Women Making Wine Ft. Sauv Blanc Day and The Queen of Sauvy B

Today is #SauvignonBlancDay and I had the pleasure of celebrating this fabulous grape variety with winemaker extraordinaire, Jules Taylor of Jules Taylor Wines all the way from Marlborough, New Zealand.

Sauvignon Blanc should be celebrated today and everyday! It dates back to 18th century France, specifically Loire Valley where it’s the top dog to this day. I love the meaning of Sauvignon Blanc — it’s derived from two French words: Sauvage which means wild and vigne which is vine. This grape tends to grow a little wild on the vine so it’s aptly named to say the least. Sauv Blanc is special in the sense that it grows well under a wide range of climates and soil types. It thrives in cool climates like Marlborough where it can give more citrus and tropical flavors while also showing off in warmer regions like Napa. It’s siblings include Grüner, Chenin, and Silvaner. The coolest fact about Sauv Blanc though is that it’s the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Yep! This lovely lady mingled with Cabernet Franc to create a fabulously bold child.

Marlborough is the Mecca for New Zealand Sauvy B. Sauv from this region is incredibly distinctive with intense notes of citrus, green bell pepper, fresh cut grass, and rich tropical flavors. Jules Taylor Sauv Blanc is benchmark to no surprise. She’s incredibly talented at what she does, connected to the land, and very down to earth. Her perspective on the wine industry is a breath of fresh air just like her style of wines. She has an extensive background in winemaking with tenures in some of the world’s most respected regions. Now she’s back to her roots in Marlborough and producing some of New Zealand’s finest selection of wines. Jules Taylor Wines started in 2001 with about 200 cases. Over the next five years, the label really came to fruition as she and her husband went all in! After speaking with her it is obvious that Jules is passionate about wine and growing her wine business has been a labor of love. She was awarded the Winemaker of the Year Award in 2021 by an Australian publication, making her the first from Marlborough to receive this merit. She’s literally crushing the wine scene (wine pun intended).

If you didn’t have a chance to catch our Instagram live, here’s a recap! Feel free to catch the interview here.

Ashley: Can you describe Jules Taylor Wines without describing the wine, specifically Sauv Blanc?

Jules: Relaxed, not too serious, authentic, and vivacious.

Ashley: Can you tell us about your early days working in wine?

Jules: Got a job and I worked the vintage in 1994 and got sucked in to this whole wine thing. It changes how you see things… It changes the way we see food. It’s just a cool product. Years later here I am in the industry and I love it. It’s hard. It’s hard because you’re working with Mother Nature. It’s interesting. It’s fun.

In the beginning there weren’t a lot of women in the wine industry. In my first job I was the only women in the cellar. They tried to talk me out of it and there were some things they wouldn’t let me do like operate a forklift. Growing up my parents always encouraged me to go for it.

I loved this POV on harvest: “it’s the one chance you get to capture a moment in time. Game time decision is paramount.”

Ashley: how was the wine industry changed in the last 10 years?

Jules: It’s a lot bigger. Bigger players have swallowed up some of the smaller guys. Not as many of us little guys but we need those big guys. I think it adds to the interesting industry we work in. We got to start somewhere.

This is just a taste of the great, inspiring perspective Jules offered about the industry in New Zealand and her experience as a winemaker. I hope you take a moment to watch the full interview and grab a bottle of her Sauv Blanc and Pinot too for that matter. You won’t regret it! Shop via this link.

Once again, big thank you to Jules for sipping with us!

Cheers,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine part 8: Sarah Citron, Mother & Co-Founder of Bricoleur Vineyards

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.

We’re heading to one of my favorite Sonoma AVAs – Russian River Valley – to chat with Sarah Citron, Co-Founder of Bricoleur Vineyards

Russian River Valley, home to world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I know we’re not supposed to have favorite children, but I mean… I love the wide range of wine styles coming out of this quaint AVA. From lush and rich to lean fruit-driven, you can find a wine for every palate here. Centered on the Russian River, RRV accounts for about one-sixth of the total planted vineyard acreage in Sonoma County. This is where you will find Bricoleur Vineyards, which has the most beautiful olive groves, rose gardens, and vineyard views. We visited back in 2019 and fell in love with the space, the land, and the wine. We were new parents at the time and felt a kinship to their “Flying By The Seat of Our Pants” label – as any new parent would! They have a really great portfolio that includes a refreshing unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, AV Zinfandel, Sauv Blanc, Cab Sauv, and 2 styles of rosé (Pinot and Grenache #myfavs) to name a few. Add to cart!

