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At the end of a long week, most hard-charging beauty executives relax with a glass of wine. Lisa Hawkins, however, prefers to make the wine.
This story first appeared in the August 10, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Dior executive’s idea of unwinding involves running the 88-acre Unionville Vineyards, located in Ringoes, N.J., which she and her husband John purchased in 2008.
Shortly after the pair bought their weekend retreat—a white farm house built in 1860 nestled on 25 acres—they learned that the “sleepy” family-run vineyard two miles down the road was for sale. They bought it, along with the skills of veteran wine maker Cameron Stark. Unionville now produces some 11,000 cases of wine, up from 3,000 when Hawkins purchased the property.
“Is it relaxing? No,” acknowledges Hawkins, senior vice president of marketing, education and events, North America, at Dior Beauty. “But it’s really energizing, and really fun,” she adds as she gives a tour of her weekend home. Outside, two gently weathered Adirondack chairs sit near a fire pit, just steps from acres of vines. As inviting as they look, Hawkins rarely sits there.
She’s been too busy overhauling the Unionville brand. She retained its moniker, which nods to George Washington and his troops, who once traipsed over the land, but created a new logo that pays homage to the land’s past with a ring of 13 stars around the vineyard’s original symbol, the fox.
Referring to her roles at Unionville and Dior, she says at core, the mission is the same: “Loving your brand and wanting to share it with people is the most important thing. It’s very much about storytelling here, just like any luxury brand.”
Hawkins, who is proving to be a quick study on viticulture, says vines on the property range from 4 to 20 years old, and the rocky terroir and shorter East Coast summer lend themselves to white wines, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling. “It’s all about balancing quality and quantity, finding that perfect storm where you prune the vines enough so you have the perfect grape, but still have a yield that will be profitable.”
While meandering through the steel wine tanks, Hawkins says she has had only one moment of regret. “The day I woke up and realized that I owned it,” she quips. “It is enormously complex. We are subject to the whims of Mother Nature, which tremendously impacts the outcome. You have to learn to be a little bit philosophical.”
But she’s fully enamoured with the venture, and someday hopes to apprentice with Stark. “There aren’t enough women winemakers.”