A Sip Wines "Winelight"
Elan Fayard, Proprietor
We all have a "claim to fame," right? Some are obviously more interesting/exciting than others. Arthur Fry, for example, invented the Post-It Note. Barack Obama was the first Black man to hold the office of US President. Mine is probably that I make excellent quick pickles, at least in my neighborhood circle. And then there's Elan Fayard, Proprietor of Azur Wines located in Napa Valley, who pretty much introduced dry rosé to the US. NO BIG DEAL, she basically just made summer the delightful celebration that it is for an entire country. Intrigued? You should be.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
After all, it’s a very good place to start. So, you know how baby animals have this instinct to “imprint” on their mother? Well, I got the impression that Elan imprinted on wine at a very young age, shortly after her family moved to Sonoma County.
Actually, as Elan describes her early discoveries in the wine world, it sounds like she got to experience all of the romance with none of the stress that comes with any business. Her parents were not "in" wine, they just really enjoyed wine tasting, and Elan and her sister came along for the ride (not the wine, to be clear).
Listening to Elan describe these early experiences was kind of like when people reminisce about how pleasant air travel used to be. The Napa wine scene was very different in the 80s, far less flashy and fancy and far more family-oriented. Farmlands, cheese factories, and children welcomed in the tasting rooms--for Elan, wine represented a beautiful celebration of family, community, and love. Still does.
Et voila, c’est une Francophile!
Elan caught a serious case of Francophilia in high school; by college she was studying French, and her exchange year in the Loire Valley sealed the deal. On her Francophile status, but more importantly, her path to wine life.
The Loire Valley, located in central France along the Loire River, is one of the most renowned wine regions in the world and has been for a very long time. Elan wasn’t there to study wine--she was an international communications major--but I think anyone who sets foot in the Loire Valley will absorb wine culture through osmosis, and she was no exception, spending several more years studying and working in Southern France.
This is the point at which Elan’s story deviates from many of the other winery professionals I’ve spoken with, because even though she was dedicated to working in the wine industry, she still wasn’t planning on making wine. Her background was in communications and PR, and that’s where she planned to stay.
All she wanted was a good glass of rosé.
Sadly, it was nowhere to be found, not even in Napa. Not like what she was looking for, which was that gorgeous, dry rosé that she fell in love with in France. White Zinfandel was not an acceptable substitute. So, what’s a woman to do?
Well, if you’re Elan, you put on your rock star pants and make your own. And do it really freaking well. Elan became the rosé pioneer of Napa, deliberately and intentionally making dry rosé in a way that no one else was doing. And, as is so often the case for pioneers, she encountered a lot of resistance and uphill climbs along the way.
It’s hard to believe given how popular rosé is now, but even in the late 2000s, rosé was viewed as the “ugly stepchild” of wine. Particularly in Napa, “cab country,” where bold reds reigned supreme, people thought Elan was either crazy or stupid for trying to make rosé happen. How wrong they were!
Just taste it already!
Haha, that’s literally how Elan got people hooked on her wine. She basically hit them over the head (metaphorically) until she convinced them to try it, and that was all it took. But honestly, it shouldn’t have been that hard, so let’s also briefly address the other aspect of her battle.
I’ve written on this blog before about the challenges facing women in the wine industry. Like so many historically male-dominated industries, women have really had to fight to claim their place and voice in the wine world. For Elan, that fight was even harder because she was fighting for rosé, a style of wine that was not only not respected, but also perceived as “feminine"... which, maddeningly, was intended as a criticism, dismissive, not a wine to be taken seriously. A double whammy for a female proprietor in the wine industry.
Fortunately, she persevered. She branched out into premium cabernets, red blends, the big bold wines Napa loves to love. She convinced people to try her rosé, which was all it took to hook them and their interest in her full wine repertoire. She’s not playing with the “big boys”--she’s showing them that big girls also play hard, and win.
Empowered women empower women, and Elan is no exception.
In addition to making outstanding wine, Elan’s newest project is a series of women’s retreats, Luminous Retreats, in Napa. Her focus is mindfulness and wellness, which surprisingly pair incredibly well with wine; consider the experience of tasting a wine the way it’s meant to be tasted, in a prolonged, focused, present moment. That’s the exact same kind of exercise that mindfulness employs, allowing a centering and anchoring of self to achieve calm.
I was instantly enamored with this concept and wanted to understand how she arrived there. Her answer moved me: coming from a place of great change in her adult life, she began to reflect on how she could contribute, serve the world, and make things better. She reflected on the incredible support that other women had offered her, and wanted to lift up other women the way she had herself been lifted.
Amazing. As you can probably imagine, I will be signing up for a retreat.
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And so, as you pop open the rosé on a gorgeous summer day, know that Elan likely played a pivotal role in bringing rosé into your life. Obviously you should try hers, but why stop there? Get yourself some red from Sip Wines for when the sun goes down, and since we wouldn’t want her delicious whites to feel left out, go ahead and add that to your cart too. You can thank me later.