later, after methodically building his toolbelt in wineries and vineyards on the east coast, Napa and Sonoma, Matt was hired as Enologist at Montelena upon finishing his degree in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis in 2008. He was promoted to Winemaker in 2014.
Will Drayton is the Director of Technical Viticulture and Research Winemaking at Treasury Wine Estates (TWE), one of the world’s largest wine companies. Will joined TWE in 2008 as a Viticulture Intern at Etude Winery and has held many positions within the viticulture and winemaking groups.
In his current role, Will oversees the technical and scientific aspects of grape growing for their California operations, as well as their Sensory Science and Research Winemaking teams. He also is part of the committee that guides TWE’s Sustainability efforts across their global footprint of wineries and vineyards.
Will holds a Master’s degree from UC Davis in Horticulture and Agronomy and undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge. Will resides with his young family in Sebastopol, CA where he also runs a small cider company and orchard.
Alex Farren is the Founder and Chief Science Officer of BlueMorph, Inc. a company that specializes in the design of UV light delivery systems to disinfect the interior surfaces of rooms, containers and other defined spaces. He has over 10 years experience and 19 patents issued on the delivery of targeted UVC dose to a surface irrespective of distance and material. He is now focused on the use of FarUV to provide people-friendly solutions that can be used more effectively in the battle against pathogenic microorganism. Ultraviolet light has the advantages of being a sustainable disinfectant, consuming no water and using no chemicals.
Larry brings over thirty years of experience in real estate, community and economic development in both the public and private sector to Burbank Housing. Most recently Larry served as the Director of Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs for Napa County. He managed Napa County’s affordable housing programs as well as the county’s Housing Authority and community and economic development activities.
Prior to joining Napa County Larry spent over ten years in the private sector, co-founding a development company specializing in adaptive reuse of underutilized industrial property and overseeing some of the company’s largest development projects in the San Francisco Bay Area including the redevelopment of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and Treasure Island. While in the Northeast Mr. Florin oversaw a 2,000 unit urban mixed-use development project along the Hudson River across from Midtown Manhattan.
Larry has a Master in Urban Planning from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Purchase State College.
Dr. Mark Gudgel is a Nebraska-based teacher, sommelier and writer who enjoys frequent travels to Northern California’s Wine Country.
Ivo was born in Croatia to a family of grape growers and as boy he assisted in making wine for his family’s enjoyment. However, he didn’t plan on becoming a winemaker. Ivo earned a master’s of science degree in engineering from the University of Zagreb and dreamed of coming to California to work as an engineer. In 1986, with the help of his uncle, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, Ivo followed his dream and came to Napa Valley. He quickly fell in love with the scenic beauty of the area and became fascinated with wine making. Ivo decided on a career change and Mike immediately put him to work washing barrels. During his almost-three decades at Grgich Hills Ivo has worked his way up in responsibility, learning the classic style and art of winemaking from his uncle, supported by the tools of science and technology. “There’s nothing in the winery or vineyard that I haven’t done, not just for one day, but really worked at it,” he explains.
Caren McNamara was tired of throwing away glass bottles that could be washed and refilled instead of landfilled or recycled. Around the world, refillable glass systems are the norm. It is clear that they deliver a more sustainable solution and bring down packaging costs for producers. So she asked… “How do we collectively ‘flip the script’ and build a refillable glass system here in the United States?”
Starting with due diligence, Caren explored why the U.S. lost its refillable glass system and how she could bring it back. She connected with beverage producers, policymakers, non-profits, and municipalities and determined there was a strong desire for a refillable bottle solution. Now Conscious Container is building the refillable glass circular economy by washing & reselling bottles to reduce Co2 emissions & mitigate supply chain issues.
Esther Mobley is the wine critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. She joined the paper in 2015 to cover California wine, beer and spirits, a beat that has included reporting on California wildfires, reviewing local bars, profiling undocumented vineyard workers, naming an annual Winemaker of the Year and analyzing the movements of California’s $40 billion wine industry. She publishes a weekly e-mail newsletter called Drinking with Esther.
