Michelle Carey, a professionally trained chef and Georgia native, and her sommelier husband, Scott, set their sights on winemaking in 2015. In true joie de vivre fashion, they took off to Napa where they founded Emerald Hare, a wine company producing chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, rosé, and a red blend. Banking on our bustling food scene, Michelle and Scott brought their wine – complete with a label painted by Steve Penley – to Atlanta and prepared to launch it in some of the city’s most respected restaurants and markets. Their current roster includes Lucy’s Market, KR Steakbar, Lingering Shade and more, and they’ve even expanded into other southern states, too. However, within months of arriving in Atlanta, Michelle was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Instead of corking her dream, Michelle sought treatments at Piedmont Hospital while using our wine-loving town to grow the Emerald Hare brand. Today, Michelle is cancer-free, splitting her time between Napa and Atlanta, and building an East meets West wine empire. Today, we’d like to cordially introduce you to Michelle Carey, our FACE of Atlanta.
Why was it important for you to launch in Atlanta and attend as many tastings and events as you can?
We’re first generation winemakers and winery owners. We literally were just following a passion. We followed our gut. Even when we had our distributor pick us up here, I knew in my gut I wanted to get out there and introduce people to our wines personally because I feel like who’s better than us, the creators of the wines and the brand, to talk about the inspiration behind it, why we like our wines and what foods they pair with. What’s been great about our wines is our wines are really good; they’re delicious. When people taste our wines, they like them. It wasn’t easy, it took a lot of legwork on our part, and it still takes a lot of legwork on our part to get our wines into restaurant accounts and store accounts. But when people taste our wines, they can tell – especially for the price point and the quality. Some people have labeled our wines as “a California wine with a Georgia soul.” We have this neat local pull.
Your logo was painted by famed Atlanta artist, Steve Penley. Why was Steve an obvious choice for the bottle art?
When we came up with the concept “Emerald Hare,” we had known of Steve Penley’s work from some of our friends here in Atlanta. We just knew he would be the best artist to be able to capture our vision of the emerald hare. I love the vivid colors he uses because I feel like they’re so inspiring. I want our wines to inspire people and to bring hope to people. He really captured the emerald hare so beautifully and perfectly. Even if you look at the eyes of the emerald hare, there’s so much hope. Then if you look at the whole face, there’s a little mischievousness to him like he’s up to something. We’re so fortunate to have had him paint it.
I would be remiss not to mention that as of spring 2018, you are a proud cancer survivor and officially cancer free. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little more about your diagnosis, and how you got to where you are today?
It was so interesting that our business brought us to Georgia. We don’t have any family in the northern California area. It’s really incredible that our business brought us to Atlanta [where my family lives]. It was last April, Mother’s Day of all days, that Scott and I got back from a run, and I felt a little lump above my right collarbone. I massaged it for months and thought surely it would go down. As women, we’re taught to check our breasts for lumps, but we’re never really told to look above our collarbone or other obscure places. Months went by, and I started noticing some fatigue. I waited from May until September to go see the doctor. I got a slight respiratory cold, and my body was having trouble fully fighting it, and I just wasn’t getting better. I went to the doctor, and they didn’t like how I had swollen areas above my collarbone, so I went to the emergency room at Piedmont to get a CT scan. Through that, they saw that my lymph nodes were swollen and that I had them in my upper chest that were swollen, too. They wanted to do a biopsy, and through that, they were able to see a certain type of cell, the Reed-Sternberg cell, that diagnoses Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which is a blood cancer.
It was so crazy because the day the hospital told me the words Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, before I was fully diagnosed and before the beginning of so many amazing miracles where we really saw the presence of God in this world, we were going to do a charity event called Wine into Water hosted by a friend. We had never heard of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma until that day, but when Scott mentioned to her what was happening, she told him her brother had the disease as a teenager, went through treatment, and was cancer free now. Her mom sent Scott an email within 24 hours with everything we needed to know to prepare us for chemotherapy and how I would feel. Throughout this journey, there have been so many ways in which people have been there with messages of hope.
How can people have a difficult conversation about something like cancer with a friend or loved one?
What you really need from other people is to see their fearlessness, too. That’s what helped me. All you want to know is that people are thinking positive thoughts about you and are encouraging you along the way and keeping this fearless attitude towards what you have. I think a lot of people are scared of cancer, and that’s not what people need to be. Instead of asking, “How can I help?” send them something cheerful or uplifting like a card in the mail. A card that says “I’m thinking of you,” or if you pray, “I’m praying for you.” The most important thing to tell someone going through cancer, and you don’t know exactly how their journey is going to end with them with cancer, is to let the person know, “You have this. You’ve got this.” It doesn’t matter how it ends. It’s like a metaphor for life. We all pass at some point, and we’ve got this. You can do this. You can get through this. Obviously stay positive that you’re going to be okay, but no matter what the outcome is, remember that you’ve got this.
Despite this obvious hurdle, it seems as though you have not let this roadblock get in your way. Emerald Hare surged on and so did you. Why was it important for you to keep your eye on the prize, so to speak?
Our passion for what we do with our business is what keeps us going. Things aren’t always perfect in our business or in life. There are ups and downs. It’s when you’re down that you discover you really have to hold onto that fearlessness and that passion. That’s what keeps you going. Emerald Hare has been so fulfilling. With everything I put into it, I get a lot back.
Traveling to wine country is a must-do for many women. If you were to give just three places people should visit during their trip, what would you say? What are the must-dos of Napa?
Napa and Sonoma and the surrounding counties, where we source our grapes from and make our wines, are just breathtaking. It is beautiful. I would definitely recommend the mud baths in Calistoga. Calistoga is known for their mud baths, and they have mineral spring pools. If you’re going to go to a vineyard or high-end winemaker in Napa Valley, one of my favorites is Corison. Cathy Corison is a female winemaker, and she’s been making wine in Napa Valley for years. A third thing to do is go on a hike. There are some really beautiful hikes in Napa Valley.
Besides Emerald Hare, what is your go-to summer wine of choice?
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
The best advice I’ve received recently is “You’ve got this.” That advice helped me through and honestly, translates into life in general. I think everyone can wake up every morning and say to themselves, “You’ve got this.” It’s your little pep talk to yourself. Self-inspiration.
Excluding faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Passion. I have to live with passion in order for me to feel really fulfilled whether that’s me working on Emerald Hare, my relationship with my husband or my relationship with life. I love to cook, so definitely cooking and the culinary world. I love pairing foods with wines. And a creative outlet. I always need an outlet for my energy.
Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your inspiring journey and your passion for wine with us! To discover where you can find Emerald Hare near you and to learn more about the brand, visit emeraldhare.com. Special thank you to Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography for the fabulous photos of Michelle.
Read about even more inspiring Atlanta women in our FACES archives. Click here.