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Women in Wine: These Winemakers are Elevating the Industry

Historically, winemaking has been a male-dominated industry. Despite boundaries to entry and societal obstacles, women are shaking things in the world of wine now more than ever. 

As of 2023, roughly 18% of the 5,000 wineries in California are women-owned, only 1% of which are black-owned. With so much talent and potential, women in the industry are carving a path to a more inclusive and diverse future.

In this article, we’re highlighting ten women-led vineyards and the brilliant winemakers behind them.

Women in Wine Infographic | DRINKS

  1. 1. Sarah Hoffman, Kendra Kawala, and Zoe Victor of Maker Wine

The co-founders of the e-commerce wine brand Maker Wine are making a splash in the industry, with over 40,000 members in their online community and 2,000 Can Club members. Specializing in premium canned wines, the DTC company has 12 varietals with 90+ point scores and 43 gold medals from competitions like the SF Chronicle Int’l Wine Competition, Sunset Int’l Wine Competition, and the Sommelier’s Challenge. 

Maker Wine has gained over $5 million in sales since its launch and sold over 350,000 canned wines last year. 

Sarah Hoffman says that about 80% of the wine brands Maker works with are women-led, making for a wonderful step in the right direction when it comes to women in the wine industry.

  1. 2. Terah Bajjalieh of Terah Wine Co., Lodi

The newest addition to Maker Wine, Terah Bajjalieh, is a Bay Area native who discovered her passion for viticulture and enology through a love of food and travel. After exploring several vineyards, Terah took the lead and started her own wine business, Terah Wine Co., in Lodi, California.

Terah’s winemaking process involves producing expressive, structured, and balanced wine from grapes grown in a variety of unique microclimates. She also sources grapes from only biodynamic and organically farmed vineyards.

Terah Wine Co. is best known for its Orange Vermentino, Carbonic Sangiovese, and, of course, canned wines crafted for Maker Wine. 

  1. 3. Theodoro R. Lee of Theopolis Vineyards, Mendocino

Also known as Theo-patra, Queen of the Vineyards, Theodoro R. Lee is the award-winning head winemaker and owner behind the Black-owned Theopolis Vineyards. After a successful career as a trial lawyer, the Anderson Valley native learned everything she could about crafting premium wine.

Theopolis Vineyard is best known for its Petite Syrah and Rosé of Petite Syrah.

  1. 4. Nicole Walsh of Ser Winery, Santa Cruz

Surfing enthusiast Nicole Walsh is the lead winemaker behind great wines produced in the Santa Cruz Mountains, specializing in single-origin wines true to their terroir. Through sustainable agriculture practices and a love of cool-climate grape varieties, Ser Winery is known for the rare Cabernet Pfeffer, a red wine boasting pomegranate and black pepper notes.

This wine is also hailed for its refreshing sparkling wines like dry sparkling Riesling and fruity Rose of Grenache.

Two women drinking red wine | DRINKS

5. Alice Sutro of Sutro Wine Co. Healdsburg

Artist turned wine producer Alice Sutro of Sutro Wine Co. is passionate about crafting exquisite Cabernet and Merlot in the quaint town of Healdsburg, California. She is also passionate about promoting strong female winemakers in her weekly “Womxn in Wine” conversations on social media. This wine company is also well known for its Maker Cab Sauv, which is currently the highest-rated canned red wine on the market. 

  1. 6. Milla Handley of Handley Cellars, Mendocino

The first female winemaker in the United States to establish a wine brand under her name, Milla Handley founded Handley Cellars in Anderson Valley in 1982. The family estate vineyard is now run by her daughter Lulu, who specializes in premium organic Pinot Noir. Practices involve minimal intervention to craft the wine. In addition, the Maker X Handley Pinot was the fastest wine to ever sell out at Handley Cellars. 

  1. 7. Janell Dusi of J Dusi Wines, Paso Robles

Another family estate that dates back to the 1920s, Janell Dusi’s grandfather inspired her passion for Italian wines, especially Zinfandel. The boutique tasting room at J Dusi Wines boasts excellent, premium Zin that’s been perfected over a generation. 

  1. 8. Vailia of Desperada, Paso Robles

After almost 20 years of experience in the wine industry, free-spirited, Vailia established her winery, Desperada, in the heart of Paso Robles. She has been declared an up-and-coming star on the Central Coast by Jeb Dunnick of Wine Advocate. Vailia’s elegant wines are crafted free of stylistic constraints, with her Sackcloth and Ashes red blend at the top. This wine boasts a powerful taste and depicts different versions of Venus and Diana from 19th-century French paintings. Everything from crisp, vibrant white wines like Sauvignon Blanc to Italian wines and Bordeaux blends are available at Desperada. 

  1. 9. Nicol Pope of Stolo Vineyards, Cambria

Originally a winemaker in Napa Valley, South Africa, and Australia, Nicol Pope established Stolo Vineyards in Cambria, crafting natural wine. The formal tasting room of this beautiful vineyard overlooks a vibrant meadow and boasts refreshing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and an outstanding Gewürztraminer.

  1. 10. Mireia and Tara of Camins 2 Dreams, Lompoc

Established by the wife and wife winemaking duo born and raised in Spain, Camins 2 Dreams in Lompoc, California, is known for hand-crafted, terroir-driven wines that are fermented in natural yeast. After first meeting as harvest interns, Mireia and Tara harvested grapes in the Pyrenees Mountains, both receiving their Master’s in Enology and Viticulture. 

Two women testing wine | DRINKS

Women-Owned Wineries Making an Impact

While the wine industry may have a long way to go regarding diversity and inclusion, there are many talented women and black winemakers making an impact. We’ve only highlighted ten for now, but we encourage you to explore more, as there are many deserving of recognition for their hard work.

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