A native of Illinois, Jason made his way to New Zealand and graduated from the Lincoln University Viticulture and Enology program just outside of Christchurch. He spent a number of years making wine in the Russian River, British Columbia, New Zealand, Bordeaux, South Africa, and finally to Napa Valley, where he recently completed his 23rd harvest. Through the years, Jason has ascended the ranks from Cellar Worker to Cellar Master, Assistant Winemaker to Winemaker. Apart from winemaking, he believes wine service, wine education, and sensory are of great importance and in 2017, became a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. As the Director of Winemaking and Viticulture at Whitehall Lane, he oversees not only the winemaking production and vineyard management, but leads it in an effort to be environmentally sensitive and sustainable in all facets.
Director of Viticulture and Winemaking, the French connection runs strong through Mostero, who studied in Bordeaux and trained at Château Haut-Brion, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Établissements Jean-Pierre Moueix. He worked with Baron Philippe de Rothschild in the Languedoc and at Almaviva in Chile before returning to his native California to join Dominus Estate in 2007.
“Christian Moueix has been my guide throughout my career and has been my greatest example of a perfect winemaker. He is clear, precise and is profoundly attached to the vineyard. He has guided me from the beginning.”
For the past 25 years Kelly has managed, designed and consulted with vineyards, farms and ranches throughout the western USA, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. His work focuses on
designing and creating agricultural systems and practices that restore ecological health, increase biodiversity, create resiliency to climate change, and increase profitability and beauty.
Kelly is vineyard director at Paicines Ranch.
In 1987, Beth Novak Milliken joined her mother, Mary Novak at Spottswoode, becoming the first second-generation family member to become actively involved in guiding Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery. In the more than three decades since, Beth has played a key role in establishing Spottswoode Estate Vineyard as one of the world’s great winegrowing sites, and Spottswoode as one of Napa Valley’s most iconic and respected wineries. She has also quietly built a reputation as a leader in the Napa Valley community, advocating on behalf of the wine industry and the social and environmental causes she holds dear.
Christopher Ott is a Registered Professional Engineer with extensive experience providing leadership to established, growth phase, emerging, and venture backed start-up companies in the Construction, Environmental, and Clean Technology arenas. He has broad experience in the full range of business management and engineering functions as well as business development both domestically and internationally. He has worked extensively in the San Francisco Bay region on large heavy civil transportation/environmental/wastewater projects.
He currently is the CEO of Eaton Drilling Co LLC overseeing the transformation of the company from solely extraction based to a total water management company respecting the full water cycle. Christopher also assists the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, a Northern California Indian Tribe, with water resources and environmental projects focusing on sustainable resource management, including restoring streams, promoting floodplain connectivity with streams and riverways and leveraging local area vineyard management to promote recharge to groundwater with beneficial uses as drinking water, irrigation water and for fisheries. He is a registered professional civil engineer, and a certified Qualified Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) Practitioner (QSP) and a Qualified Industrial Storm Water Practitioner (QISP).
An internationally recognized wine professional and speaker, Martin has judged at Texsom International Wine Awards, International Wine Challenge (Panel Chair), Decanter World Wine Awards, USA Wine Ratings, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, and Taittinger Sommelier d’Or Competition, Mexico; and most recently, the James Beard Foundation, and recently won Best Paper Award at the AAWE Conference, Vienna 2019 for his research in wine purchasing behavior. He is a Speaker/Moderator & Organizer for IBWSS, Porto Protocol, Green Wine Future, and 2022 Napa THRIVES Symposium as well as co-hosts he James-Beard award-winning podcast, The Four Top.
Jancis Robinson was voted the world’s most influential wine critic in polls in the US, France and internationally in 2018 – although Jancis describes herself as a wine writer rather than a wine critic. She founded JancisRobinson.com in 2000, selling the award-winning, subscription-only wine website to US digital publisher Recurrent Ventures in 2021. She is now editor in chief and main contributor. She has been wine correspondent for the Financial Times since 1990 and writes for this global publication and ft.com every Saturday.
She is founder-editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine, co-author with Hugh Johnson of The World Atlas of Wine (nearly five million copies sold) and co-author of Wine Grapes, each of these books recognised as a standard reference worldwide. The 24-Hour Wine Expert (2017) is a slim paperback guide to the practical essentials of wine.
She loves and lives for wine in all its glorious diversity, generally favouring balance and subtlety over sheer mass, having campaigned for associated sustainability issues since 2006.