Sarah Citron is a Co-Founder and truly an inspiration for not only women in wine, but mothers in wine. This tribute to Isla Rose, her daughter, is really special. Isla Rose is going to be a force in the world of wine one day! This wine embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of strong female leadership and represents the countless empowered women in the wine industry. We need more of this type of encouragement for young women and it’s the purpose of this series. As a first time mom with one foot in the industry, I was incredibly nervous about trying to balance my passion for wine while being a mother. There are many who are quick to judge or offer unsolicited advice on the subject. When Amelia arrived I wasn’t ready to let go of the wine life I’ve worked so hard to build. It’s brought a ton of wonderful new people into my life and new role models, such as Sarah, who are finding ways to include family in their line of business.

Wine isn’t going anywhere. What was once an old boys club is evolving. It’s more inclusive, approachable, and down-to-earth than ever before. I love to see parents sharing their passion with their children. Our own LO enjoys the vineyards and learning about various types of soil, tasting grapes from the vine, and watching people work hard at what they love. Wine is about community and experience and Sarah values that for her guests. Her take on work/life balance hit really close to home and it’s a breath of fresh air! I strongly encourage you to add Bricoleur Vineyards to your list of wineries if you’re ever in Russian River Valley.

Without further ado, our virtual interview…

Ashley: What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to future generations of women pursuing a successful wine career?

Sarah: I truly believe, in order to be successful in any industry/job it is important to always be flexible and eager to learn as much as possible even if it is not part of your job. The more skills you learn and know the more valuable you are in the long run.

Ashley: What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome in establishing a winery?

Sarah: Some of the challenges of establishing a winery is overcoming all the obstacles that come your way. Navigating the opening of a business at the heart of a pandemic was not what anyone expected but we learned to Flying by the Seat of Our Pants and pivot to make the most of every opportunity.

Ashley: What’s your favorite thing about Bricoleur?

Sarah: My favorite thing about Bricoleur is building this community of people that can gather and connect with amazing wine and food. I love getting to know every single club member and creating memories together. It has been so wonderful seeing my daughter grow up on the vineyard and our community being a part of all of her major life moments.

Ashley: Can you share how you balance a career in wine while being a mother?

Sarah: Balancing a career and being a mother is all about being flexible. Every day is different depending on work and the needs of your child and family. In being honest, I could not do what I do without the help of my amazing mom and nanny. Having a solid support system has allowed me to better balance my career and my time at home. But also, making the most of my time I do have with my family by being fully present is really important to me. Once I get home from work my sole focus is my daughter until she goes to sleep.

Ashley: What goals are you still working towards in your career and for the brand?

Sarah: Some goals I am always working toward is to become a thought leader at Bricoleur Vineyards by inspiring and offering guidance to our staff. I am always working towards coming up with innovative ways to break the mold of traditional wine tasting and create amazing experiences for our guests. I would love to grow Bricoleur Vineyards to become a lifestyle brand.

Sarah, thank you so much for sharing this wine with us and offering some much appreciated wisdom from one mom to another. We look forward to following Bricoleur’s journey and visiting the winery again in the future!

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 6: Katie Madigan, Winemaker St Francis Winery & Vineyards

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.

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 5: Stephanie Jacobs, Winemaker Cakebread Cellars

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 over to Rutherford to meet with Stephanie Jacobs, Winemkaer at Cakebread Cellars

Cakebread Cellars is located in the AVA of Rutherford which is south of St Helena and north of Oakville in the heart of Napa Valley. Rutherford is known for it’s moderate -warm temps, morning fog, and ample sunlight. Vines here spend more time in the sun than any other AVA in Napa which leads to a soft, elegant style of wine. Due to it’s unique terrain and proximity to the Mayacamas and Vaca mountains, it’s famous for the “Rutherford Dust” quality in most Cabernet Sauvignons. Cakebread Cellars has deep roots in Rutherford dating back to the 70s – it’s very first release was a 1973 Chardonnay. Since then, the winery has grown to include several vineyards across Napa and even Sonoma. The property is amazing – think modern rustic elegance.

