Apiece Apart Woman: Emma Lipp

Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp
Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp

"Women are builders. The builders of home, of culture, of civilization. We are nurturers, caretakers, stewards of humanity. We must also build our own dreams. We must nurture ourselves." As director of food at Sonoma's Scribe Winery, Emma Lipp is versed in hospitality, cultivating moments that bring people together to share, connect, and seek pleasure at the table. And yet, she tempers a love of the beautiful — the "unnecessary beauty" of wine against a picture perfect backdrop of rolling hills, persimmon harvests, and cheers-ing guests — with a fire for unpacking how these moments of ritual can actually challenge, change, and elegantly disarm. Born in Napa, Emma lived in Oregon and New York City before moving back to Sonoma to join Scribe, a winery conceived by fourth-generation California farmers that is leading a sea change in the way wine is produced and considered around the U.S. Situated on 200 acres, the property is centered around a restored 19th century pre-Prohibition winery (where these photos were taken), and is where the group has been intentional about creating experiences that challenge the norm of traditional wine tasting and production: Working with obscure grapes; fermenting traditional wines in atypical ways (skin-on Chardonnay, for example); combining unexpected pairings of food and drink. Below, a visit to Sonoma for a conversation on lessons learned, and things to keep working toward.
A portion of the sales of each Apiece Apart Woman story are donated to an organization of the featured woman’s choice. Emma has selected a part of sales that run through the weekend to be donated to La Luz, a Sonoma organization providing relief and support for those in need following the wildfires the area experienced earlier this fall. 

Photos by Gemma Ingalls, styling by Lauren Ardis, story by Leigh Patterson

apiece apart woman emma lipp

Can you share more about your upbringing and background? What might a stranger be curious to learn about you, or what background might give them context into who you are today?
I grew up in Napa, California in a unique, creative enclave. My parents met working in restaurants in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to Napa to work in the wine industry. They now have a small winery called Coho. My brother Sam is an artist in New York City who has a gallery called Queer Thoughts. We grew up with three kids our ages next door to us who are basically also our siblings, who are all also artists, Laura, Eric and Alison. Our moms both had Irish Catholic upbringings and our dads are both Midwestern Jews – oddly parallel in a small town. We made endless dances and plays and videos and crafts together, obsessed with Bowie and Sofia Coppola and Warhol’s factory scene.
I did a ton of theater growing up and then moved to Portland, Oregon for college, where it was my major. I felt very strongly about directing plays but uninspired by modern playwriting, as my interests were much more cross-disciplinary. I started making original performances, very sculptural, object-based work relying on movement over text. I managed to rope my friends into being in them, which I look back on with amazement, pride and total gratitude. Around this time I also got into wine in a serious fashion. I had always worked in restaurants, but never had remotely considered it a career. It seems so obvious in hindsight, having grown up in the industry, but it felt like a total epiphany when it happened. When I moved to New York I thought I would navigate further down the sommelier path, and also be involved in the experimental performance scene, but suddenly all the green lights in my life were more culinary. It kept feeling right, so I kept following the signs. I became David Tanis’ assistant and helped him with his NYT column City Kitchen for two years and his cookbook One Good Dish. I helped incubate NYC’s first sustainable fish market, Mermaid’s Garden, and Ned Baldwin’s Hudson Square restaurant (that began in Orient, Long Island), Houseman. I helped friends cater. I started a ceviche stand at the Bushwick Farmer’s Market called Loncheria. Suddenly, food projects were my art projects!
We’re always learning and relearning, discovering and rediscovering parts of ourselves. Tell us about what you’re learning about yourself at the present moment. 
For a long time in my unmoored young adulthood, I felt somehow cheated that I didn’t “have a mentor,” aka someone to tell me how to be an adult or a professional. Now, as I look back, I am so grateful that I didn’t mold my life or style or creativity or intellect on any one person or any one way of doing things. 
Now I trust in my interests, which have truly always been there. I always wanted to be self-sufficient and financially independent. I have never pictured any sort of specific domestic or romantic life for myself.  
There is so much emphasis in American culture on a career that is formed with a specific trajectory. I like to reject that mode of thinking. Having a title. An endpoint. I like to think about being a person, and having values, and doing tasks, and engaging, and seeking projects. And being the kind of person who gets better at all those things. And thus the career is formed in retrospect, with through lines or without them.

Apiece Apart Woman Emma Lipp

Tell us more about what it means to you to share a meal or an experience.  
You learn so much about a person through eating together – it can be very intimate, even though it is also inherently mundane. Food does not need to be precious. It is sustenance, and the processes around it are utilitarian. Yet elevating and expanding upon them ritually forms culture. We imprint it with all the signifiers. There is endless source material!

I am interested in challenging people out of their comfort zones or staid patterns, but hopefully in totally disarming ways. I believe that women have often been taught to be particular about food, which seems to relate to how women have also been taught to limit the inhabitation of their bodies, and how to take up less space in the world. I recently facilitated a woman’s first oyster, and then I watched her facilitate her friend’s first oysters. Learning to be discerning while being open and agreeable to food, and by extension, to the world, is a goal I would like to invite people towards.

