Hayes Drumwright FounderRead Bio
Vida Valiente is the fusion of Hayes’ three passions: family, philanthropy and wine. Founded by Hayes and his wife Susana, the Vida Valiente Foundation is a charity focused on helping first-generation low-income students attain last dollar scholarships for college. The name translates to “valiant life” and – having overcome the obstacles that might have impeded their own successes – Hayes and Susana are big believers in paying it forward.
A talented swimmer growing up, Hayes attended Boston University to study business and join the swim team. While at college and only 20 years old, Hayes was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.
Coming face to face with his own mortality at such a young age had a profound effect. His miraculous survival ensured he’d take nothing for granted for the rest of his life and gave him the clarity to move forward without concern for things like failure or embarrassment. That fearless new lease on life inspired him to start his first company at the age of 25, and quickly rebound when it failed four years later in the dotcom bust. He lost everything, but a year later he launched a new company called Trace3 with a hundred dollars and an unflappable spirit. His fearlessness paid off when he grew that tiny investment to over $500 million in revenue.
A love of wine was a natural consequence of that success and Hayes soon found himself spending almost all his free time in Napa, immersing himself in the personalities behind his favorite bottles. Still young and involved in his companies, Hayes refused to wait for retirement to dive headfirst into wine.
He founded Memento Mori along with his childhood best friends. It quickly shot to fame, thanks in large part to his founding winemaker, rising star Sam Kaplan. Over ten vintages, Sam helped secure #1 and # 2 bids at Premiere Napa Valley and a 100-point score, catapulting Memento Mori to international acclaim.
Among the first to discover Sam’s sophisticated winemaking style, Hayes recognized the perfect partner for his dream venture: a 17-acre St. Helena project that would become Vida Valiente.
The winery was conceived as a means through which to develop a self-sustaining philanthropy, The Vida Valiente Foundation. Profits from the Vida Valiente Estate winery enable the Foundation to provide the tools, investments and mentorship that help instill the bravery it takes to thrive as a successful adult.
Hayes found his own success applying the same bravery to his vinous ventures that helped build his career. In addition to managing Vida Valiente, Memento Mori and serving on the board of Trace3, Hayes is also the founder of POPin and InstantScale, an investment firm focused on early-stage startups from Silicon Valley. He has written regular columns for Forbes and Entrepreneur.com and published Management vs. Employees: How Leaders Can Bridge the Power Gaps That Hurt Corporate Performance.
Hayes remains passionate about investing in young entrepreneurs. A father of five, Hayes started the Little Entrepreneur children's book series, featuring children chasing brave goals to demonstrate how kids can accomplish special things no matter their age. In his free time, he loves playing the stock market with his 16-year-old son, collecting first edition books and rare pre-1933 gold coins with all his kids, exploring new restaurants and wines around the world with his wife Susana, and living a valiant life.
Susana Cueva Drumwright FounderRead Bio
Vida Valiente translates to “Valiant Life,” a phrase that was inspired in large part by the unlikely life path Susana Cueva Drumwright has walked with the help of incredible role models. Her unyielding belief in the importance of giving back is a natural consequence of that background.
Susana grew up in an urban part of Orange County, California, as a first-generation American and the youngest of eight. The daughter of a Mexican father and Guatemalan mother, she learned the value of hard work from her parents’ inspiring examples – especially her mother’s. Sent to the United States solo as a young girl, she spoke no English but managed to find work, eventually as a nanny with an employer whose mentorship and guidance was so impactful, it transcended two generations.
Growing up, Susana was profoundly inspired by her mother’s resilience and bravery. She watched her persevere through divorce and cancer. Susana’s mom was able to overcome crippling setbacks and eventually excelled in a career in medical devices, allowing her to travel the world and raise strong and resilient children.
After graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a Human Services Degree, Susana found herself a mentor of her own. Her brother-in-law, a tech entrepreneur, recognized Susana’s innate intellect and convinced her to join him at an e-commerce startup in Florida. He became the first of several mentors who gave her the confidence to know that she already held the key.
