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The women of wine are taking their rightful place

By David LeClaire

The Northwest wine industry, once strictly a boys club, has now become infused with the passion and enthusiasm of a diverse group of successful women. In 1978, when Kay Simon (photo) was the Red Winemaker at Chateau St. Michelle, women winemakers were rare. As with most good winemakers, Kay became a head winemaker within five years (at Patterson in 1982). At the time there was only one other female head winemaker in Washington, Joan Wolverton of Salishan Vineyards. Two years later Kay opened her own winery, Chinook Wines, with her husband Clay, and never looked back.

The year was 1984, the same time Cheryl Barber Jones became the head winemaker at CSM, and began winning awards such as Winery of the Year under her leadership. While there were only a few women at that level then, there were also only 47 Washington wineries in 1984. Now with over 900 wineries, we also have over 65 head and assistant women winemakers, as well as vineyard managers, highly sought-after winemaking consultants, winery owners, and sales and marketing experts. And that's just in Washington. At last count there were over 30 women winemakers in Oregon as well.

With approximately 30% of the students at WSU in the Viticulture and Enology program being women for the past five years, clearly this trend is here to stay. And why not? Women love wine and food as much as men, if not more! Yet loving wine is not enough reason to get in the business. It's a ton of hard work. Making wine also requires an immense physical effort to maintain meticulous cleanliness between the tanks, floors, barrels and tools. And then there's the moving things around part, always trying to get something out of the way in a crowded over-capacity winery to get to something else. Driving forklifts is usually essential duty. And if the physical part isn't easy, neither is the math, chemistry, biology, and/or farming.

Chinook bottling machine

But this expanding role for women extends far beyond winemaking. Thus the legion of Women Sommeliers has exploded, with over 75 now certified in the Northwest between Oregon, Washington, and BC. Other areas of the industry and women who are excelling are Sara Spayd (Enology); Joan Davenport (Soil Scientist); Carolyn Ross (Sensory); Michelle Moyer and Gwen Hoheisel (both WSU Extension/Viticulture); Jean Leonard, Washington Wine Institute, who has been an attorney, lobbyist and advocate for the industry for many years.

The landscape is now rich with an array of amazing women such as the pride of Canada, Barbara Philip (Barbarian Wine Consulting), a highly respected and rare Master of Wine. Or media with the likes of the sassy Seattle writer Madeline Puckette for Wine Folly, or author Braiden Rex-Johnson of NW Wining & Dining. Local women celebrity somms are becoming well known such as Jocelyn Foiles Bachman of Seastar, April Pogue of Loulay, Dawn Smith of Stoneburner, or Lisa Rongren of The Herbfarm, just to name a few. Yes, it looks like wine and women are a natural pairing!

Legendary names like Emily Moore, Maria Hines, Holly Smith, Renee Erickson, Tamara Murphy (photo), and Kathy Casey years ago set the table for another 50 or so notable Washington women chefs who have now burst onto the local food scene, along with scores from BC and Oregon, too. Consider that in the UK, Chef Clare Smyth and in France Chef Anne-Sophie Pic are the only women chefs with the "3 star Michelin" rating in their countries. Yet just a few years ago this was unheard of, 3 Michelin Stars, a woman??? But women now make up 20% of the chefs in the UK compared to 4.7% in the US. The global perception is changing in terms of what a woman's role should and can be in the wine and food industry.

From local legends like Kay Simon who 30 years ago began blazing the trail - and are still hard at work - to the new wave of young women graduating from programs at South Seattle College's Wine and Culinary programs, women are continuing to make huge strides and a profound impact in what used to be a man's world.


David LeClaire is a certified sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers and currently serves as Wine Ambassador for Esquin Wine & Spirits. Click here to see his background. He produces a number of wine, spirits and beer events each year, including the upcoming "Women Stars of Food and Wine!" on February 8, 2015, from 2-5 p.m. The event is a celebration of how far women have come in the wine industry with a food and wine extravaganza and fundraiser for the Women's Funding Alliance. The event takes place at the Columbia Tower with impressive women from Oregon, Washington and BC. Tickets are available at www.wfalliance.org.

www.seattleuncorked.com

January 2015


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