Women make mark as head winemakers in Colorado cellars
A dust-up on the Great Northwest Wine website recently caught my eye. It seems a national travel writer unintentionally gave the impression that among Oregon’s 400 or so wineries, only six had women as their head winemakers.
It didn’t take long for people more involved with the state’s wine industry to note there are around 35 women head winemakers among Oregon’s 400 or so wineries. That’s a bit less than 10 percent, a number similar to California, where 9.8 percent of the approximately 3,400 wineries reported having a women as their lead winemaker. Washington State has 20 female head winemakers (about 6 percent) in its 350-plus wineries. Whether the percentage is high or low in what many people have long thought to be a male-dominated world isn’t clear or important, but I found myself curious how many wineries in Colorado’s fast-growing wine industry have women as head winemakers.
According to my roughhewn survey, which included calling and visiting wineries and asking other writers covering the industry, I came up with a tentative 12 women head winemakers, meaning they oversee the production from grape to glass.
That’s close to 10 percent and may not be accurate, as some wineries have closed for the winter and weren’t available while others didn’t return phone messages.
As was ably pointed out by Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, “We have approximately 105 wineries and many of the women who own wineries with their husbands spend as much time in sticky juice as the men.”
That sharing of the workload is not unusual for an industry where most of the wineries worldwide are small production facilities in which everyone has a hand in the day-to-day chores, including the winemaking.
Many of Colorado’s wineries are true family affairs, many times starting with home winemaking. This list does not include the home winemaking years.
Whether you visit wineries in California, Italy or Colorado, it’s not uncommon to find husband and wife toiling side by side.
Maybe we’re spoiled, because Coloradans have long accepted that many of the state’s best wines are made by women and when we see a woman doing the heavy lifting — literally — it’s the normal (Colorado) state of affairs.
“I’m definitely not the assistant,” affirmed Anna Hanson, winemaker for Jack Rabbit Hill Winery on Redlands Mesa.
She and husband Lance own and operate the winery plus the James Beard award-nominated Peak Spirits Distillery, both of which rely on locally grown organic and biodynamic fruit.
There is another group of women who might be considered assistant winemakers, such as Brooke Webb of Mesa Park Vineyards, who said she shares the duties with her father Chuck Webb, listed on the winery’s website as head winemaker.
The longest-tenured among women head winemakers apparently is Padte Turley of Colorado Cellars, who said she started making wines in 1989.
“It’s cool,” said Padte of her decidedly hands-on style. “You get to know all the little vines and you know what you’ll have to work with.”
Alsatian-stylist Joan Mathewson of Terror Creek Winery, at 6,400 feet in the North Fork Valley still considered the world’s highest vineyards and winery together, was the first, and for years the only, Colorado winemaker with a degree in enology.
Jackie Thompson of Boulder Creek Winery might the state’s most-awarded woman winemaker (that’s open to debate, of course) and certainly was the first among all Colorado winemakers to win a prestigious Jefferson Cup award (2009).
I’m out of room, so here’s the list in no particular order. Share other names (and stories) if you can.
Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, Plum Creek Cellars; Diane Brown, Avant Winery; Michelle Cleveland, Creekside Cellars; Jackie Thompson, Boulder Creek Winery; Anna Hanson, Jack Rabbit Hill Winery; Joan Mathewson, Terror Creek; Padte Turley, Colorado Cellars; Linda Gubbini, Gubbini Winery; Deb Ray, Desert Moon Vineyards; Marianne “Gussie” Walter, Augustina’s Winery; Nancy Janes, Whitewater Hill Vineyards; Barb Mauer, Graystone Winery.