Molly Sheppard is the Assistant Winemaker & Sustainability Manager at Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery located in St Helena, Napa Valley. Growing up in Australia, Molly studied Molecular Genetics at the University of Melbourne before completing her degree in Agribusiness, Viticulture & Enology at Curtin University in Western Australia. After working in wineries in Victoria, Margaret River and the Yara Valley, Molly made her first trip to Napa Valley as an intern for the 2017 vintage and has been in the Napa Valley ever since, joining the Spottswoode team in 2018.
Nikki Silvestri is, first and foremost, a mother of two, wife, and sci-fi nerd. Nikki is also a serial non-profit executive director and entrepreneur (currently the CEO and founder of Soil and Shadow), a board member of Greenpeace USA, and an international keynote speaker.
Nikki’s unique approach to inclusion, leadership and organizational development takes cues from nature, building models of “social fertility” to weave them into a Joy and Impact™ framework. Her work also encourages a rigorous and shame-free approach to acknowledging our societal shadows and blind spots, especially when attempting to balance the triple bottom line (ecology, economy, and equity) in times of uncertainty, climate/health feedback loops, and increasing volatility.
Nikki’s wide-ranging career has taken her from presentations at the White House and negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency to intimate workshops with local businesses and small retail organizing. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including ELLE Magazine’s Gold Award and OxFam America’s Act Local, Think Global Award, and she was named one of The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans.
Sarah Unger is the Co-Founder of CULTIQUE, a cultural insights and strategy consultancy. Led by Unger and Founder/CEO Linda Ong, the premium boutique crafts bespoke cultural POVs for forward-looking businesses in media, entertainment, tech and consumer spaces. Launched in Fall 2020, CULTIQUE unites thought leaders, industry disruptors, academics, creatives and experts to maximize the impact of brands, content, and products in a world of constant change.
An award-winning cultural expert, Unger and her team of analysts are devoted to working with businesses such as AMEX GBT, Airbnb, YouTube, Apple, WarnerMedia, Disney/ABC, and NBCU navigate fast-changing times, recalibrate for new audiences, and cultivate growth in an uncertain world. Unger was named Media Play News’ 40 Under 40 list in October 2019 and has been a frequent commentator in media such as Forbes, Fortune, The Atlantic, and The Daily Beast.
Kelli A. White is the Director of Education for the Pacific Union Company in Napa Valley. Prior to that, her work as a sommelier, first at New York City’s Veritas and then at PRESS in St. Helena, has been covered by many of the wine industry’s top publications, including Food & Wine, Vinous, The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator, the San Francisco Chronicle, World of Fine Wine, and Forbes; in 2013 she was named one of Food & Wine’s top ten sommeliers in the country. Her writing has appeared in World of Fine Wine, GuildSomm, Robb Report, Sommelier Journal, Le Pan, and Vinous. At Vinous, Kelli was a key member of the maps team, and worked with famed Italian cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti to map many of the appellations of Napa Valley. In 2011, she co-founded a small wine brand called Houndstooth and she also made a brief appearance in 2015’s documentary Somm II: Into the Bottle. Her book, Napa Valley, Then & Now, was released in November of 2015 and has received enormous critical acclaim, winning both the IACP award for Best New Wine, Beer, or Spirits Book and a Graphis design award.
Natalie’s enthusiasm for viticulture and winemaking began in an inconspicuous way. She landed a gig at a local wine bar while attending the University of Oregon. Immediately she was smitten by the variety of wines grown all over the glove. A friend and mentor suggested working a harvest abroad. Recently graduated and fluent in Spanish, Natalie jumped on a plane to Spain in 2009 for vintage at Bodega Elias Mora in Toro. Once she had dirty vineyard boots and purple hands, suddenly her future became very clear.
Currently Natalie works as viticulturist and winemaker at Salvestrin Winery in St. Helena, Napa Valley where she spearheaded the transition of the Dr. Crane Vineyard to organic and regenerative farming. She continues experimenting with biodynamics. Natalie is very keen on farming as the key to premium wine quality.
She holds a BA in Spanish and Political Science (University of Oregon) and a Master’s in Viticulture and Enology from the University of Valladolid in Ribera del Duero, Spain.
We are grateful for our the incredible line up of speakers from our 2022 event series.