Walla Walla Women Winemakers Challenge the Status Quo
Researched and Written by Professors Lucia and John Gilbert1
Santa Clara University

***DO NOT CITE or QUOTE WITHOUT acknowledging source***

Published in Grape Collective (July 13, 2017)

Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars,
Walla Walla's first woman winemaker/owner

Why we visited the Walla Walla wine region.
Wine Enthusiast included Walla Walla in its "best wine travel destinations" and described it as a growing up-and-coming wine region. We study women winemakers and this information caught our attention. Through our research we have learned that newer and growing wine areas can offer greater opportunity for qualified women wanting to break into the traditionally male-dominated field of winemaking. We wondered if this would be the case in Walla Walla.

The growth in the number of Walla Walla wineries is significant.
The Walla Walla Valley's first winery, Leonetti Cellar, was established in 1977, followed by Woodward Canyon (1981), L'Ecole (1983), Waterbrook (1984), and Seven Hills (1988). By 2000, there were still fewer than 20 wineries in the region. Today there are an estimated 150 wineries in the Walla Walla AVA, with more appearing on the horizon. Needless to say, the rate of increase is quite dramatic!

The growth and reputation of Walla Walla as a wine region are likely related to the unique and highly regarded Enology and Viticulture Program established at Walla Walla Community College in 2001.2 College Cellars of Walla Walla, a modern and fully equipped teaching winery bonded in 2003, is located within the Center for Enology and Viticulture and is a key component of the educational program.

The Walla Walla women winemakers
According to our calculations, only 9% of wineries in the Walla Walla AVA have a lead women winemaker.3 As a point of comparison, the corresponding overall percentage for California is approximately 10%, but in areas in which the number of wineries is growing, such as Santa Barbara and Sonoma Counties, it is closer to 15 to 20%.

To learn more about the women winemakers and their experiences, we arranged meetings with five highly impressive winemakers. They are Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars, Mary Derby of DaMa Wines, Holly Turner of Three Rivers Winery, Ashley Trout of March Cellars-Vital Wines, and Tanya Woodley of SuLei Cellars. We briefly describe the career path of each woman and later in our article share the steps they are taking to challenge the status quo.

Women winemakers we were not able to meet during our brief visit include Anna Schafer, winemaker and partner at Maurice Cellars, Deborah Hanson, winemaker and owner at Cougar Crest Winery, Amy Alveraz, winemaker at Abeja, Lori Kennedy, winemaker at Don Carlo Vineyard, Julia Russell, winemaker and owner at Mansion Creek Cellars, and Ali Mayfield, winemaker at The Walls.

Challenging the status quo
The women with whom we spoke were well aware of their low numbers and are taking steps to change this situation. A significant first step was the production of the handsome "Celebrating the Walla Walla Women of Wine 2017 Calendar," a collaboration between the photographer, Kathryn Elsesser, Mary Derby of Dama Wines, and other women of wine in Walla Walla. A key goal of the project was to bring more visibility and legitimacy to women winery owners and women winemakers and their extensive contributions to the wine industry.

Mary Derby of DaMa Wines
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Elsesser Photography

The increasing number of wineries and a growing wine industry brings new opportunities that can challenge long-standing barriers. As one winemaker noted, "we need to get over it" and use our talents, passion, and skills to take our rightful seats at the table in what has been a male-dominated industry.

The importance of being more visible is illustrated in the December 2015 article, "Walla Walla Winemakers Support One Another."4 The article makes no mention of a woman as a winemaker, winery owner, or mentor. Indeed, its title should have been, "Walla Walla Male Winemakers Support One Another." Any women winemakers who may have worked with or mentored these men-and there were some-remained invisible. This is the kind of unconscious exclusionary thinking that the Calendar and the women in the industry seek to change.

These notable women are working to increase the visibility of Walla Walla's current women winemakers, to mentor and support women entering the field, and to encourage more women to study enology and viticulture. In addition they are taking the lead in collaborating with others to develop an inclusive community and bring greater recognition to the Walla Walla wine area. We heard again and again that people in the area are very kind and readily share equipment and expertise.

Both Mary Derby and Ashley Trout directly experienced this kindness in setting up their wineries and now are leading current efforts at collaboration with Walla Walla wineries and producers. When Mary's spouse Devin died in an accident in 2004, nine Walla Walla wineries got together and donated a large quantity wine, the sale of which ultimately funded the establishment of DaMa Wines. Ashley, the driving force behind Vital Wines, works closely with top vineyards to obtain donations of grapes to support her non-profit project. Other companies and individuals donate needed materials and labor.

Where will all this lead?
The Walla Walla women we talked with are following their own collective advice. They are bold, persistent, and committed. They are clearly articulating why they make the wines they do and how their talents contribute to the greater good. They drive forklifts, they collaborate with women and men in the cellars and the vineyards, and they craft superb wines. Nonetheless, having 15 to 20% of the wineries in the Walla Walla AVA with lead women winemakers will be a formidable task to achieve, but it is a goal they (and we) think is well within reach.

1Author Bios: Lucia Albino Gilbert, PhD, and John C. (Jack) Gilbert, PhD, both professors, have had long and distinguished careers at The University of Texas at Austin and Santa Clara University and are widely published in their fields. Their research on facilitating women's career success in male-dominated scientific fields such as winemaking combines Lucia's academic field of Psychology and John's academic field of Organic Chemistry. They can be reached at lgilbert@scu.edu. Their research website is www.womenwinemakers.com.

2 "The Walla Walla Community College Center for Enology and Viticulture: Building a competitive advantage of place." Nicholas Velluzzi, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Washington and Walla Walla Community College Wine Cluster Economic Development, 2007.

3 We researched the winery owners and winemakers for the wineries listed in the Walla Walla AVA and calculated the percentage of women winemakers. http://www.americanwineryguide.com/regions/walla-walla-valley-ava-wineries/

4See http://425magazine.com/walla-walla-winemakers-support-one-another/

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