Women in Wine: Mother and daughters operate all aspects of popular McCordsville winery

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For the past five years, siblings Jenna Cook, Stephanie (Cook) Pavilonis and Carlee (Cook) Farrell have produced wine at Daniel’s Vineyard, an 80-acre operation in tiny McCordsville owned by their parents, Dan and Kim Cook.

Jenna Cook, Stephanie (Cook) Pavilonis and Carlee (Cook) Farrell learned the craft after their parents planted a vineyard on the previously vacant propery, which they initially intended to sell. Dan and Kim bought the property more than two decades ago.

“When I graduated college, I went and worked under a retired (vice president) of IBM,” Jenna said. “She retired and started a winery, so I worked under her for about a year and a half and was her apprentice and learned how to use the equipment.”

“We transpired because of a push from the community,” Stephanie said. “When we planted in 2010, we weren’t planning on doing anything out here and were planning on selling everything off. At that point, everyone was wondering what the heck was going on out here, so with (the community) saying, ‘OK, you have a vineyard, and you’re not going to do a tasting room?’ We had to do something, especially since Jenna already knew so much about the wine, we thought, ‘Let’s do this.’ In that first year, in 2012, we sent our grapes down south (for production) to see what our potential was for our grapes, and it was great wine.”

In 2013, Jenna and Stephanie spearheaded the initiative to begin production on-site.

“I knew enough to get the grapes crushed and pressed and all of the big steps,” Jenna said.

“Then I kind of took on the chemistry aspect of it,” Stephanie said. “I always said if I was reading a book it was never for leisure or pleasure, it was for wine.”

The sisters were fast learners.

“In our first year of making wine, not to say that we didn’t have any idea what we were doing, but at the same time, we really didn’t have any idea,” Jenna said. “We knew we were smart and could figure out how to do it. So, we got some help from Purdue University and leaned on some other people to give us enough information to guide us through and start making the wine. Along the way, these learning curves were just tremendous, and somehow we got through them. We both have very unique styles. I’m more of the person that doesn’t have everything as precise, and (Stephanie’s) more of the perfectionist.”

Stephanie agrees.

“Not everything has to be by the book,” Stephanie said. “But record keeping is important and knowing what we’re going to do that day. Jenna has the artist brain, so it’s been great for us to level each other out on all these different aspects.”

Jenna said she initially began working with her parents two years after graduating in 2009 from the University of Kentucky, where she studied merchandising, apparel and textiles.

“After I graduated, I started painting a little bit, but they decided to plant a vineyard, and I thought, well, I like doing something different every single day,” Jenna said. “I like being outside, I love my family, so it all made sense.”

Two years later, Jenna moved to Chicago to pursue painting for two years, returning on the weekends to help out. However, because of the move, much of the production was left in Stephanie’s hands.

“For those two years, I was making the wine and she was painting and designing all the labels,” Stephanie said. “And she was always a phone call away to answer questions like, ‘Hey, Jenna, this is happening. What am I missing, what am I doing wrong?’”

“Or, ‘Hey, Jenna, I’m pregnant, we need a bottle,’” Jenna said.

“Yeah, then I got pregnant, so I had to step back and let go a little bit,” said Stephanie, who now has a daughter and is pregnant with a boy. “It’s been so wonderful to have this balance of helping each other and being a mom, which is obviously part of being a woman and trying to figure out that balance with work and motherhood. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have (Jenna) kicking (butt) here.”

In April 2017, the family opened its winery tasting room on the vineyard property, which has blossomed into a large, upscale event space for weddings and other occasions.

“All of us, my mom, me, Jenna and Carlee all designed our building together,” Stephanie said. “It’s a unique design, but we didn’t want to be just a barn, just a warehouse. We wanted it to be timeless with elements of masculinity and femininity. It’s our little black dress.”

In addition to marketing, Carlee runs the Daniel’s Vineyard Cellar Club, a customer group allowed to get early and VIP access to special and new wines, club-specific events and other activities.

The Cook family also owns and operates Cook Logistics, a trucking company.

“We have two businesses, so all the females in the family work (at the vineyard and winery), and all the males work with my husband at our trucking company,” matriarch Kim Cook said. “We, in general, tend to be an evolution. We’re not planners. Everything just happens as it happens.”

Jenna agrees.

“What makes us unique is that we’re all family and bring all of these personalities to the table to make it work, not necessarily that we’re rare in that we’re an all-female wine maker,” Jenna said. “We grew up with my mom who had five kids, and she always made sure we had something to do. When we got to school age, she took on a full-time job, and women weren’t really doing that at the time. So, she kind of showed us we could do it, too.”

GRAPE STOMP 2018

From 1 to 6 p.m. Oct. 14, Daniel’s Vineyard will host its fourth annual grape stomp. The public is welcome, and family participation is encouraged. In addition to grape stomping, the event will feature live music, food trucks and inflatables for kids.

Stomping is free, but ticketed time slots will be given upon arrival, and space is limited.

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