April Gargiulo, the founder and CEO of beauty brand Vintner’s Daughter, grew up in the wine-making world, where supreme emphasis is placed on a wine’s terroir, the ineffable sense of place a bottle embodies. When April began developing a beauty product to address problems she was having with her skin, respect for terroir guided the sourcing and formulation of what would become Active Treatment Essence, a runaway bestseller. How ingredients -- and people -- are shaped by place and, in turn, shape their environment is of vital interest to April. Napa Valley, where her family’s vineyard is located, became world-renowned for its wine when residents harnessed the area’s unique geography to grow exceptional grapes. The spirit of community and passion for the land that guided those early winemakers continues to define Napa and influence people like April, who carry the local ethos with them into the wider world.
Learning about April’s work got me thinking not only about geographical terroir, which most of us are familiar with, but also something like emotional terroir. At heart, terroir is about home: the physical and spiritual landscape that makes a something particularly itself. What is a family if not the hyper-specific locale in which people grow? Emotional terroir might describe the confluence of relationships wherein people become the truest expression of themselves. April’s company is defined as much by her respect for the earth as her love for her family. As humans, we get to make choices about fostering and safeguarding both the geographical and emotional terroir of our environments. That capacity is an enormous responsibility and privilege, one April Gargiulo orients her life and business by.
Q. Where did you grow up? How did that environment inform your sense of place and terroir? I'm interested in terroir beyond its association with wine -- what it means for the products you make and also the way place informs your personal ethics and values.
The first thing to know is that I grew up the daughter of a farmer. The idea of valuing what comes from our Earth was instilled in me early. As a kid we lived in Florida; my father was farming tomatoes with the dream of growing grapes and making wine. We spent every vacation in Napa Valley in California; eventually my parents fulfilled their dream and bought a property there. Making wine amplified the philosophy that I had grown up with. To drink a wine that is really speaking of particular place and a particular grape at a particular time -- that’s like a time capsule. The values placed on process really left an imprint on me. If you want to make the finest of something in the world, you have to start with the finest ingredients and honor those ingredients through an intense commitment to and passion for the process.
Q. Could you tell me about the origins of Napa Valley as a wine-growing region?
Napa is an extraordinary place filled with passionate women and men who had a very audacious vision to create a wine growing region that was as well-respected and beloved as the great growing regions of France. They achieved that and more through incredible passion and commitment to quality and craftsmanship. They also did it by really embracing the ethos of “a high tide lifts all boats.” That idea is very real in Napa and something that I've always been very aware of and grateful for.
April at Gargiulo Vineyards wearing the Asilo Jumpsuit in Almond
Q. After college and a few years working in design in New York City, you moved back to Napa Valley to work with your family on their vineyard. What was that shift from the city to a more rural lifestyle like?
I was living in downtown New York at that time and the compression of the city started to be something I noticed and was less energized by. Then 9/11 happened and rearranged a lot of people’s priorities. I wanted to be closer to home, closer to family. At the same time my parents happened to be going from just growing grapes to actually making wine. They had this kind of blind faith in my ability to help, so that's what I did. Going from a big city to California, I would just marvel at the trees and stars and the natural world around me. I was wide-eyed again about how beautiful nature was.
Q. You decided to start your own business after working at the vineyard for several years. Vintner’s Daughter was created in part as an answer to your own skin care struggles. What was it like to not feel at home in your skin? I hear more in the beauty world about successful transformations than the emotional toll battling skin issues takes.
I grew up at a time when I wasn't so inundated with all the imagery we have today that is very destructive. So much of the beauty industry is based on fear, insecurity, and exploiting the issues that everyone has. I didn't have the constant barrage of perfection. Even though I was always dealing with crazy cystic acne, I never worried about covering it up. At that time there wasn’t the flywheel of fear and insecurity that these platforms rely on to exist and grow.
What makes me so happy is when we're able to take people out of that cycle. When we get emails from people who say to us, “This is the first day that I've walked out of the house in 10 years without covering up my face with foundation,” that's extraordinary. I have nothing against makeup. But if you're using it to cover up what you perceive as imperfect, or if you're using it because you think you need to be “corrected,” that’s different. I hope that we are able to help people develop a loving relationship with their skin, versus one of fear and disconnection.
Q. Did you have any doubts about the importance of the work you do? The beauty world can be dismissed as facetious or frivolous.
I never had any doubts. When you have the right relationship to the ritual of beauty, it provides deep connection to yourself. It's critical for everyone. I don't mean face oil is critical for everyone, I mean having those moments of deep connection with yourself, whether it is through beauty or it comes from walking in the woods, that is really important. Beauty can be part of that.
Q. Those moments of concentration and self-reflection and peacefulness can be more than just indulgent.
Yes. In those moments -- not where you’re trying to change or correct yourself but where you’re showing kindness -- you’re pouring energy back into yourself in a loving way.
Q. What are the other ways you do that for yourself?
I love being in nature. I love spending time with my family, I love my friends. Meditation is a huge part of my daily ritual. And Northern California is the most beautiful place in the world.
Q. I feel that way about where I live in upstate New York. Watching the seasons change is the best TV. What is a typical day like when you aren’t working and you get to be with your family?
We spend the weeks in San Francisco and then, as fast as we can, we go to Napa for the weekend. I am not a morning person so I sleep in as much as I can. Then it's my husband, my daughters, and I just walking around, looking at nature, going to the farmer’s market. We don't have animals but we live near lots of farms so we walk to the neighbors to see the goats or the donkey or the horses.
“If you want to make the finest of something in the world, you have to start with the finest ingredients and honor those ingredients through an intense commitment to and passion for the process.”
Q. Do you notice that your kids are one way in the city and one way in Napa?
Their hair is never brushed in Napa -- that probably goes for me too. Napa is a kind of wild existence: they can just go outside and get dirty and have adventures.
"...having those moments of deep connection with yourself... not where you’re trying to change or correct yourself but where you’re showing kindness -- you’re pouring energy back into yourself in a loving way.
Q. I've been thinking a lot lately about how people choose where they live when they have kids. You grew up in one place and now live in another. What is it like to watch your kids have a different sense of place, of home?
I don't know how California kids ever leave California. Obviously I'm biased but I just don't know where they could go that is better than northern California. Growing up, my parents and my whole family mythologized it in a way. Living here was a dream for my parents and I got brought along. To me it's just magical. We're so lucky to live on planet Earth and have so many opportunities for profound beauty.