Here’s What I’ve Learned as a Woman Winery Owner

4 Min Read

In my career, I'm often asked what it's like to own and operate a winery as a woman. When you look at the numbers, I can see why this question arises. Nationwide, women only make up 8% of winemakers. Furthermore, while 47% of male winemakers own their wineries, only 4% of women winemakers do. Winemaking being a male-dominated industry bears no influence on what I love about it.

Here's the thing about winemakers, by definition we are creators, and we need the freedom to be creative. We chose this life because we love people, creativity, and excitement.

That said, if there were two pieces of advice I could give to any woman thinking of becoming a winemaker, the first would be to never work a harvest while pregnant. That was a terrible experience that I'd vehemently like to never repeat. The second piece of advice would be to make sure it's something you love. Not just love the taste of wine but love the craft, love the labor inside the bottle, love the seasons that so strongly define your work, and lastly, what should have been first, love the people that make each delicious sip possible.

Your "Why" is Your Fuel

Balancing my time between my for-profit and my nonprofit wineries—Brook & Bull and Vital Wines, respectively, both based in Walla Walla, Washington—has been the real struggle. After I first launched and eventually sold a winery, I realized that I no longer had any creative control of that business, and it was bringing me down.

Here's the thing about winemakers, by definition we are creators, and we need the freedom to be creative. We chose this life because we love people, creativity, and excitement.

The "why" that fuels Vital wines is my passion for giving back.

After this experience and as my two children started regularly sleeping through the night, I began to revert to the whole human I once had been. I was ready to begin my work on both Brook & Bull and Vital Wines.

Brook & Bull satisfied the artistic nature that every winemaker has. While Vital came about for a few reasons, namely that I had been making alcohol for years at that point, and one wonders whether that's making the world a better place. I wanted to make sure I was making the world a better place, too.

The luxury wine industry is interesting. We come from the restaurant, farming, and hospitality industries, all of which don't provide regular health insurance.

Neither do we.

When you account for the number of people who only work one day a week in a tasting room or three months of the year in the vineyard, it's no wonder workers in our industry don't expect round-the-year health insurance to be an option. It often isn't.

The "why" that fuels Vital wines is my passion for giving back. It's mission as a non-profit is to improve access to healthcare for vineyard and cellar workers in our local communities. Practically everything is donated: corks, capsules, grapes, etc. All profits go toward open-door, free clinics or other healthcare sources for our local wine workers.

The Juggle

The key to being able to manage both projects has been not only delegation but proper delegation. I trust people until they prove me wrong. While this sounds lovely, what it means is that I've historically given staff members projects with no hand-holding or onboarding whatsoever. It frustrates both parties.

Both projects are a piece of me: the artist and the social advocate.

So many of us are ready to learn new things and take on new tasks, but without any prior knowledge or training, that delegation will not come to a happy end. My struggle has been to slow down the onboarding program of any task, so the staff member really has the knowledge to do it. Without that, those tasks have historically fallen back on me, inhibiting my ability to run multiple projects at a high scale.

Be Brave Enough to be Honest With Yourself

On our website, people can donate the cost of a vineyard workday through our "Day at Home" donation program. If someone on their crew is infected, others who would like to stay home for a day or two can still get paid. Those that don't own a car or live with high risk relatives don't have to choose between lost wages and the safety of their loved ones. It's an extremely fulfilling experience to have created this program.

So when you wake up in the morning, which do you choose? Do you spend time on the investor-backed passion project that carries your name and places you in full creative control of operations? Or do you toil for free on the passion project that allows very hard-working people to get their wrist examined?

This becomes a more challenging situation when several parties have put forth funding to see you succeed. However, there's beauty hidden within the conflict. It wasn't immediate, but eventually, I learned to view both projects in the same way I view being a working mother. Of course, you could devote more time to one or the other. And even the best jugglers drop the ball every once and awhile. But to have the luxury and honor to work on both is more fulfilling than the alternative—for me. Both projects are a piece of me: the artist and the social advocate.

When you create something you enjoy each day, it's not a conflict of what to do, but rather which passion to pursue.

3 min read

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.


Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.

I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!

- The Armchair Psychologist

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