In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m dedicating this week’s blog to a select group of women, particularly mothers, who have stepped up to leadership roles in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. As women, we constantly strive to find that elusive balance between family, personal life and business. Women in the wine industry have had to face those challenges usually without the support of other female mentors and role models. And let’s face it, like motherhood, wine making isn’t a 9 to 5 job that ends when you walk out the door. Similar to child rearing, knowledge and wisdom provide fundamental basics for making wine, but it’s passion, love and nurturing that make a phenomenal wine. I admire these women who have not only found balance in their pursuit of ambition, winemaking and family, but have also led the way for other women in the industry and even instilled their passion for wine and life in their children, essentially passing along the family torch. Cheers to them and all the other hard-working mothers out there!
Trials and Trailblazers
A look at women in the wine industry would be incomplete without first paying tribute to Susana Balbo. Argentina’s first woman to hold an enology degree, their first female winemaker, first female president of Wines of Argentina, first Argentine winemaker to be hired as a consultant to make wine outside of the country and founder of Dominio del Plata in Mendoza and its many labels, Susana is undoubtedly a trailblazer of the industry. She has not only made exceptional wine for decades paving the way other women and serving as an inspiration, but her two children are also now following in her footsteps.
Janie Brooks Heuck, who hosted a sold out tasting of her wines at VV last week, is a different kind of trailblazer. Born in Portland, Oregon, Janie never had any intention of being in the wine industry other than proudly supporting her brother, Jimi Brooks, founder of Brooks Winery. However, when Jimi unexpectedly passed away in 2004, Janie found herself faced with a difficult decision and basically dropped everything to take responsibility for the business operations of the winery. Surrounded by the guidance of some of the most respected winemakers in Oregon and the outpouring of generosity and support from the wine community, Janie quickly realized that she had to keep Jimi’s vision alive. Janie not only stepped up to maintain the reputation that Jimi had worked so hard to establish, volunteering to run the business and continuing with his biodynamic farming and other winemaking practices, but she also successfully increased production while helping to realize Jimi’s vision of creating a family legacy for his son, Pascal. Jenna Sagraves, our Director of Education, had the privilege of working at Brooks Winery during their harvest in October of 2014 and had in hand in making the delicious Pinot Noir rosé that we tasted last week and that was included this month’s wine club selection.
Fruits of Labor
We recently hosted a winemaker dinner with Leonardo Beconcini and Eva Bellagamba, the wine exporter and woman behind Pietro Beconcini Agricola in San Miniato, Italy. Eva enchanted us with her stories of generations of winemaking in their little corner of Tuscany tucked somewhere between Pisa and Florence, while we were treated to one family recipe after another all paired with their delicious wines. Leonardo and Eva experimented with many international varieties and Sangiovese clones over the years, but it wasn’t until 2004 that a professor from Milan performed DNA testing on one of their “mystery” varieties and discovered that this most successful planting was actually Tempranillo, the famous grape of Spain. We may never know exactly how or why this grape ended up on their land, but one thing is certain, you just have to experience Tuscan Tempranillo for yourself. If you can find a bottle of Vigna alle Nicchie on VV’s shelf (consider yourself lucky because I’m fairly certain those are all now safely secured in my cellar) buy it immediately! Made from these ancient “mystery” 100% Tempranillo vines with grapes that have been dried for 4 weeks much in the style of the great Amarone, this rich wine is highly concentrated with juicy, dark luscious fruit and balanced with spice, acidity and silky tannins; and it’s unlike any other Tempranillo that you have ever tasted.
Last month we also had a visit from the mother-daughter winemaking team, Amelia and Dalia Ceja. The Ceja winery was founded by first generation Mexican-American winegrowers in Napa and Sonoma. The amazing story began when Amelia met Pedro Ceja while picking fruit for Mondavi’s famous To Kalon Vineyard and later married in 1980. Within three years, Amelia and Pedro had purchased their very own land in Carneros and with passion and determination, celebrated their first harvest in 1988. Today, Ceja Vineyards contains 113 producing acres and, in this last decade, was recognized as the “Best Boutique Winery in Napa & Sonoma” twice. Amelia has also received awards including “most outstanding female leader, innovator and visionary in the wine field.” We enjoyed having Amelia and Dalia at VV and tasting some of their award-winning wines. Speaking with Amelia it’s evident how much of her families’ heart and soul is poured into each bottle. She tells us that a glass of wine is like a drink of history and in this case you can almost taste their incredible journey.
Toast to Mom
Let’s raise a glass or two in honor of mom this week. VV gives you every excuse to treat that special woman in your life to a wine or cooking class this weekend. The fun begins on Thursday, May 7th, with “Pink is the New Black,” a sampling of 8 juicy rosés perfect for Mother’s Day and Spring-time festivities, plus complementary cheese, salumi and Pâté for only $15.
Does mom like to roll up her sleeves in the kitchen? We’ve got you covered! We’re kicking off Mother’s Day weekend with a “Night in Havana” on May 8th. Whisk away mom for this cooking class that is anything but ordinary. The evening begins with a wine and cheese reception and ends with a delicious meal freshly prepared by you, but in between there is much wine, learning and fun to be shared for only $79 a person. On Saturday night, our popular Spanish global cooking and wine class is back. Learn how to make Manchego Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Serrano Ham, Paella, Tortilla Espanola and Tres Leches Cake while sipping on a variety of incredible regional wines from Rioja to Jerez. And for the ultimate wine lover, pick up an ENO card so she can sample any of the numerous options from our wine dispensing machines. Yes, we’ve thought of absolutely everything!