Iron Horse Vineyards CEO Joy Sterling sees her life as a series of acts. Her first was rooted in journalism. A Yale graduate, Sterling embarked on a career in news, leading her to become ABC News Deputy Bureau Chief in Los Angeles by the time she was 29. The sun rose and set around the evening news, which ruled her life.
After a decade in the news business, Sterling said it was time to try something new—joining her family’s winery at Sonoma County’s Iron Horse Vineyards. Sterling has become the second generation in her family to carry on the wine legacy.
“It was a little like Thanksgiving and having everyone do all the work preparing dinner, then [me] walking in the kitchen and asking if anyone needs help,” Sterling said about returning to home, laughing.
Iron Horse’s sparkling wine has paralleled her history going back to the mid-’80s. In November 1985, the White House selected it for President Ronald Reagan’s toast to peace at the first summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva. Since then, Iron Horse’s sparkling wine has been served at the White House across six presidential administrations. It’s a distinction that Sterling doesn’t take lightly, and she feels a sense of pride in seeing her wines showcased at such a prominent level.
Growing up in France shaped her experience not only with sparkling wine, but with wine culture and hospitality in general,” Sterling said. Her mindset: Every moment should be cause for celebration, even if it’s something as simple as an evening with friends.
“I think you should always have two bottles of sparkling in the fridge, just in case,” Sterling said.
Sterling also looks at the ways in which her wines, which are seasonally branded, could be paired with music. For example, she recommends the Iron Horse Winter’s Cuvée be served at a holiday celebration with the Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett collaboration, Cheek to Cheek, on a stereo.
An adventurer, Sterling has scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, run white water rapids in China and gotten up close with gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. She said that the Kilimanjaro experience shaped her mindset about how to achieve success.
“It taught me that you can truly achieve anything if you just take it one step at a time,” she said.
Sterling now prepares for what she’s calling her third act in political advocacy. Her primary passion is connecting rural communities with broadband access, an issue to which she was introduced through her position on California’s Food & Agriculture Board.
The winery itself is one of Northern California’s hidden gems. A drive down Ross Station Road in the west Sonoma County community of Sebastopol takes visitors down a rural dirt road, across a small bridge over a creek, and through a narrow passage lined with trees. The payoff is one of the county’s most spectacular views, looking over the expanse of wine country. Sterling lives on the property with three generations of family members who help with the winery’s operation.
Listen to the full podcast episode with hosts Mike DeWald and Carina “Coco” Sterzenbach and guest Joy Sterling.