Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We celebrate women in the wine business

Photo: Gray Monk's Trudy Heiss

The Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, a 400-member Vancouver organization that has celebrated women in business since 2002, chose to focus this year’s annual gala on women in British Columbia’s wine business.

After reading their literature and attending the event, I had the sense that FWE’s organizers were somewhat overwhelmed by the number of women they found in the business.

They published a list of 59. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I helped them identify individuals. My own list included additional names that did not make it onto the FEW list, which limited itself to the Okanagan and the Similkameen.

There are another 70 or 8o wineries outside those valleys, most also with women as co-founders and active participants in the business.

The point is that the wine business is not an old boys club. Women are hugely important throughout the British Columbia wine industry and that is certainly worth celebrating.

It occurred to me that you could run tastings or host dinner parties for the next year with just those wines touched by women – and you would drink very well indeed.

Let’s begin with producers in which women are the primary owners. Meadow Vista Honey Wines in East Kelowna and Middle Mountain Mead on Hornby Island are owned respectively by Judie Barta and Helen Grond. Both are model entrepreneurs. Judie has worked for other wineries in sales and also has had her own business – cleaning yachts. Helen was a consulting geologist before a lavender patch on Hornby mushroomed into a meadery.

On the Saanich Peninsula, Carol Wallace, a former clerk of the Citizenship Court, owns and operates Dragonfly Hill Vineyards.

Photo: The View's Jennifer Molgat

In Kelowna, the public face of Sperling Vineyards in Ann Sperling, a nationally-renowned winemaker; and the public face of family-owned The View Winery is Jennifer Molgat, a former teacher.

Photo: Red Rooster's Prudence Maher

On the Naramata Bench, Prudence Maher was a founder with her husband of Red Rooster Winery in 1997. They sold it in 2005; and when the three-year non-compete clause expired, she opened Ruby Tuesday Winery.

Further along the Bench, Judy Kingston will open Serendipity Winery this spring. She has made a big career change, having spent 25 years practising computer law.

At Blasted Church south of Pentiction, accountant Evelyn Campbell is the co-founder and driving force. She made the gutsy decision to name the winery Blasted Church and to use edgy labels, a decision key to the winery’s market success.

Silver Sage Winery south of Oliver is operated by Anna Manola, in the best tradition of wine’s most famous woman, Barbe-Nicol Ponsardin, better known as Veuve Clicquot. She became a widow in 1805 after seven years of marriage. By the time she died in 1866, this had become one of the great houses in Champagne. Anna became a widow in 2002 and has carried on with courage and determination.

Photo: Tinhorn Creek's Sandra Oldfield

At Tinhorn Creek Estate Winery, winemaker and co-founder Sandra Oldfield came from California in 1994 to become one of south Okanagan’s most influential winemakers. She has mentored quite a few budding winemakers in her cellar.

There are female winemakers throughout the industry. Andrew Peller Ltd. has Stephanie Leinemann at Peller Estates (she has won two Lieutenant Governor’s Awards of excellence), Karen Gillis at Red Rooster and Sandy Leier at Calona Wines. At Jackson-Triggs Vintners, the red wine is made by Brooke Blair. At Hillside Estate Winery, Kathy Malone is the second woman winemaker in succession. She came from Mission Hill where Trish Cooper took her place. At Le Vieux Pin, French-trained Severine Pinte makes the wines. In West Kelowna, Alana Lubchynski makes the wines at family-owned Beaumont Estate Winery.

At Garry Oaks on Salt Spring Island, Elaine Kozak, an economist and a co-founder, makes the well-regarded wines. At Beaufort Vineyards near Courtenay, Susan Vandermolen, who founded the winery with her husband, is the winemaker.

And consultant Christine Leroux, a Canadian trained in France, consults to at least half a dozen wineries, including Rustic Roots where her mentorship has turned Sara Harker, a member of the family that owns the winery, into a leading maker of fruit wines.

To that list, you can add the many women who have been fundamentally important both to the wineries they are involved in and to the industry. They run the business, fill out the endless reams of reports government demands, run tasting rooms, making marketing decisions – and work in vineyards.

In the interest of brevity, I nominate Gray Monk’s Trudy Heiss as the poster person for this entire group. Since she and husband George planted a vineyard in 1972, she has done almost everything from driving the tractor to marketing to dealing with government bureaucrats, making a considerable contribution to the success of both the winery and the industry.

There is a legendary story about Trudy. Sometime early in the 1980s, she was included in a delegation of wine people that went to Victoria for a crucial meeting with government bureaucrats. Somebody who was not thinking arranged for the meeting to be in the Union Club which, in those days, did not admit women.

Fortunately, Trudy is short and also courageous. The men in the delegation surrounded her, screening her from Union Club staff as the party shuffled up the stairs to the meeting room.

The topic of the meeting is now forgotten but I would venture that the quality of the decisions was that much better with Trudy’s participation.


At April 26, 2012 at 4:06 AM , Blogger Michelle said...

Nice to know things like not all wines improve with age. What I'm most inspired of it that, these things are done by women. Famous women in business knows best in this industry.


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