There’s a growing trend among 30-something moms of feeling unfulfilled with what keeps them away from their children eight hours a day but feeling lost on what to do about it.
When Sophie Gray, founder of Sonoma-based Sophie James Winery, came to this all-too-common career crossroad, she didn’t wait around long enough to feel lost. In fact, she’s seemingly never hesitated too long to overthink the decisions in her life. Instead, Sophie follows her intuition, leading her through a series of successful, yet wildly different careers, to the romantic mountaintop on which her blossoming business sits today.
With Sophie at the helm, Sophie James Winery is now one of the wine country’s most buzzed about properties with three signature varietals sold direct-to-consumer, a calendar full of swoon-worthy events and dreamy intimate dinners, and a devoted wine club with a long—yet very enthusiastic—wait list.
Aside from her hard work and dedication, we’d argue that the most intriguing thing about Sophie is how damn relatable she is. We all have that dream of walking out of the office Jerry Maguire-style to follow our heart, but it’s Sophie who pushed through the fear of the unknown and actually did it.
We sat down with Sophie to dig in on how to push against the inertia and make our decisions with purpose. Because above all else, when we’re feeling a strong urge to make a change, it’s our intuition speaking up for our heart—and we can’t miss that call.
Tell us a little more about yourself—who you are, where you’re from, and what song you’re playing on repeat right now.
Hello there! Well first off thank you for the amazing, kind and hilarious introduction – I have never been compared to Jerry McGuire but I must say it might be my favorite comparison yet! From my introduction you’ve learned that I am Sophie Gray and I run my family wine company, Sophie James. Both my husband, James, and I were raised in Marin County, we have two little girls – Amelie (6) and Penelope (4), and now split our time between Marin and our property on top of Sonoma Mountain. The song I have on repeat… ooohh that’s a fun question! We are sheltering in place right now on our mountaintop property and at the end of the day I have been releasing stress and letting loose for a family dance party and I just can’t get enough of:
Call on me (Radio Mix) – the music video is one of the best ever too
Feel So Close (Radio Edit by Calvin Harris)
… and when I want to chill At The River by Groove Armada
Please don’t judge me too much for those songs. Lol – they are so random but I swear they bring fun and also are great morning workout motivators 🙂
We love how fearlessly you’ve moved from career to career—you’ve been a competitive gymnast, a stem-cell research scientist, and now a successful winery owner. What made you take that big, scary leap to become an entrepreneur?
Honestly, I could write a book on it, but I will try to keep it short and sweet. My journey with Sophie James has actually been longer than most people think. Although we only launched Sophie James in late 2017 this has really been 10 years in the making. After moving up to the mountaintop with James in 2010 we spent years fixing up the property, converting the vineyard to organic farming, and then in 2012 we got married up on the property.
Then almost exactly 9.5 months later I had my first daughter, Amelie. At this time we were selling our grapes to another winery, and in 2015 I had my second daughter Penelope. I can remember these days being so simple and beautiful, but as the months went on the fire in my belly was beginning to grow.
Back in 2012, James had started another company (which he still runs out of SF) and by 2016 it became very clear that if we were going to keep our property in our family for generations to come we had to make it a working property. James and I did not inherit this property from our parents – we are first generation farmers and land owners. As we started to get to know other wine families and property owners, we noticed they all had “working properties.” It was essential, and we knew we had to do something if we were going to keep our beloved mountaintop property in our family forever. On top of this we had been selling our grapes to a big wine company that each year was trying to cut costs and pay us less and less for our precious, organically farmed grapes that they clearly did not value.
This experience motivated me so much. We put so much into our land, farming, and vineyard that I wanted to produce wine for people who loved it and share the magic of this mountaintop—both literally and through the wines. James and I had a vision to build our community both in nature and to connect with nature—the exact principles that had led us to this property so many years ago.
With James running another company, it was very clear that the only person who could spearhead and operate a business was me. With no experience in wine, sales or marketing it honestly seemed like a long shot but I figured we would launch with friends and family and if it never went beyond that I could say that at least I tried and did my best. So in October 2017, I dove into the deep end and we launched Sophie James with 60 members—all family and dear friends, and this was the beginning of it all.
What advice would you give other women who are in stable jobs but dream about breaking out with their own big idea?
This is a tough question because it is so scary to take that leap and go out on a limb. The most important thing I like to remind women who ask me this question is that Sophie James was a side hustle for many many years. Technically, I started working on Sophie James back in 2010 when I was 26—when we first moved up to the property and started fixing up the house, property and vineyard. It was during this time too that I began hosting our friends and family for dinners up on the mountaintop.
I didn’t have the idea to launch Sophie James until 2016 and from there on into our first year it was 5 to 15 hours per week. It wasn’t until 2018 that we hired our first employee and when Sophie James became a full time job for me 🙂
I would also tell them to remember that you have to be brave. Nothing really amazing and good will come out of easy times so you have to hustle, but listen to the universe. My advice is start small on the side— if something is calling your name, dabble in it and see where things go. If the universe wants it to happen then run with it, but if you feel like you’re running against the wind maybe slow down and wait until the time feels right.
