It’s 9 p.m. in England and Caroline McAughtry dials in, just past the middle of her workday. It’s late, but she’s still smiling. She keeps it up for at least the next hour, but I suspect she smiles most of the day. Since relocating from California back to England in August of 2020, McAughtry–formerly Boller–has maintained her U.S.-based job with Summerland Wine Brands. “I’ll usually go until 11:30 or midnight. I’m Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel,” McAughtry said of her role, and then described how it works. “I think before COVID-19, it would’ve been challenging for the company to accept this, but now everybody’s remote. When it came up it was very natural, they could see that [remote] did work. I have good communication, it’s been very smooth. I just do everything that I normally do.”
This year has been a giant year of change for McAughtry. Earlier this year, Hill Haven Provisions, the family business, was sold. It was a beautiful three-year-old restaurant in Solvang, California with what appeared to be an incredible menu. “It was a challenge, the restaurant business is a very tight business. I joke that I got my Master of Business Administration there, it was a really good learning experience,” McAughtry confessed. “It did really well the first year, and by really well I mean we didn’t lose money. The second year we had some employment turnover, but we had some really great write-ups. We sold it in February of 2020, and that was extremely fortunate,” she said of the pre-COVID-19 timing.
Restaurants are a notoriously challenging business, and McAughtry doesn’t shy away from the recollection. “The margins are extremely slim in the restaurant industry. It was a small space, 1,000 square feet, and that makes the margins harder. You’re reliant on X number of people to spend Y dollars. And Solvang is a unique place, it’s so tourist-based, but that was fairly reliable. Keeping costs under control was our biggest challenge,” she admitted. “I worked in the restaurant some weekends and did all the back-end things, the hiring, firing, payroll, ordering. I kept my day job that entire time, but I was always in charge of the wine list. I always loved to feature local wines, or wines people hadn’t tried much. There’s a story to tell with most wines.”
And while wine dominated her second job, it’s most of her full-time work too. McAughtry better described Summerland Wines, her employer of the last several years, and her role. The company is located next door to Solvang in Buellton, California. “A lot of what I do is in corporate law, to help facilitate the business forward. Like compliance law, every state is different and there’s federal law too, so 51 different sets of rules.” The business has capacity for nearly a million cases of wine per year, but that number won’t be reached this year. “It’s a mid-sized winery, the biggest in Santa Barbara [County], but there are others that are much bigger,” she said. “I enjoy wine, but I drink a lot less now. I don’t drink during the week. I love red and white. On white,” she thinks for a moment, “there’s a French grape, Savennières, that’s lovely, and on the red side, Cabernet.”
Wildfires have ravaged northern California wine regions each of the last two summers, and McAughtry details the impact on Summerland. “The biggest effect on us was that the insurance market tightened. We were not directly impacted [by the wildfires though]. We’re spot buyers, don’t have large contracts. There’s no vineyard land, we make wine from what we buy, geographically around Santa Barbara and the Central Coast [of California].”
And then we transition from the professional chat, to a more personal one, and McAughtry pauses, and then shares, “I wanted to go back to England for family reasons. I wanted to expose my very American kids to Europe, post-COVID-19, to the arts and culture. There are those things in the U.S., but it’s so spread out. We can take a 45-minute train ride to London. I made the decision that it was now or never,” she said.
Her two boys are 11 and 13, and McAughtry herself first left England for the U.S. when she was 12. “I felt like if we came [to England] later, they’d always feel like they’re in a foreign country. I saw my brother who was a few years older, it was harder for him [moving from England to the U.S.] If I was going to make the decision, it was now. It’s just difficult with COVID-19, I’m not able to show them the experiences that were so key in this decision.”
“I want to take them everywhere. Day trips to London to the theater to see plays, musicals, and art galleries–to experience city life. I can literally be in Paris in three hours. That’s pretty incredible. Flights from London are cheap, we want to explore the world,” she gushed with happiness at the plans.
It’s a relatively easy transition for McAughtry, but was complicated by a head-on, hit-and-run accident just weeks after landing in England. Her right wrist was broken and required surgery. “Here we were, trying to unpack, get ready for a new school, in the middle of a pandemic,” she gasps, and it’s of course an adjustment for her kids too. “I think they found school easier in America. We were at a great elementary in the U.S, really fabulous, but now the kids are learning French and Latin, and most kids have had several years of that already, and chemistry, physics, all in addition to what they had in the U.S. It’s pretty broad, a new experience, and it’s good to challenge them,” she said with a mother’s devotion.
In England, McAughtry lives in Royal Tunbridge Wells, in Kent county. “I wanted to live in Kent, it’s right on the greenbelt. I can turn left from my driveway and be in the deep woods, or I can turn right and go downtown. The trail network here is incredible, and I really enjoy the weather here too. Running in the rain is my favorite. I like mud, cold but not really, really cold.” She turns 46 in December and reflects on her current running. “I’m not in competitive shape right now. My relationship with running’s changed. I don’t wear a watch, I’m just enjoying the act of running, but I reserve the right to change my mind. That’s where I am right now.”
And where she is right now looks like a lovely place too.
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