Cakebread has something for every palate: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rosé, and Pinot Noir. Through sustainable and organic farming, they were only the second winery in California to earn a Napa Green Certification, and they’re also certified as Fish Friendly! It’s inspiring to see these initiatives prioritized. You can truly taste the commitment to terroir and all things sustainable in every sip. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of wines from Cakebread and there are some common attributes: precision, purity, and balance. Investing in a nice bottle of wine can be risky, but with Cakebread you are guaranteed the very best. In addition to exceptional wine, I love the winery’s dedication to promote diversity and inclusion. We are beyond thrilled to celebrate the strong female energy that Stephanie Jacobs brings to the table as winemaker – she is passionate, empowered, and a true leader in wine.

Without further ado, our virtual interview…

Ashley: Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female winemakers?
Stephanie: I truly believe that if you are passionate at what you do, there is no limit to your success. At Cakebread, I’ve been especially fortunate to grow with a family-owned company that places its core value on the individuals across our team, knowing a strong work/life balance will give us all a chance to reach our full potential. From our co-founder Dolores Cakebread to my Winemaker predecessor Julianne Laks, I’ve had examples that showed I had just as much opportunity as anyone else to make great wine here at Cakebread Cellars.

Ashley: What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?
Stephanie: Mother Nature. Wine is a natural, agricultural product, subject to Mother Nature’s challenges. We must be nimble, flexible, and ready to adapt to the changes of each season. In the vineyard, we rely on past experiences and vintages to “predict” how the seasons will develop, but we must be prepared to pivot as challenges and weather events occur. Even my winemaking techniques can change season to season to craft the highest quality wine from each vintage.

The winery is also working hard to better adapt to these shifts due to climate change. From becoming more efficient in our use of water and energy both at the winery and in the vineyards to creating carbon farm plans and composting, sustainability has always been a core tenet of Cakebread Cellars. We were the second winery to become Napa Green certified and last year, became an applicant with the IWCA (International Wineries for Climate Action).

Ashley: How does your typical day evolve with the seasons? Do you have a favorite season?

Stephanie: Winter: Assessing wine quality from the previous harvest, checking on the wines going through malolactic, tasting through the lots and creating the blends, and starting to bottle (Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc)
Spring: Watching for budbreak in the vineyards, finalizing red blends, visiting the vineyards
Summer: Monitoring sugar levels in the grapes, sampling, continuing to bottle wines (Chardonnay & Reds), more frequent visits to the vineyards, starting harvest of our white varietals
Fall: Harvest is in full swing, early mornings at the winery, vineyard visits, continual grape sampling in the vineyards, pressing fruit, pump overs, close monitoring of fermentation, determining barrel program for white and red wines
I love the harvest season! It is so inspiring to see the fruit evolve throughout the growing season and be able to begin to envision the wines we will make. The winery is full of activity and anticipation, no matter how many harvests I have been part of, each year is new and exciting.

Ashley: Were you inspired by other female winemakers when you began your career in making wine?
Stephanie: Definitely. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have strong female winemakers as role models and mentors, who set the expectation that achieving success in the wine industry was something anyone could accomplish if they worked hard and had passion for it. Over the last 10-15 years, I’ve seen more women in the industry, not just as winemakers but also in executive leadership roles. At Cakebread alone, we have had women across our executive team from CFO, VP of Hospitality & DTC to VP of Sales and Marketing.

Ashley: In winemaking, is one thing more important than the other in terms of tradition vs innovation?
Stephanie: I think both are equally important. As a family-owned company, Cakebread prides itself on its long-standing tradition and commitment to consistent, high-quality wines and warm hospitality that the winery was founded on by Jack and Dolores Cakebread in 1973. At the same time, innovation is key and allows us to adapt. Our team continues to evolve its winemaking practices and leverage new technology to further quality and sustainability, from vineyard to cellar.

Stephanie, thank you for taking the time to share your insight with us and walking us through the seasons. We enjoyed learning that Cakebread has so many amazing women in leadership roles! The Social Grapes appreciates the inspired initiatives going on at Cakebread and we look forward to continuing our support for you and the team.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 2: Amandine Brillanceau, Cellar Master at Louis Jadot

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.

Next up, featuring Amandine Brillanceau, Cellar Master at Louis Jadot

Amandine is from Deux Sevres which is just south of the Loire Valley in France, so it’s no surprise that she has *cultivated* an impressive wine resume. She studied at the Agronomic School in Bordeaux and earned degrees in both Agronomy and Oenology. Her passion for wine grew through travel and interning alongside inspired French winemakers. Amandine’s experience in winemaking spans across several renowned regions including New Zealand, Australia, Oregon, and South Africa. She’s combined her passion and experience to grow into the role of Cellar Master in two prominent French regions: Rhone Valley from 2014 to 2017 and Burgundy where she now works at Louis Jadot.

