For these members of the wine industry, March 1 – the start of Women’s History Month – was an ideal day to announce the launch of the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine.
The group’s stated mission is to inspire, educate and advance women in the Washington wine industry, and its inaugural president is Tiffany Britton, winemaker/owner of Brainstorm Cellars in West Richland.
“The timing is way overdue, but the actual formation of this group and its goals took time in order to make sure it will be sustainable, valuable and meaningful,” Britton told Great Northwest Wine.
“As our team grew, more and more phenomenal women started making connections, sharing jobs, offering career help. Everyone in the group is committed to providing those opportunities now and in the future.”
Their numbers already stand at 201 and counting. During the past 18 months, the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine has recruited leaders from virtually every phase of the industry to serve inaugural three-year terms:
• Vice president – Casey Cobble, winemaker, Goose Ridge Winery
• Treasurer – Maurine Johnson, winemaker, Goose Ridge Winery
• Secretary – Rebecca Alberts, enologist, Fidelitas Wines
• Board member, social – K.D. Organ, assistant winemaker, Coventry Vale/educator, Wine & Spirits Archive
• Board member, student outreach/education – Tanya Morning Star Darling, CellarMuse
• Member at large – Rachael Horn, winemaker/owner, AniChe Cellars
• Advisory office – Kristin Scheelar, associate winemaker, Columbia Winery
• Member (mentor) at large – Megan Schofield, director of winemaking, Constellation Brands
• Ex-officio – Heather Unwin, instructor, Northwest Wine Academy, South Seattle College
More than 18 months of work behind the scenes by Britton and Cobble has made an impression on Unwin, who has served as executive director of both the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance and the Red Mountain AVA Alliance.
“There’s no ‘founder,’ but Tiffany and Casey were the drivers to keep showing up and asking people what they wanted and needed,” Unwin said. “The two of them spearheaded meetings and planned events.”
And the group continues to marvel at the juggling Alberts has handled on the technology side, including website maintenance.
“She started building it amidst a COVID-19-regulated, smoke-filled harvest while simultaneously attempting to schedule what turned out to be a COVID-19 postponed wedding,” Britton said. “She has done it single-handedly!”
Leaders offer assistance
A number of the state’s leading producers have been instrumental in helping the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine hit the ground running.
“We’ve been hosted at Hedges, Barnard Griffin and (Precept-owned) Canyon Ranch,” Unwin said. “We’ve had an event at Wine Thief in Walla Walla. K.D. held a wine education event, and a volunteer night at Second Harvest was held.”
The nonprofit group’s legal home is Wine Boss in Richland thanks to Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas. The group also credits Jayne Cain, marketing manager for the Washington State Wine Commission, and Shylah Alfonso of Pomum Cellars for making the connection with Seattle-based Perkins Coie, ranked in 2019 by Forbes magazine as one of the top corporate law firms in the U.S. Alfonso is a partner at Perkins Coie.
“They offered nonprofit education and board education, and Tiffany and Casey started that process in April 2020,” Unwin said.
According to the group, there are many reasons for continued education. Women from all areas of the wine industry say they’ve experienced isolation, a lack of diversity and a need for opportunity awareness.
“The Alliance of Women in Washington Wine is a place where your voice can be heard without judgment, where you can receive support from others in similar situations and where you can safely ask for advice on how to positively change your working environment or career trajectory,” it says.
Donations made during Women’s History Month will fund the scholarship program. The Alliance of Women in Washington Wine has applied for its 501(c)(3) public charity classification with the IRS, but because the application is pending, there is no legal assurance in the interim that a donation will be tax-deductible.
And for those who sign up to become a “member” of the group’s Facebook private page, there will be no membership dues.
“We deliberately do not have any members,” Unwin said. “We have some 200 women professionals guiding the process. It is a board, and there are donor levels, but no one has to donate or even volunteer in order to advise or suggest programming.”
Social media campaign begins
Starting on March 8 – International Women’s Day – the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine kicked off a social media campaign that includes a series of features on women winemakers, vineyard managers, winemaking and vineyard teams, winery owners and other wine professionals.
Miriah Falce, a viticulture technician and harvest winemaker for Precept, manages the group’s Instagram account and helps populate its Facebook page.
That same day, Cairdeas Winery in Manson, co-owned by Lacey Lybecker, offered a pre-release of its 2020 Lawrence Vineyard Nellie Mae – a perennially popular Rhône-inspired white wine – and donated a portion of that wine’s sales to the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine.
And while it hasn’t been easy to launch a statewide group in the middle of a pandemic, the advent of video conferencing helped build their network.
“We really have moved from place to place, but everything’s been Zoom for the last year or so,” Unwin said. “Plus, our board is working full-time, many have young families and are all over the state, so we try and keep things as convenient as humanly possible.”
At this point, there are no official numbers on the scale of women working in the Washington wine industry. However, the Washington State Wine Commission hopes the July launch of its new website will go a long way to gather such data.
One thing is for certain. Women will continue to enter the Washington wine industry through colleges across the state – Washington State University, Central Washington University, Walla Walla Community College, Yakima Valley College and South Seattle College.
Britton graduated from Yakima Valley College’s viticulture and enology program before matriculating to WSU.
Ironically, the president and vice president of the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine are proud alumnae of rival schools, Britton from WSU and Cobble from the University of Washington.
“They seem to co-exist nicely, thank you,” Unwin quipped.
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