Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.
Let’s head on over to Sonoma to chat with Katie Madigan, Winemaker at St Francis
St Francis Winery has incredibly deep roots in Sonoma County dating back to 1971 when the first acres were planted to Chardonnay and Merlot. The founding team at St Francis established themselves early on as producers of premium, single varietal Merlot. Since then, they’ve expanded vineyard sites and grown their portfolio of wines to include Old Vine Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Reserve Zinfandel. Katie Madigan joined the team as an intern in 2002, and today she carries on the legacy of producing show-stopping, terroir-driven wines. You can enjoy a lovely outdoor tasting at the winery that focuses seasonal food pairings or you can pedal your way through the vineyards with a Tour de St. Francis. This winery is high on my list of “must visit” Sonoma wineries for a few reasons… These unique, tasteful experiences sound incredible, but also I love to celebrate wineries that are dedicated to organic, sustainable farming practices and St Francis is committed to this. Lastly, it’s always a pleasure to see females making wine at such a well established winery.
Katie began her career as an intern and worked her way to winemaker in 2011. In 2015 she was awarded the “Best Woman Winemaker” by the International Women’s Wine Competition #YEAHGIRL! She has merits for days including Zinfandel Producer of the Year in 2014 and 2015. We love her hands-on philosophy and passion for detail when it comes to harvest. Her energy is fierce and I’m excited to support her career through sipping and celebrating her wines.
Without further ado, our virtual interview…
Ashley: Why did you choose to become a winemaker?
Katie: After studying Chemistry in college, I took a harvest internship in the summer of 2002 at St. Francis. I wanted to explore fermentation science more, and learn the agriculture aspect to it. I’m celebrating my 20th harvest this year, and I’m still excited, challenged & motivated by the wines we’re creating.
Ashley: What are some of the challenges you face in winemaking and how do you overcome them? What’s your favorite part of the process?
Katie: It feels like more & more of the challenges winemakers face are environmentally based. No two vintages are alike, and we can’t predict what kinds of outside factors are going to impact the vintage. All we can do is prepare, and learn. I have multiple journals full of scribbled notes going back to the beginning of my career, where I would jot down ideas & techniques from what has/has not worked and what improvements could be done if faced with a similar scenario. Because of this, my favorite part of the process is still Harvest! It’s so dynamic and exciting. Even in the difficult vintages, there is something to feel accomplished about.
Ashley: What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about a future in winemaking?
Katie: Take your time, enjoy the process, and hone in on your craft & style! Having the title of Winemaker is fantastic, but I wouldn’t have the confidence or the skills that I do without all my previous experiences as an intern, in the cellar, and the other various positions I’ve held. Lectures and reading about winemaking is instrumental, but seeing/smelling/tasting it firsthand is invaluable.
Ashley: How has your job changed over the last 10 years?
Katie: Gosh, the winemaking industry is ever-changing and that’s one thing about it I still enjoy about it. There’s not just one way to do things. The door is always open for new ideas, innovations and styles to shine through. It’s incredibly motivating to know I don’t ever have to stop learning & growing!
Katie, thank you so much for sharing your insight with us! I’m a diligent notetaker so your attention to detail with harvest notes is truly amazing! Looking forward to sipping your wines all summer long – ps the Chardonnay with a grilled cheeseburger is a spring staple at our home.