Women winemakers of Walla Walla are working the dirt and pushing the bar with passion
Women making wine in the esteemed Walla Walla Valley work the soil and schlep just like the men, balancing the demands of their craft with the rest of life.
The favored few, and why
Anna Schafer. àMaurice Cellars 2007 Viognier (Columbia Valley, $25).
"Viognier is the pinot noir of white wine. It is very difficult to make due to the quick drop of acids in the vineyard, but if you treat it right the results can be beautiful."
Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane. Bergevin Lane Vineyards 2006 Francisca's Vineyard "The Princess" Syrah (Walla Walla Valley, $46).
"The Princess Syrah tugs at our heartstrings because of our relationship with the vineyard owner, Cisca Vanheezik. When we put her first bottle into Cisca's hands, we saw that look a mother gives a newborn."
Nina Buty Foster. Buty Winery 2006 Merlot/Cabernet Franc (Columbia Valley, $35).
"Blends of merlot and cabernet franc make a brilliant partnership. Merlot provides such rich flesh to hang on the structure of the cabernet franc, which provides the earthy, floral character."
Virginie Bourgue. Cadaretta 2007 SBS (sauvignon blanc/semillon blend, Columbia Valley, $22).
"The 2007 SBS is crafted from grapes picked from vines that are over 20 years old. Plus, I used my 'soul-and-science' approach to craft this wine, leaning toward a more international style: fruit-driven, no oak, crisp."
Debbie Hansen. Cougar Crest Winery 2006 Estate-Grown Viognier (Walla Walla Valley, $20).
"Viognier has been done in many different styles using oak aging, sur lie and even malolactic fermentation. This grape doesn't really need any of that to be shown at its best."
Jill Noble. Couvillion 2005 Sagemoor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, $25).
"This cabernet speaks to my heart and soul. I feel that it is well-balanced and elegant."
Mary Derby and Dawn Kammer. DaMa Wines 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, $25).
"In the nose, our '05 cab has soft floral notes and an essence of smokiness. The subtle sweet-cherry and cassis fruit leads to hints of grilled meats. It's earthy and complex."
Ashley Trout. Flying Trout Wines Non-Vintage Deep River Red (Columbia Valley, $28).
"It is my favorite because it is such an oddball. A blend of syrah and sangiovese is unusual."
Marie-Eve Gilla. Forgeron Cellars 2006 Chardonnay (Columbia Valley, $25).
"My '06 chardonnay represents the limitless opportunities to develop a unique style for white wines here in Washington state. The style is a cross between Burgundy and New World, full and ripe with a nice mineral nuance."
Verdie Morrison. Morrison Lane 2005 Cinsault (Walla Walla Valley, $27).
"Cinsault is a real change of pace from the many big, bold reds in Walla Walla. The large grape results in a rosé-like color but with surprising body, along with spice, raspberry and Rainier-cherry flavors."
Lynne Chamberlain. Spofford Station 2004 Estate Merlot (Walla Walla Valley, $32).
"This wine was grown in 2004, a freeze year in the Walla Walla Valley, and represents an analogy with my winemaking career: Starting out with a great plan; frozen out in a bad partnership; rising out of the cold; but, all in all, darned good."
Holly Turner. Three Rivers Winery 2006 Weinbau Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Wahluke Slope, $39).
"I love this wine because it's different, and a beautiful example of this grape. I really like the idea of showing folks how great some of these unsung-hero wines can be."
Denise Slattery. Trio Vintners 2006 Zinfandel (Columbia Valley, $26).
"This is a very expressive wine; it's not subtle. It's very fruity and immediately gets a reaction."
In early June, over caramelized-onion frittatas, crawfish scrambles and a refreshing rosé at 26brix Restaurant, I sat down with eight women to talk about making wine in one of the world's hottest wine regions — the Walla Walla Valley.
The players included Virginie Bourgue, Cadaretta and Lullaby; Debbie Hansen, Cougar Crest Winery; Mary Derby and Dawn Kammer, DaMa Wines; Marie-Eve Gilla, Forgeron Cellars; Lynne Chamberlain, JLC Winery and Spofford Station; Verdie Morrison, Morrison Lane; and Denise Slattery, Trio Vintners.
Responding to my questions via e-mail were seven other Walla Walla-based winemakers and/or winery owners: Anna Schafer, àMaurice Cellars; Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane, Bergevin Lane Vineyards; Nina Buty Foster, Buty Winery; Jill Noble, Couvillion; Ashley Trout, Flying Trout Wines; and Holly Turner, Three Rivers Winery.
We quickly established that times have changed (for the better) for women in the industry. Gilla recalled having to "fight tooth and nails" to get into the winemaking-degree program at Dijon University in Burgundy, France, at a time when women weren't even allowed in the barrel room. "Women are now freely accepted for the same studies, thank God!"
When asked about the physical task of winemaking, Hansen said she thought it was fairly gender-neutral. "But more than anything, industry attitudes, family-life conflict and spousal support (or the lack of) make the differences between how males/females are able to do the job."
Chamberlain added, "There's no difference; we are all schlepping."
Kammer said her husband, Jack, a mortgage broker, "gets pulled in for heavy lifting and fetching cases of wine."
"Can't forget the forklift," Turner said. "Where would we be without it?"
As for differences in styles, Gilla said, "Men look for the numbers and lab analysis. Women are more confident. If we like it, it's good."
When asked about the balance between work and their personal lives, Schafer shot back, "The barrels are my babies!"
Bourgue replied, "Winemaking is very consuming; you have to take some time for yourself so you can give back 120 percent."
Noble took another tack. "My children are No. 1, and one of the big keys is that they have been very supportive."
On the subject of equal pay for equal work, many of the women admitted they don't take a salary (yet), a few estimated they earn about 30 percent less than their male counterparts, and others said their pay was equal.
But the question that provoked the most response was simply: Why do you do it?
To which Morrison answered, "I want to give my children the chance to continue the vineyard and winery if they want to." Husband Dean's family "lived and farmed where the vineyard is, and I like being part of that tradition and adding to it."
Both Bergevin and Lane said they do it because it's a way of life, and fun every day.
Trout's passion was obvious: "Because I couldn't do anything else. You get dirty, stained, blistered and smelly and change into a black-tie dress and discuss the biophysical properties of molecules' wavelengths while drinking your craft. Better than a cubicle."
Finally, why Walla Walla?
"There is no other place we could have done this. Walla Walla is a perfect setting to be able to think outside the box," Derby said.
To which Slattery chimed in, "The bar is very high here. To play here you have to really play well."
Braiden Rex-Johnson is the author of "Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining." Visit her blog at www.NorthwestWiningandDining.com. Jackie Johnston is a photographer based in Eastern Washington.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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