Men remain the dominant force within the American wine industry but women are making strong headway, especially here on the Central Coast.
That was the message at the Women in Wine Celebration, staged at Tooth & Nail Winery’s imposing castle on April 9 and hosted by the Paso Robles Rhône Rangers. The event was originally scheduled for March, leading up to International Women’s Day and in celebration of Women’s History Month noted Kim Murphy-Rodrigues, executive director of the Rhône Rangers national chapter. A scheduling conflict prompted the event to be rescheduled, making it a celebratory pre-Mother’s Day event.
“The Central Coast has a large number of women winemakers, more than Napa Valley,” noted Brianne Chase, associate winemaker at Rabble Wine, the parent company of Tooth & Nail Winery.
When studying wine at Cal Poly she figured about 20 percent to 30 percent of her classmates were women. That number is now much larger, she said.
Winemakers such as Amy Butler of Ranchero Cellars and Janell Dusi of J. Dusi Wines attend these tastings as sole owners of their brand. However, Murphy-Rodrigues, owner of Vigo Vineyards and a veteran of the industry for 30 years, noted that this particular event was also meant to highlight women working behind the scenes. For instance, representing Derby Wine Estates was Sandy Throop, a CPA who handles finances and winery operations, while national sales manager Stacy Bonnifield greeted attendees at the Eberle Winery table.
This combination of women winemakers, winery owners and other industry professionals represented some 17 wineries. None of these women pouring a wide variety of Rhône style wines were joined by their husbands or partnering male winemakers (Although I did see Hal Schmitt, founder/winemaker of Volatus, standing behind his wife Victoria while she offered their 2016 Fox Three, a delicious syrah-grenache-Tannat blend).
“Jeremy and I collaborate on all the wines,” said Chase of Jeremy Leffert, director of winemaking. T&N’s parent Rabble Wine Company produces 75,000 cases annually of some 30 wines ranging from Bordeaux and Rhône varietals to pinot noir, chardonnay, albariño and tempranillo. The four brands include the largely distributed and affordable Rabble wines, the popular T&N and the two small lot, barrel selected wines of Amor Fati and Stasis.
“But what we are known for is The Possessor cabernet sauvignon, our flagship Tooth & Nail wine,” Chase said. But this being a Rhône Rangers event, Chase offered Rhône style wines–the salmon-tinted 2018 Rabble rosé of grenache syrah and viognier; the 2017 Stasis viognier redolent of fresh peach and apricot; and the 2015 cherry-scented Amor Fati grenache.
The Rabble wines are produced from mainly three ranches – MurMur Vineyard, a source for pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah in the Santa Maria appellation, Mossfire ranch on Paso’s east side and the west side estate vineyard which is planted to cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, tempranillo and malbec.
Several assistant winemakers emphasized their collaborative partnership with a winery’s director of winemaking usually a male.
“Jeremy is a great team player, said Ryan Bosc of Adelaida Vineyards & Winery’s Jeremy Weintraub. “All blending happens together and he waits for my opinion.”
Bosc graduated from Alan Hancock College and worked at Eberle and J. Lohr before joining Adelaida in 2016.
Hope Family’s assistant winemaker Samantha Taylor, now enjoying her 10th vintage, started in the tasting room and became a winemaker in 45 days.
“I wanted to get a foot in the door,” said Taylor, as she poured the Austin Hope GSM blend (grenache, syrah, mourvedre). Other assistant winemakers proudly offering wine included Lily McGlothern of ONX Wines and Sarah Harris of Vina Robles.
There were also co-owners such as Amanda Grindley, who co-owns Brecon Estate with her winemaker husband Damian. And, yes, these wives help with the business but it goes beyond administrative duties.
“I do all the blending,” said Angela Mitchell, co-owner of Mitchella Vineyard & Winery. “I planted the vineyards,” stated Ciera Adams, who co-owns Ledge Vineyards with her winemaker/musician husband Mark.
Steffanie Anglim, who founded Anglim with her winemaker husband Steve is often mistaken as the winemaker due to her constant presence in the tasting room. She even said this: “I’m the face of Anglim, not Steve.”
With such an amazing turnout of female Rhône Rangers, one hopes there will be more prominent female faces in the near future.
The Paso chapter is affiliated with the national Rhône Rangers and the soiree was one of its many ongoing events that support the organization’s advocacy of American Rhône varietal wines.