Sisters of the Vinifera Revolution

Women winemakers band together

During fall of 2012, a group of juice-splattered and harvest-weary women gathered ’round the custom crush pad at Woodinville’s Patterson Cellars, trading stories and commiserating on the challenges of being a woman in the wine industry. Lisa Warr-King Packer, Casey Cobble, Hillary Sjolund, and Kristin Scheelar thought they were just passing time with a little group therapy session over the destemmer, but a bigger idea took form. They declared themselves the Sisters of the Vinifera Revolution (SOVR) — a clever nod to the Daughters of the American Revolution.

“Everybody was tired of being an intern,” remembers Packer of Warr-King Wines in Woodinville. “We were ready to be winemakers, but it is a difficult industry to get into, especially as a woman.”

Over the next few months, the women got together over beers at Triplehorn Brewing Co. in Woodinville, discussing how best to organize, whom to include, and what the purpose of a woman-only winemaking group might be. They found it refreshing to discuss their wines in a noncompetitive environment, with colleagues who offered support and even collaboration when necessary.

Richard Duvall Photography

Richard Duvall Photography

In addition to support, the group shared contacts and resources, and began working toward a mission: to promote an alternative to the industry perception of winemakers as “dudes.” Eventually, their meetings became a regular occurrence, and new women joined the fold. Educational components, like tasting different varietals and styles, have been added to the marketing strategy sessions.

The group’s membership is informal still, though its ranks are growing. Being involved in the production or winemaking process is the one caveat to join, as much as they love their tasting room and marketing sisters. Though no dues are currently required, it’s not out of the question in the future when the group can offer specified participation in events.

“We want our group to be taken seriously as winemakers — not ‘winemakerettes.’ (Women) are a significant part of the next generation (of Washington winemakers),” says Cobble.

Cobble decided to pursue winemaking after a post-college wine-tasting trip with her mother in Prosser. Listening to the winemaker elaborate on his life fascinated Cobble, who was immediately interested a field that included science, creativity, and physical work. She subsequently enrolled in the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle College, landing an assistant winemaker spot at Betz Family Winery in Woodinville after graduation. Cobble is now head winemaker at Robert Ramsay Cellars in Woodinville.

“The more women winemakers in the public eye, the better it will get for everyone.”

“I get a kick out of surprising people when they find out I’m a winemaker. The more women winemakers in the public eye, the better it will get for everyone,” says Cobble.

Packer left a 20-year career in high-tech marketing to pursue her passion for winemaking. During classes in the Wine Technology Program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, she worked a harvest as an intern with Patterson Cellars and was thoroughly hooked. Packer went on to obtain a certification in Enology from WSU and experience making large-scale white wines at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville before forging her own Warr-King Wines label.

During a recent woman-winemaker event hosted by Russell’s Restaurant in Bothell, the 125 women who attended impressed Packer. “There is a place in the industry for us right now. People want to see what we bring to the table. I may be biased, but I do think we (women) have better palates,” says Packer.

Sjolund brings solid chemistry chops to the mix, having fallen in love with the industry as an analytical lab tech at Pine Ridge Winery in Napa during her undergraduate studies at University of California, Davis. Sjolund currently manages fermentation at Wine Boss in Richland, overseeing more than 40,000 cases per year and representing more than 25 brands. She launched her own label, Sonoris Wines, in 2011, and frequently travels back and forth over the Cascades.

Sjolund says she’s excited to be making wine in Washington. “We have an amazing natural acidity to our wines … and are able to grow so many varieties of grapes. We have a lot of opportunity to make world-class wines.”

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