Emma Swain, CPA

CEO, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery, Rutherford, Calif.

Some people think I work too much, but I really enjoy my job. I get to meet wonderful people all over the world who are interested in food and wine. We have fun together; we sell some wine and drink a little wine along the way. Many of the things we do are very social—entertaining people here at the winery, dining, and all of those fun things, but there’s plenty of desk time, too.

I graduated from the University of California at Davis with an agriculture-managerial economics degree, and I was very excited to get a job as a tax consultant for Arthur Andersen. I thought it was so cool. My first day on the job, there’re 30 of us all starting together, going through orientation, and they tell us, “Oh, by the way, we’ll reimburse you for the CPA exam.” And I thought, “What’s the CPA exam?” I still laugh at how naïve you are coming out of college, “Oh, I’m gonna go be a consultant.” You have to learn an awful lot before you can be one.

I became interested in wine in college. UC Davis has probably one of the best-known programs for winemaking, oenology, and viticulture, and I had a few friends in the program. Then when I would go home, my parents also had discovered an interest in wine. My father would pull out wonderful bottles—Chateau Montelena, Jordan, and Caymus from the 1970s and the Robert Mondavi cabernets and Storybook zinfandels of the early ’80s—and they were just fantastic. So I was very interested in wine, but I thought, “I can’t start taking all these winemaking classes—how am I going to get a job?” I had paid for a lot of my college education myself, so it was important to me to be employable. Little did I know there are good jobs in the wine business.

My accounting background probably makes me a little bit of a pain, because I know enough to ask the right questions. I’ve sold a couple of wineries and purchased other properties. It gives you the background to know where the issues are, where the opportunities are, and that’s very important. Those basic skills learned early—seeking the best business methodologies and the way you approach problem-solving—carry through to whatever industry you go with your accounting knowledge and training.

To me, if you’re not on Twitter and don’t have a business Facebook account, you’re limiting how people can communicate with you. It’s sort of like in the early days, people not having voicemail or email. Today, they might call, they might send you a letter, an email, they might tweet about you, they might want to send you a note on Facebook, but they want to communicate with you. If you’re not active in the channel they use, you’re missing an opportunity to interact with your customer.

My husband, Wes Jones, is a veterinarian. We adopt older Labrador retrievers, and all of them have come to work with me. When people visit the winery, they’re often traveling, and they miss their dog. Our Labrador, GG (pictured), is so sweet that people get their dog fix while they’re here. GG has the title Chief Cuddle Officer. She also has business cards, a Facebook page (facebook.com/GG.CCO), and a Twitter account. She’s currently lying under my desk snoring, but she’ll get up in a little while and wander around the visitor center and meet and greet a few folks.

The goal isn’t to beat other wineries or even emulate other wineries. It’s not a competition with others. No one is going to drink only St. Supéry wine. They’re going to drink all the wines they like. Hopefully, they pick us more often.

We try to make the very best wine possible and continuously improve it. For us, that means making estate wine. To say that wine is estate-grown is to have the highest level of control. If one drop of wine comes from anywhere else, you can’t call it an estate wine. You have total control over your vineyards, you crush (the grapes) in your own facility, you bottle them in your own facility, and that control and consistency make a big difference. You’re also going to have a team that can scrutinize it every year and look for ways to improve. That estate commitment makes a difference for us.

—As told to Neil Amato, namato@aicpa.org ,
JofA senior editor.


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