Located in Beaune, Louis Jadot has incredibly deep roots in Bourgogne dating back to 1859. I like to refer to Louis Jadot as “America’s Sweetheart” because the wines are well-known here in the US and loved by so many for its tradition and quality. Louis Jadot is one of the most celebrated exporters of French wine and marketed as America’s #1 French wine for good reason. These red and white Burgundies are not only accessible, they are approachable and affordable. Louis Jadot’s portfolio includes everything:  inexpensive Burgundy and Beaujolais, wines from Chablis and Côte de Beaune, as well as grand cru wines from France’s top vineyards.

When I think about the rich history of Louis Jadot an instant sense of tradition comes to mind. The thing that really impresses me as a consumer/wine student/creator is how the Louis Jadot brand and Domaine has not only grown and evolved with the times, but how they’ve done so while upholding the region’s deep tradition and values. To me, that is just really cool. The wines are a benchmark for Burgundy and they’re delivering a product that appeals to novice and expert level enthusiasts. I personally loved learning that Louis Jadot has a female Cellar Master and one with such an exciting background and fresh perspective. It all makes sense now!

Without further ado, our virtual interview:

Ashley: Can you provide some insight into your day-to-day operations as Cellar Master?

Amandine: Cellar team management (7 people). Planning work and adjustment, tasks follow-up. Daily tastings enabling to organize the cellar work, traceability, various projects monitoring etc …

Ashley: You have experience in both new and old-world wine regions, how has this contributed to your success in Burgundy?

Amandine: Adaptation ability due to the fact that I worked in very different winery profiles (different material/tools, different company and organization profiles).

Openness and curiosity allowing me each time to tackle different challenges.

Ashley: What do you find to be the most interesting part of your job? What are some challenges you’ve overcome?

Amandine: Never bored! The wine world has no limit, it is always moving ! My biggest challenge was to enter Louis Jadot. Burgundy was a dream and every work experience was slowly helping me to get closer to Burgundy. Leading a team was also a new challenge I had to take up, because it was a first experience to me. Showing my skills and my competence to my team enabled me with time to get closer to them.

Ashley: Of the wines in your portfolio, can you share a favorite (and unexpected) food pairing?

Pernand-Vergelesses Les Combottes paired with a wok full of Asian flavours: the Combottes vineyard produces a very aromatic Chardonnay wine, with intense flavours. It is the best companion to sweat-and-sour notes, it’s nice tension enhances such dishes.

Ashley: In winemaking, is one more important than the other in terms of tradition vs innovation?

Amandine: Tradition is a key value in Burgundy – it represents a bridge between Burgundy history and today’s winemaking science. It is crucial to me in order to build a harmonious whole. Therefore, it is a never ending process swinging between past acquired experiences and today’s knowledge. Always innovating and constantly searching for perfection.

Amandine, thank you for taking the time to share your experience and insight with us. Cellar Masters wear a bunch of different hats. From managing inventory to knowing the ins and outs of harvest and more. It’s inspiring to see you manage a wide range of responsibilities for such a prominent French producer. 

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 1: Leah Jorgensen, winemaker and owner of Leah Jorgensen Cellars

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.

First up, Leah Jorgensen of Leah Jorgensen Cellars

Maker of Oregon’s Premier Cabernet Franc

Oregon is not only cool in climate, but just straight up cool. The state is leading the US in terms of organic vineyards, biodynamics, and sustainable practices. These are some of wine’s biggest buzz words and that’s not changing anytime soon because it’s cool to care about nature. Personally, there is no better sense of the word “terroir” than a wine that is made with minimal intervention and/or biodynamically. Combine this approach with with cool, rainy climate along with pristine soil types and *viola* – world class wine from vine to glass. Leah is a prominent member of the winemaking community in Oregon with deep family roots. Oregon is known for Pinot and Chardonnay that align with Burgundian palates, but what I love most about Leah’s wine is how she is leaning into grapes and styles of the Loire Valley (think Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc). While her Cabernet Franc is hands down show-stopping, I have to give a shoutout to “Tour Rain” which is not only a clever play on words, but truly one of a kind in taste. It’s made with 40% Gamay Noir and 60% Cabernet Franc, which is actually a classic Loire blend. Imagine fresh blooms mingling with bright red fruit and undertones of pepper – it’s enticing. Be sure to check out her wines!

Without further ado, here’s our interview:

Ashley: Why did you choose to become a winemaker? 