Susana found that she truly enjoyed her new vocation in tech sales. In 2014 she joined Trace3 to become part of their Client Engagement team and ultimately helped to lead their Innovation Briefing Program with the top Venture Capitalists in Silicon Valley.
In 2019 she had her first child with her husband, Hayes, and realized her calling was to help first-generation kids who don't grow up with brave, encouraging role models as she did. She conceived the Vida Valiente Foundation to connect first generation students to successful, risk-taking professionals from similar backgrounds, inspiring them to make brave moves in their own lives. Using profits from their Vida Valiente Estate Winery, the Foundation is self-sustaining, providing the tools, investments and mentorship that help instill the confidence and bravery it takes to thrive as a successful adult.
To Susana, a valiant life isn’t about “overcoming” adversity. It’s about leaning into it while showing oneself grace along the way.
When Susana isn’t working with mentors and students on the Vida Valiente Foundation, she is managing the Vida Valiente Winery with her husband. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, spending quality time with friends and family (including the five children she has with Hayes), and living a valiant life.
Sam Kaplan Founder and WinemakerRead Bio
For Sam Kaplan, all roads have always led to Napa Valley, going as far back as his childhood in Oklahoma. His father would order grapes via train from Napa Valley to blend with those he grew in their home vineyard, which Sam grew up stomping and later sampling as finished wines over family dinners.
Sam went to Lewis and Clark College in Portland hoping to follow in his physician father’s footsteps as a doctor. Instead, he followed his father’s other path, opting to instead pursue a formal career in wine while studying abroad in Spain. After living with another wine-loving family there, Sam grew captivated by the universal culture around wine and its powerful ability to bring diverse groups of people together.
A pivotal point in Sam’s life came while visiting a winery in the Willamette Valley. Walking into the cellar that day, the smell of fermentation overwhelmed him, sending chills down his spine. The intensity of aromas brought him back to his childhood, made him feel instantly at home, and cemented his calling.
After graduating with a Religious Studies degree, Sam was offered a role at Gary Andrus’ Napa Valley property, Pine Ridge. His instinct was to get a formal wine education, but Gary – now his mentor – convinced him to learn on the job, by farming and working harvests. Sam then went to ZD Wines, where he earned his winemaker chops working his way from the bottom up. He met his wife Nancy there, who worked on her off days to expand her palate as a Michelin star chef.
After seven years, the opportunity of a lifetime came knocking in the form of a winemaker role at what would become Arkenstone Estate. He helped design the Howell Mountain project from soup to nut with owners Ron and Susan Krausz. He remains Winemaker and General Manager for the Estate. His wines quickly became legendary for their depth, complexity, and balance, attracting the attention of Hayes Drumwright and his partners who were starting a new project, Memento Mori.
Sam founded his consulting business in 2010 to become Memento Mori’s founding winemaker and launched the very first vintage to immediate critical acclaim. He made headlines in 2016, when a pair of wines he made earned two of the top three bids (at $130,000 each) at Premiere Napa Valley.
After over two decades in Napa, a #1 bid at PNV, and a 100-point score later, Sam has a proven record putting wineries on the international connoisseurs’ map. When opportunity came knocking to join Hayes and his wife Susana in starting Vida Valiente, Sam and Nancy were up for the challenge.
Sam considers himself an “agriculture-first” winemaker and Vida Valiente’s sources are some of the most coveted in Napa Valley. He was especially attracted to the Vida Valiente Foundation and its mission of giving back. As the beneficiary of several great mentors, Sam believes in the power of role models in shaping the lives of talented young people. He and Nancy plan to be actively involved, not only in the Vida Valiente Estate, but in the Foundation and its groundbreaking mentorship program.
In addition to his work at Arkenstone, Memento Mori or Vida Valiente, Sam also collaborates with David Abreu on their Pritchard Hill project, Nine Suns as well as with Nancy on a Sonoma Coast wine label they started in 2015 called MAXEM, in tribute to their kids, Max and Emma. When he isn’t making iconic wine, he’s traveling, fly fishing with Max and Emma, exploring new recipes with Nancy, farming their garden, or blending artisan gins for his famous martinis.