I felt with Sophie James that the universe was telling me something—it seemed to be my destiny. I feel like I am doing something that brings out the best in me, and man it feels so good, but it has taken me 36 years of swinging and missing and swinging again until i finally hit that home run, which is our magical little wine company Sophie James.
In one of our favorite instagram posts, you say it’s important to share your story. Clearly, this approach has worked really well as you now have over 20,000 supporters on instagram alone. What do you think it is about your story that attracts so many people and why do you think we, as a society, crave stories in general?
Well here is the thing I truly believe—everybody has a story. But when we tell our story we are opening ourselves up to potential judgement and criticism and that can make a lot of people very intimidated. I made the decision a long time ago to be honest, transparent, and authentically me on social media.
I do all my social media and I write all the content. I saw early on that my story resonated with people so I just kept telling it and as things have evolved I have found that one of my favorite parts of Sophie James is this beautiful community. I feel very lucky that I knew a few very brave and inspirational women early in my life and it was seeing them and learning from them that gave me the confidence inside that I can go out and do amazing things too. But I realized a few years ago that it was because of those amazing women telling their story that made me believe that I could go out and be successful too, so it has become important to me to try to inspire other women to follow their dreams.
I truly believe in the saying “You have to see it to be it” and so I try to tell my story on Instagram so women can see it, and hopefully that will inspire them to take that leap and go after their dreams, too.
Was there ever a time when you didn’t think it would work and doubted yourself? What did you do to pull yourself out of that negative space?
Oh my goodness many many many times. Right before our launch I messed up and we put the wrong labels on thousands of bottles of wine. I freaked out and pretty much wanted to give up. James, being the experienced entrepreneur, said something to me that day that I will never forget—“Oh babe, don’t worry! You just had your first WFIO moment!”
With tears running down my face I asked him to clarify what a WFIO moment was?! He went on to explain that a WFIO moment is “We’re fucked; It’s over”, when a founder is certain that their start-up is dead and will fail. He also explained that it’s normal to feel this and I should get used to it because it will happen on a weekly basis!
This conversation comforted me but it also intimidated me, as I wasn’t sure I had thick enough skin. 2.5 years in I can assure you those WFIO moments have continued but I have also gotten tougher. 🙂 Now when I am down I just think back to our wonderful events where I’m connecting with our members and hearing their stories. It lifts me right up, and reminds me why I work so hard.
Along those lines, at Molly Jones, we’re big on finding a balance in life that works for you. As the founder, what does a “balanced life” mean to you? What do you do to strive for it?
For me, finding balance means getting time to work on my business but also getting to be with my daughters (not only physically be with them but also be there mentally when we are together). In the early days of Sophie James I was so overwhelmed that I remember times with my girls when I was so mentally distracted that I wasn’t present. More recently (but before shelter in place), I have been making a point to really separate work and family so that when I work I am all in and very productive and efficient, and when I leave the office for family time I am 100% with them, and not on my phone or working.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I have had the honor to work with and meet some of the most talented and incredible people that I respect and admire so much, and also connect with our amazing community. I feel so lucky to cross paths with people that inspire me. It really fills my cup, and Sophie James has brought this incredible network of people into my life that I really craved (and missed from my UCSF days) when I was in full time mommy mode and before Sophie James.
If you were writing a book about your life, what might your 2019 chapter be called?
Sophie got her groove back! Haha. Honestly though, 2016-2019 felt really out of control and insane. While it was so exciting to see Sophie James taking off I was so in over my head that I could barely enjoy a minute of it. On top of trying to care for my young daughters I just felt like I was drowning? but now I have a little team and feel so supported and all of a sudden feel in control and feel like I can really *enjoy* running this company instead of feeling like a hamster on a wheel.
Looking forward, what does being a woman in 2020 mean to you?
It means not doing it all. It means doing your best and cultivating a community and daily network that supports you, your family, and your business, to be the best version of yourself. I am trying hard to let go of perfection and be easier on myself – which means not always getting through my “to do” list but prioritizing my well being, family and being smart with my time. I’ll let you know how it goes! 😉
What’s the most resonant piece of advice you’ve heard recently?
I watched the Oprah Network the other day and it was INCREDIBLE. Oprah was talking about the fact that we all have different goals but we all want the same thing—we want to know that we have something important to say and that somebody wants to hear it.
We all want to know what is the gift you are meant to give to the world? Life is a journey and it’s really about finding what brings out the best in you…
Are there any other women-owned businesses you love that we should know and support?
Oh my goodness there are so many … I will start with some that we have recently partnered with
- Freda Salvador
- Nev and Hawk
- Little Tree Art Studio
- Lady Falcon Coffee
- La Saison
- Luna Mother Co
- All Together
- Shelter Co
Lastly, our favorite game, Quick Fire:
- CBD or THC (optional)? CBD
- Instagram or Twitter? IG FOR LIFE
- AOC or RBG? AOC
- Megan Rapinoe or Serena Williams? Serena!
- Hawaii or Mexico? I love both for such different reasons!!
- Beatles or Rolling Stones? Beatles
- Oprah or Ellen? Oprah
- In the car: music or podcasts? music
- Bikinis or one-pieces? One piece 🙂