I am honored to be included in an article profiling women in wine for International Women’s Day, plus “the Wines We Are Toasting Them With” by Devin Parr. I’m even more excited to be toasted with a wine created by the women of Amista, our Blanc de Blanc.
What makes this wine extra special for toasting International Women’s Day is that it was created as the result of a spontaneous conversation between me and our newly hired woman winemaker, Ashley Herzberg, shortly after she arrived at Amista in 2011. We were standing in the Chardonnay vineyard one day and I asked her, “Do you think we could make a Blanc de Blanc from our Chardonnay?” She didn’t skip a beat when she answered, “Of course!” Mind you, she had not yet made a sparkling wine in her previous winemaking career. But, like me, she loves bubbles. Plus, Ashley is a woman who loves to learn and is always up for a new challenge.
That fall, Ashley did her first harvest specifically to make a sparkling wine. She picked the grapes earlier than she would for a still wine to achieve lower sugar levels and thus lower alcohol, and higher levels of acid. She was nervous about how to know when the grapes would be ready to pick.
She got some sage advice from another woman winemaker, Penny Gadd-Coster, who had been making sparkling wines for over a decade. Penny told her, “You just still pick for flavors. You're shifting what you're looking for in those flavors. But you're still picking for flavors.” Ashley did just that and the inaugural release of our Amista Blanc de Blanc in 2013 scored 91 points and won a gold medal in the Press Democrat’s “Best of the Best” North Coast Wine Challenge.
As we toast to women in wine on International Women’s Day it’s worth celebrating that “Women have long been making strides in wine and, although the work is by no means done, it’s an exciting time to be a woman in the industry,” says Parr. She’s right.
A lot has changed over the years for women in wine. I have had the privilege of talking with several women involved in making sparkling wine as part of my project Sparkling Discoveries and there is a clear difference in the experiences of the young women of today as compared with the women who began their careers over two decades ago.
The trailblazing women who started their careers back then were consistently told they could not be winemakers because the work was too difficult for women. In my conversation with Eileen Crane, founding winemaker at Gloria Ferrer and Domaine Carneros, she told me that the first professor she met when she was exploring a degree in enology at Davis told her she couldn’t be a winemaker because she wouldn’t be able to do the work in the cellar. “You can’t handle the barrels,’ he told me. He suggested I finish my PhD in nutrition. I told him I’m not going to be doing that. I’m going to be a winemaker.” It took courage and determination to challenge such attitudes.
The younger women working in wine today no longer face that kind of active opposition. Women are being encouraged to go into winemaking and wine business. They are celebrated, honored and recruited.
Challenges remain however, although they are less blatant. One has to do with the automatic assumption that the man is the winemaker or CEO. When a man and a woman are both pouring at a tasting, the questions about winemaking are typically directed to the man, although that appears to be changing. Kathleen Inman, Owner and Winemaker at Inman Family Wines, says, “I’ve noticed that people are less surprised to find out that I’m the winemaker, and not my husband, than they were 10 years ago.”
The other two challenges are pay equity and the presence of women in the most senior positions in wine businesses. A 2020 study by Wine Business Monthly shows 28.8% of the wineries had a female as Winemaking Director, although the average of the salaries for those females was 8% lower than the average for males. The same study shows 22% of winery CEOs were female but total cash compensation of the men was nearly double that of the women (1.95 times greater).
So yes, there is still work to do. That is why it’s inspiring to read about examples of women with “extraordinary talent in wine” as described by Parr, and to hear what embracing equity means to each of them.
“As the consulting winemaker for Amista Vineyards and Cast Wines, Ashley’s talents have produced many memorable wines. If you haven’t tried the Amista sparkling wine collection, be sure to stop by soon,” writes Rebecca Germolus in her article “A Toast to Women Winemakers.”