Nancy Kaplan FounderRead Bio
As a CIA-trained chef, Nancy Kaplan has forged an impressive career path that has spanned famous New York City landmark restaurants to California’s most heralded Michelin-starred destinations, honing her craft alongside celebrated chefs who demanded nothing less than perfection.
Nancy grew up in northern New Jersey, just 45 minutes outside of Manhattan. Her family’s weekly Sunday outings exploring the city’s restaurants left a strong impression on Nancy’s palate, and her mother further encouraged her daughter’s epicurean interests in their home kitchen, experimenting with every type of cuisine under the sun.
After graduating from Loyola College in Baltimore, Nancy realized she was happiest when cooking. She landed a coveted traineeship under Executive Chef Michael DeGeorgio, the talent behind NYC’s famed Il Cortile, at his Mulberry Street restaurant in Little Italy. In just a few days, she knew she had found her calling. Under Chef Michael’s mentorship, Nancy gained enough experience to eventually enroll and graduate from his alma matter, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Poughkeepsie.
After an externship at Windows on the World, Nancy moved to San Francisco to accept a role at the city’s iconic Jardinière. When the position fell through at the last minute, she moved to Napa Valley on a whim to immerse herself in California cuisine for what was supposed to be two years before moving back east.
Fate had other plans. Not only did she fall in love with the food and wines of Napa, but she also met her future husband in up-and-coming winemaker Sam Kaplan while both were working at ZD Wines.
On Nancy’s days off at ZD, she continued to expand her skill set and palate, first managing gardens and pastry production at Terra Restaurant and eventually moving on to a Sous Chef role La Toque. She spent six years there, crafting Michelin star food and eventually being promoted to Chef de Cuisine before leaving in 2007 after the birth of her and Sam’s second child.
Both Nancy and Sam worked hard for every professional opportunity they earned, crediting the mentors they had along the way. Their similarly humble backgrounds and shared successes in Napa Valley helped establish a natural friendship with entrepreneurs Hayes and Susana Drumwright, who saw in the Kaplans ideal partners in their Vida Valiente project. Inspired by both the winery’s vast potential and the tangible impact they could both have within the foundation, Nancy and Sam were up for the challenge.
In her spare time, Nancy has a hard time sitting still. In addition to keeping busy with her and Sam’s teenage kids, Max and Emma, she helps manage MAXEM, the Sonoma Coast wine label they founded in 2015. She also enjoys reading, running, skiing, camping, hiking, biking, gardening and loving on the Kaplan’s golden retriever.
Genevieve Echavarrie General ManagerRead Bio
A wine country native, Genevieve Echavarrie grew up surrounded by talented winemakers and inspiring industry thought leaders in the Russian River Valley. She started working in restaurants at the age of ten, eventually working her way up to fine dining after graduating from San Francisco State with a BS in Hospitality Management.
After ten years working in some of San Francisco’s most lauded restaurant landmarks, Genevieve moved to Napa Valley, where she briefly managed operations for winemaker Rob Lawson’s consulting umbrella before soon becoming the Director of Hospitality and National Sales for Anomaly Vineyards in St. Helena.
Working right next door to Andy Beckstoffer’s Las Piedras Vineyard, Genevieve fell in love with the terroir. She was already a huge fan of Sam Kaplan’s winemaking at Arkenstone, so when she saw him driving up Vallejo Street in his VW one day, she knew she had to join whatever he was part of that involved this special site.
Genevieve joined the Memento Mori team in 2015 as General Manager and Director of Client Relations and has taken the label from strength to strength ever since.
Her years of leadership expertise played a critical role in transitioning Memento Mori into a 17-acre estate home in 2023. Her shrewd executive instincts, generous capacity for mentorship, and relentless pursuit of excellence offer innovative leadership at an estate that is already reimagining what it means to be a luxury wine label.
When she’s not conceptualizing a new label or managing a new vintage release, she is usually prepping to host a dinner party with her husband (Master Sommelier Des Echavarrie, of Scale Wine Group), spending time with their daughter Eloise and their dog, Riley, or pursuing her longtime love of dance.