What ingredients, pairings, or combinations of taste / texture / color are intriguing you at the moment? 
The way we cook at Scribe and the way I cook personally is in complete service to the garden and the farmer’s market. I run the kitchen with Kelly Mariani, and we work closely with our farmer Casie Giroux. There is nothing more fulfilling or inspirational than the sensory experiences of cooking with seasonal produce. It is very simple, yet transcendently pleasurable. Right now, the variety is actually insane. I harvested several hundred pounds of tomatoes from our garden last week, we have a cellar full of winter squash, we still have peppers and zucchini and eggplant, the chicories are starting to trickle in, we just got back beets and radishes. We have persimmons and apples and pomegranates. Learning how to honor these beautiful natural colors and textures and shapes, how to layer them with small details, that is everything!

I am genuinely very interested in the food of all cultures. It may not seem self-evident to serve certain cuisines as part of a wine tasting, and that is sometimes a point I’m after. Food is racial, it is gendered, it is political. Its issues are all encompassing. I love serving gumbo or black-eyed peas and collards with Pinot Noir. I love having Riesling with posole and chile rellenos. We all owe it to ourselves and each other to continually question the narrative. There is no context too small or big to do this in.
There is a lot of beautiful food out there right now, to be sure, and plenty to be enticed by. But I am most attracted to the concept of true satiation. Many dining experiences generally leave me desiring this fundamental element.  

I am also very easily distracted by the waste and irresponsibility of most food businesses. They are bulldozing pine forests in Mexico to keep up with our avocado habit. There is no such thing as “natural” or “sustainable” farmed salmon. Those of us with the power of captive consumers must be aggressively responsible with our choices, or we will be left without choices at all.

​​​​Apiece apart Woman emma lipp

People are often visiting the winery on vacation. What does it look like and feel like to work in an environment characterized by “vacation”? How and where do you find space for pause or rest?
Well, it’s a hustle for us. A beautiful hustle, but it is definitely work!

Wine is a great symbol of this dichotomy. Wine, unlike food, is a luxury – common, often primitive, but not essential to human life. To seek pleasure at the table, in good company, surrounded by natural beauty, is not necessary, but it is why wine exists. To celebrate life. Sometimes this pleasure seeking is not in balance… but when it is, when it is supported by the rituals of a meal, when wine allows the pace to slow and people to actually connect to one another, to the landscape… This is the fundamental elevation of the everyday. 

Personally, I need a day alone, ideally without even leaving my house, like once a week. I don’t always get it, for sure. I like to sleep like a teenager. The gym feels like church. I really like to read, and my greatest pleasure is the whole Sunday Times with coffee in bed.
What sustains you, emotionally, spiritually, and/or physically?
1. Speaking up. Believing in my own voice and in my own power to advocate for others. Forging a platform from and with which to advocate.

2. Fighting for economic power. Money felt daunting and auxillary to me for so long, especially as a creative person whose goals were always more idiosyncratic. I have always been determined to own the scope of my output. To have my own game plan, my own back-up plan. I have always been firm that my successes must not hinge on a romantic partnership. But I spent years chasing an economic context for my own existence.

3. Learning how to be a better boss. I am very interested in providing a sustainable work environment for people, which hopefully can be a cornerstone of a generally sustainable life. I want people to make real wages, to have access to real food, for their personal needs to be taken into account, to provide opportunities for people to advance and thrive. For so long I lacked any control in these regards — in my schedule, my income. I was told what to wear, how to act, how to speak. It was a process that was extremely educational and structured me with discipline and focus. But it was also demeaning and disempowering. I have certainly had wonderful bosses as well as the terrible ones. But I am glad I know what it is like to be fired. To be yelled at. To not be able to pay your rent and to have your utilities cut off. To be continually overlooked for opportunities. To be harassed. I am glad because as a boss, as a friend, as a human, I will do everything in my power to prevent these things from happening to people unnecessarily. We all have it in our power to be better people, to stop doing the things that bring down others. It is very common to preach about utopia and not change your own behavior.

4. How to feed people? How to protect the land? How to levy the economy? The big questions. We have created one small solution at Scribe, but what about the greater issues? The small successes motivate me, though – supporting the farming systems I believe in, the values I believe in, framing a space with intention and conviction.

​​apiece apart woman emma lipp

How could you be softer with yourself, embrace more fluidity, more water? 
I have been very outward working and inward holding the past few years. I have been working hard and cultivating patience. I have been learning and absorbing. There are things that I need to concentrate on now that are more personal, and I need to honor myself with the proper time and structure to do so. 
Women are builders. The builders of home, of culture, of civilization. We are nurturers, caretakers, stewards of humanity. We must also build our own dreams. We must nurture ourselves. 
Self-care is staying engaged, staying vigilant. It is taking care of yourself in all the individual ways one needs to stay engaged and vigilant. It is not tapping out because it is too much to deal with. THAT is relinquishing control.
Alternatively, what area in your life is craving a bit more edge, more fire?
Romance with a capital R! I have always been attracted to the difficult and mysterious. Travel. I am looking for some adventure, some wildness.