“In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s explore the paths of a few women winemakers along the Wine Road,” adds Germolus. If you are familiar with Sonoma County wine, you’ll know the names of the three women she features as pioneers, Carol Shelton, Julia Iantosca and Phyllis Zouzounis. Not only do they craft amazing wines, but they truly have been part of blazing the path for a future generation of women winemakers in Sonoma County. Rebecca proposes a toast to these pioneering women, saying, “A big thank you to Carol, Julia and Phyllis for staying the course.” We couldn’t agree more.
We are thrilled that Ashley is recognized as one of the next generation women shaping winemaking in Sonoma County. She is in good company on this list of other extremely talented female winemakers. She knows and interacts with all these women. That is one of the most wonderful things about Northern Sonoma County. There is a sense of connection, mutual support and admiration that permeates our wine community. By the way, men are not excluded, although I suspect the bond with other women is something extra special.
One of the ways Ashley stands out is making sparkling wines. Only a handful of winemakers in Sonoma County can make that claim plus Ashley is equally talented at crafting still wines. Her focus at Amista is on creating elegant, approachable sparkling wines from varieties that are not traditional - Rhône varieties - though she uses the traditional method, the same process that is used to make French Champagne. She is currently making six sparkling wines for Amista, all grown in our estate vineyards, and has another fermenting in the bottle to be released in 2024 to celebrate our 20th anniversary.
If you haven’t tried her sparkling wines or need to treat yourself again, we invite you to Taste With Us and toast to the women winemakers along the wine road.
Read “A Toast to Women Winemakers,” by Rebecca Germolus.
“This effervescent dream benefits from being made using the Methode Champenoise, which is the process used to make fine French Champagne,” suggests a feature called Special Sips in the Scottsdale Airpark News.
If you happen to be in the Scottsdale airport, you might see Amista featured in this magazine. We are delighted to be included with so many other fine wines from Sonoma County along with a few from Napa Valley. Our Sparkling Grenache is described as an “effervescent dream” adding, “If nothing else, try this one for its nose, which is bursting with tangerine, grapefruit, and Meyer lemon.”
But what would be the point of just sniffing the wine when you can experience the joy of bubbles dancing on your tongue and treat your palate to the flavors of freshly picked strawberries?
At Amista we specialize in estate grown red Rhône varieties. We also specialize in making sparkling wines using the classic method used in Champagne. So, it’s no surprise that we love to make sparkling wines from our Rhône varieties. Winemaker Ashley Herzberg loves all bubbles – Champagnes, especially those made by small grower/producers, Crémants, Cava’s and sparkling wines made in the U.S. She had been making a sparkling rosé from another Rhône grape from our estate vineyards since she joined us in 2011. In 2013 she was ready to make another sparkling rosé and thought the Grenache grown on our estate Morningsong Vineyards would be perfect. She was right!
She harvested the grapes earlier than for the still Grenache to achieve the right balance of sugar, acid and flavors for a sparkling wine and left them on the skins for just a few hours to achieve a delicate pink color. She calls is “ballet slipper pink”. I will never forget experiencing this wine for the first time. We were in the cellar, and she took a small sample from the tank. The color was amazing, and yep, it was ballet slipper pink. Our first taste was before its secondary fermentation in the bottle, which is what produces the delicate bubbles. Even as a still wine it was beautiful on the palate.
It would be 18 months before we could taste the resulting sparkling wine. We feel in love. But we weren’t alone. Wine Business Monthly selected the inaugural release of our Sparkling Grenache and Amista as one of 10 Hot Brands in 2017.
"Sparkling wine isn't just for celebrations anymore. That's not to say we shouldn't be drinking sparkling on momentous occasions or for holidays - if you asked Vicky Farrow and Ashley Herzberg, we should be drinking it every day of the year. Maybe they're a little biased - they're in charge of the sparkling wine program at Amista Vineyards, tucked away along Sonoma County's famed Dry Creek Road - but it does sound like they're on to something big." says Wine Business Monthly.
We now have a collection of six sparkling wines with a seventh to debut in 2024 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Amista. Stay tuned!
Check out "Special Sips" in the Scottsdale Airpark Magazine.
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