Leah: Honestly, I grew tired (and bored) with working in winery sales and marketing – which I had been doing for about a decade before shifting gears to work in the cellar.  I was always interested in wine production, but having worked my way up the ranks in a steady upper management position (and salary), I was afraid to take the plunge into cellar work.  For one, it would be a major pay cut.  I was also concerned with the instability of part-time seasonal work that comes with harvest internships – a necessary step in the winemaking journey.  When I finally decided to “go for it”, I just trusted the process and turned my attention to learning and studying.  I enrolled in a local winemaking program while working local harvests.  I managed to pay the bills with part-time evening work at a Portland wine bar while doing some winery marketing consulting on the side.  After my first crush, I knew I was headed in the right direction and I made it my purpose to learn everything I possibly could about winemaking.  While cellar internships are essential, I found the classroom to be critically important in taking serious steps to become a professional winemaker.  So, I guess I would say my obsessive “curiosity” drove me to study winemaking because I really wanted to understand and learn everything I could possibly learn about how wine is made, what can happen during the winemaking process, and most importantly, how to be competent about what is happening during the winemaking process.  I tend to believe if you are truly passionate about something, you don’t want to learn a little bit about it.  You should become voracious about learning everything about your passions, right?  Cutting corners or skipping the classroom experience wasn’t an option for me.  By the time I completed the 2year program, it was clear to me that I was right where I wanted to be – and I had the tools I needed to have confidence in my ability to make wine professionally.  To this day, I read research assays on winemaking all the time – published via UC Davis, the AWRI, etc.  I’m not in winemaking for any other reason but to continue to learn and understand the nuances of a subject that is really exciting, complex, and interesting to me – and then putting that knowledge and expertise into practice.

Ashley: Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female winemakers?

Leah: Not really.  But, I do think it depends on who you’re asking.  There are certain consumers out there who would prefer it if my husband was the winemaker in my family.

What do you find to be the most interesting part of your job?

Most interesting: the fact that no two vintages are the same, so my work is never the same.  My work as a winemaker is to look closely at what each vineyard site and what each vintage is giving me.  I make all decisions based on those two things. It’s never predictable and once the fruit comes in the doors, after deciding when to pick, I get the joy of putting that knowledge about site and the vintage to work to create something that will forever reflect a specific time, place and moment in history.  I mean, how many people are lucky to experience something like that?  I’m grateful for the opportunity to have a life’s work, a study, if you will, on my chosen discipline.

Ashley: What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve? 

Leah: It is my intention to see that Oregon is included among the most important places/regions in the world for growing exceptional Cabernet Franc.  I am passionate about the vineyards I work with – I’m committed to them, even during challenging times like right now with two years of dangerous drought impacting Southern Oregon.  Climate change is affecting the whole west coast – we can’t be complacent and think it’s only a problem in some regions.  We all need to consider this impact on American agriculture.  

It is also my intention to help reshape the narrative on American Cabernet Franc.  California has long held the standard to which American Cabernet Franc style has been expressed.  I think it’s time to change the standard.  Cabernet Franc is one of the most elegant, ethereal, complex varietals in the world of Vinifera – and I’m definitely challenging the status quo style by not using new oak, picking earlier, using irrigation methods and canopy management systems to influence plant chemistries (especially in reducing the production of methoxypyrazines), etc.  

It’s my goal to get credit for pioneering American Cabernet Franc Blanc.  As a woman winemaker I have already watched other winemakers take the credit.  I’m not interested in being the center of attention; I’m interested in fairness, gender equity, and making sure credit is given where credit is due.  This is not just for me but for any marginalized winemaker today and in years to come.   If I don’t claim it, someone else will.  One way to help put an end to unfairness and challenges for women and other minorities in winemaking is to make sure we amplify their good work, that we probably credit them for the contributions they make.

Last, it’s my goal to create a distinguishable, classic Oregon Cabernet Franc.  My hope is that one day when somms and professionals taste Oregon Cabernet Franc they are able to identify it as Oregon Cabernet Franc.  Our region is unique.  Just as the Willamette Valley isn’t Burgundy, the Rogue Valley isn’t the Loire Valley or Bordeaux’s Right Bank.  It’s a special place that happens to have soils and climate and elevations that are home to world class Cabernet Franc vines.

Leah, thank you for sharing your insight and wines with us. The Social Grapes appreciates all that you do to encourage women to meet their full potential, which includes donating a portion of the sales from this rosé to women’s academic scholarships – especially in STEM studies.