It’s no surprise that running a business with family is challenging--some of us can’t get along with our parents or siblings at the best of times. So, when I visited The Grange Winery in Prince Edward County this past summer, I started to wonder how Founder Caroline Granger and her daughter and business partner Maggie Granger manage to run one of the county’s oldest wineries together. Caroline got started 17 years ago, and Maggie made the decision to step into her role seven years ago.
We recently spoke in early November, in The Grange’s last week of harvest, to talk about their relationship, how they work through arguments, and what her mother is teaching her about being a woman in business:
YI: What’s it like working with your mother?
MG: It’s really great to work with somebody who is so committed to what you’re doing. We have really committed staff, and if they stay for 10 years it’s amazing, but everybody sort of moves on, and everyone has their own projects. So, it’s really nice to work with someone who appreciates the breadth and scope and commitment. You have to work seven days a week, and we both know we’re going to show up seven days a week, because that’s what you have to do.
YI: Your mom has said that she’s much more invested in the history of the business than you. What’s your purpose in the business?
MG: She founded the business 17 years ago, but she’s also going to want to retire at some point. With a vineyard, 40 years is really just the starting point. So, if I’m able to take this another couple of decades further, then we’re really going to start seeing the potential of the vineyard and the farm. It’s important to have a partnership that can span more than 20 years.
She might also be sensitive to the work I’m doing, especially because I do marketing; I’m responsible to keep our graphic design up-to-date, and I’ve changed the look and feel of the websites and label. She can feel at times that we’re moving away from something. But, I would disagree with that. Good design is true to the core and heart of the brand, by keeping it fresh and current.
You have to work seven days a week, and we both know we’re going to show up seven days a week, because that’s what you have to do
YI: Why did you step into a leadership role and not your brothers?
MG: I’m the eldest child, so that has something to do with it. I also think that boys find wine interesting later in life. Through my experience on the tasting bar, we see more young women, in their 20s interested and showing up with their friends and families, but we don’t see a lot of young 20-something men taking the same initiative. I think that’s probably part of what holds my brothers back from this business; it’s not so meaningful for them yet. But they’re both young, so it’s more than likely that they’ll find a way to engage with it later on.
YI: How has your relationship with your mom changed, since you’ve become business partners?
MG: She’s always been the boss of me. I grew up with a single mom, and she was mom and dad, and she ran the household, and she took care of everything. I’m kind of used to her being a boss gal. It really isn’t that different seeing her run the show, and seeing her in charge of everything.
ON GROWING UP WITH A SINGLE MOTHER
YI: What was it like hanging out with your mom as a kid?
MG: She and I have been buds from the start. It was great being able to have my mom all to myself. My little brother was born when I was four, so for the first little while it was just us. Then when I was 10, I had two little brothers, and she was single mom running the show. She drove me to every school dance and pottery lesson, while she was in school trying to learn how to be a winemaker, and she was starting this business. I remember a Friday night when I forgot my fancy platform flip flops for my school dance, and she drove an hour out of her way to bring them to me, with two little kids. She was an impressive lady.
YI: What about when you got in trouble? How’d you know you were in trouble with her?
MG: She doesn’t mess around on that sort of stuff. She’s a tough mom. You hear your full name. It bellows through the house. You either hide or come running.
YI: Do you still hear your full name in the vineyard?
MG: Maggie laughs. For sure, she runs a tight ship at the winery. She wants me to learn everything that she has to teach me. She can’t let little things fly. She has to go, “well, if you do it this way, this will happen, or that will happen.” So, some days I feel like I’m on the chopping block, and it’s good. It’s the only way to learn; it’s the better way to learn having hard tension right away, rather than have the little things fall through the cracks. I appreciate her chasing me down and keeping me in line.
ON HER WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH HER MOTHER
YI: What have you learned from your mom?
MG: Certainly not to take any crap from anybody. She runs a business of all-female management--she’s taught me how to have this unique perspective, and to be thoughtful about the decisions you make; you can hire anybody, but who is the right person, and what kind of culture do you want to build? She’s built this really lovely culture at the winery that allows women to thrive and encourages women to thrive. It’s sort of a side of feminism that I hadn’t got to on my own, so it has been really amazing to work in that environment and work with these women and learn from them.
YI: How do you work through indifferences or arguments together?
MG: Often we both need to take a time-out and a pause and revisit. She brings 17 years of experience to all of the decision making that she does, and I bring what I hope to be a fresh perspective, so both sides are valid and different.
I may want to push things a little too far, and she might want to push things back. As we work towards finding something in the middle, we often find a better solution. It’s definitely not day one; it’s like day five. We need time and perspective, and we need to set some maybe slightly passive aggressive emails, making a little poking, and then usually we’re ready to come back to it and find that solution. We’re both really passionate and confident so we bring lots of energy to the decisions that we want, so it can be a challenge to bring that down, make it less personal and make it about the work. Often, it’ll take some time to depersonalize.
She wants me to learn everything that she has to teach me.
ON THE FUTURE OF THE VINEYARD
YI: What motivates you to keep going every day?
MG: Well, when you have things that are live, and you work with vines that are living and growing, and wine that is fermenting and changing, neither of those things can take a day off. In a lot of ways it’s like being a parent rather than being a boss--the work can’t wait. Her experience as a mother makes her an incredible winemaker, cause she has that perspective. Not having that personal experience, some days I’ll be here physically, even though I’m a little mentally checked out. But I drag my butt, because that stuff is growing, and you have to be there for it.
I also know that in winter, I definitely get at least one day off. It’s not seven days for 12 months of the year. When it’s go time, that’s your opportunity. That’s when the vineyards are thriving; that’s your opportunity to take care of them and produce the best fruit possible; that’s when the tourists are out, so that’s the one opportunity to show yourself well and show your wine and business. All of these people have a special experience, and they’ll want to come back; they’ll tell their friends, and that’s all really important when your marketing budget is a handful of people’s budgets. We know we have to put our best foot forward for eight months of the year.
YI: How do you both make time to think about the future of the business?
MG: That’s tough. We still haven’t really hashed that out. That’s part of our future planning: how to do future planning properly. When there’s tractors breaking down, and wines fermenting, and staff with challenges it’s really easy to focus on the immediate; we run a hospitality business and that’s constantly like, “how are we going to make this work today?”
YI: What’s your hope for the future for The Grange?
MG: Well certainly after a bit of a challenging vintage in the vineyards, I really hope that over the course of the next decade we’re able to find ways to make the vineyard thrive. So, definitely being able to take the vineyards to the next level, is really going to impact the longevity of this business and the success of the business. Getting more time to explore what the vineyards need and how we can evolve, will be amazing.