Lacey Burke Director of SalesRead Bio
Lacey Burke has helped build iconic, luxury brands for over a decade. With a special emphasis on fine wine, her expertise in high-touch client experiences, events, creative education, sales and public speaking make her the perfect fit to curate Vida Valiente’s ever-expanding menu of bespoke client initiatives.
Born in Bangor, Maine, Lacey spent a formative part of her childhood living a block away from Stephen King, whose looming presence inspired a vivid imagination from a young age. A storyteller at heart, her creative flair enabled her to add additional color to almost every interaction and pursuit, though she was always especially drawn to the theater of restaurants.
While fashion originally drew her to New York City, it was a pivotal experience early in her wine career that shaped her future. One night, while working at a chic downtown wine bar, a couple came in and asked for “the most expensive Champagne on the list” – Krug Grande Cuvée. They insisted Lacey try it, and her life was forever changed after a single, explosively expressive sip. She’d had Champagne, but this was different.
One of her mentors encouraged Lacey to pursue her advanced certification through the American Sommelier Association. Her career took off from there. She spent five years as a sommelier at Michelin-starred restaurants Gotham Bar and Grill and Del Posto, was tapped as a regular panelist for Wine and Spirits magazine and became a three-time panelist for The New York Times column, “Wine of the Times” by Eric Asimov.
Looking for the next step in her career, she was recruited by Moet-Hennessy to work on the Ruinart Champagne brand team, and eventually with the LVMH Private Client team, where she spent seven years representing some of the world’s most coveted luxury wine brands. She then set her sights on California and became Realm Cellars’ Global Sales Director.
In June of 2021, Lacey was connected with Hayes and Susana Drumwright at an East Coast fundraising event. When they told her about Vida Valiente, she was inspired by their brave new project. The serendipitous introduction led to her joining the small Vida Valiente team as sales director.
When Lacey isn’t working on Vida Valiente, she is pursuing all things indulgent. She loves anything involving the ocean, wine drinking and collecting, 90’s hip hop, cooking and discovering new restaurants, fashion, yoga, volunteering at her local food bank and Tarantino films.
Sierra Millet Director of HospitalityRead Bio
Growing up between Los Angeles and the East Bay during her formative years informed Sierra's innate curiosity about people and their diverse stories from a young age. She quickly found that food and wine is a natural conduit for good conversation and gravitated towards managerial roles in the worlds of grocery and premium coffee before ultimately finding her way into wine.
Drawn to the similarities between coffee and wine—both rooted in the concept of growing regions and meticulous sourcing—she became the Tasting Manager for R. Stuart & Co. in Oregon, reveling in the craft of single vineyard wines and the art of their expressions of such distinct terroirs.
Eager to deepen her roots in the industry, Sierra moved to Napa in 2018, starting with a role at Cakebread Cellars and eventually landing at Mark Herold Wines, where she was Hospitality Manager for four years, developing a taste for curating luxury experiences.
Fueled by admiration for Sam Kaplan's wines and a bullish enthusiasm for the Coombsville AVA, Sierra soon found herself drawn to Vida Valiente. The philanthropic element and the Vida Valiente Foundation's mission resonated deeply with her, amplifying her drive to make a positive impact through her career in wine.
Sierra's commitment to her work goes beyond professional fulfillment—it's a personal mission. She believes in what she does, and her move to Vida Valiente is a testament to that. With a keen talent for storytelling through terroir, Sierra is thrilled to have the opportunity to share the narrative behind these wines.
Sierra's adventurous spirit often takes her camping, pursuing water-centric adventures, or finding solace in the serene beauty of Tahoe. Her Colombian husband, Juan Alvarez, shares her love of travel and exploring the world. A lover of Champagne, Sierra also enjoys crafting cocktails with Juan, who brings a wealth of restaurant expertise to their home bar. Their extensive wine collection leans heavily on local Napa Valley gems.
Sierra is also a big animal lover, and has made a home for Nedifer Hank Jones, a three-legged rescue who showed up at her door one day, and Xena, a rescue kitten named for her warrior princess spirit, discovered on the side of the road.