The Women Behind The Wine
It’s Women’s History Month and we’re highlighting #WomenCrushingIt in their industries every week of March. These women are inspiring, hardworking game changers. We’re kicking it off with two of the women on our winemaking team who perfectly complete our sisterhood across two hemispheres.
Before we begin, a little HERstory from Andréa and Robin:
Andréa: “In 2016, we were on the prowl for a GREAT winemaker that could join us on our mission. Not an easy task, given our winemaking philosophy, non traditional approach and view of the world through Rosé colored glasses. (Not to mention the fact that our sister wine journey is 18 years strong.) And while wine is tied to 8,000 years of history, we can’t ever learn enough and remain hauntingly curious, tasting hundreds of wines a year in pursuit of pleasure and perfection of our craft and portfolio. We’ve developed our own unspoken language when it comes to wine … sometimes we don’t even need to talk about it, we just know what the other is thinking. Robin has the stronger palate and my strength lies in the geeky details. Robin hates pretense, and I can be boujee AF. We are nothing without each other, but definitely something together, here to break the rules and drink the wine.”
Image: Jean Pedigo
Robin: “We met Amy Butler first. Stasi Seay, a force whom we both admire greatly, had been breaking barriers in grape growing and Viticulture in the Central Coast with more than 30 vintages under her belt. She said we had to meet Amy. Amy had been bitten by the wine bug at a young age too. Her mom joined a wine club and she was mesmerized by the winemaker notes. She decided to attend UC Davis and pursue a degree in fermentation science. After graduation, she first worked for Stag's Leap and then she worked for the well-known American winery, Schramsberg, to perfect her skills in sparkling wine. Eventually, she found herself in Paso Robles and her love affair with Rhone varietals would lead her to become president of the Rhone Rangers in the Central Coast and she is still an active member in the organization. Amy is fearless, but also practical, incredibly thoughtful and smart. We work closely with Amy to develop wines that we love, wines we are proud of. And 5 years later, she’s our head winemaker, doing the impossible and CRUSHING IT.
Andréa: “Diana Hawkins is one of our newer family members. We first learned about her at Essence Festival in 2019 when we were chatting with esteemed Advanced Sommelier Wanda Cole Nicholson about expanding our winemaking family. She mentioned a Diana Hawkins, who was ‘down in New Zealand, finishing her Master’s program in winemaking.’ We find out that Diana was a former engineer who quit corporate America to follow her passion for wine. She’d attained her Level 2 Certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers and worked at one of the best restaurants in Chicago, Alinea, which has 3 Michelin stars. My mind was blown. We met up in New Zealand and over several glasses of sparkling wine, at the bottom of the South Hemisphere on a tiny island that most have never heard of (Waiheke), we got to know each other and I was immediately taken by her confidence, curiosity, humbleness and perspective. She’s been our Assistant Winemaker since 2020, based in Waiheke Island, New Zealand and she is absolutely CRUSHING IT."
Let’s hear from Amy and Diana in our first #WomenCrushingIt Q&A to celebrate Women’s History Month. This month is a time to showcase and celebrate the women in our sisterhood. Raise a glass and enjoy!
Meet Amy Butler
Robin: “How is the 2021 International Women's Day theme #ChooseToChallenge meaningful to you? What has challenged you as a woman in a male-dominated industry?”
Amy: “I have always felt (and maybe this is just my personality) that I had to do more and be better to get by. When I started my own wine brand, this became even more clear to me. I was constantly asked ‘Who makes your wine?’ Or even ‘So your husband makes the wine?’ It is truly a breath of fresh air to be working in a women-owned, women-driven business, where there are no assumptions and no ignorant sexism. And yes, I still feel like I have to do more and be better, but now that’s just a work ethic instead of a gender-imposed challenge.”
Robin: “Who has inspired you to break the rules or think beyond them as a woman in wine?”
Amy: “You and Andréa are overwhelmingly inspiring. You absolutely live by your ‘Break the Rules, Drink the Wine’ mantra. To be honest, you both were the first women in a position of power in my professional life who truly, truly believed in me and convinced me to get on board! I'm so glad I did!”
Robin: “How does your sisterhood - friends, family and colleagues - support you personally and professionally?”
Amy: “My mother has always inspired me. She was always a career-focused woman who showed me how to do it! The girlfriends I feel closest to are largely entrepreneurs (entrepreneuresses?) and make their own rules. And we are truly cheerleaders for each other! Maybe they don't make wine, but they make chocolates, or visual art or legal briefs. We all appreciate each other so much. Professionally, I'm on a great team of women in the Operations/Winemaking department at MSC, and their talent, communication, and execution constantly amaze and guide me.”
Robin: “What inspired you to get into winemaking and how does this career measure up to your expectations?”
Amy: “When I was in high school, my mom was a wine club member and there was one on the Central Coast of California whose shipments I came to anticipate because of their super-creative wine club enclosure. Their winemaker waxed poetic about the offerings and I just LOVED his writing. I decided I wanted to be a winemaker … I think I thought they were ALL brilliant wordsmiths and wacky scientists. I feel lucky because I'm equally comfortable handling a shovel in the cellar and a pipette in the lab, foot treading grapes or creating a blending spreadsheet. Without being certain what my expectations were, I have to say that my life feels very fulfilled from a career perspective. I've had other jobs, but winemaking has been my only career. I'm not sure I know how to do anything else!”
Robin: “What is your favorite part of the process when it comes to making wine?”
Amy: “Completion. While bottling day is either the most interesting (if it goes poorly) or boring (if it goes smoothly) day of a winemaker's life, it is so satisfying to see that product finally filled, corked, labeled and boxed. Few people realize how many moving parts have to come together to make that happen. It's like cooking eggs benedict for a crowd!”
Robin: “How would you describe the region you're working in and what makes it so special?”
Amy: “I'm California born and bred. Napa had its appeal when I first came out of college, but when it came to settling down for a life and a lifestyle, the Central Coast was everything. It still has a small town appeal while taking wine very seriously! I love the cool nights here during the summer and early fall, and so do the vines! You only need to drive a few miles to experience completely unique grape-growing conditions.”
Robin: “If you could describe your job in one word, what would it be?”
Amy: “One word? Just one? FUN! Even though it can be high-stress and fast-paced and there's a lot at stake, ultimately we are creating an unforgettable experience for women of all kinds. How can that be anything but FUN?”
Meet Diana Hawkins
Andréa: “How is the 2021 International Women's Day theme #ChooseToChallenge meaningful to you? What has challenged you as a woman of color in a male-dominated industry?”
Diana: “If we don’t challenge the status quo, nothing is ever going to change for the better. By encouraging people to get a bit uncomfortable or challenged via calling out inappropriate behavior, it encourages and promotes positive change and progress (which is sorely needed!)
In addition, making wine is a very physical process. Other than overcoming misogynoir, the biggest challenge when I was first starting out in the cellar was making what my male counterparts did work for me. I don’t need to be able to deadlift a wine barrel to get the job done safely and efficiently, for example. Another challenge has been overcoming people’s shock to my very existence as a young, black, woman winemaker. Sometimes people short circuit initially and don’t know what to do with me (lol) but I’ve found that once they get over that initial shock, they’re happy I’m there and quick to put me to work on the team.”
Andréa: “Who has inspired you to break the rules or think beyond them as a woman in wine?”
Diana: “My grandmother. She broke every rule in the book and inspires me to keep pushing and challenging the status quo. She moved from Louisiana to Chicago during the great migration, went to college and got her teaching degree. When my biological grandfather died suddenly, she raised 4 kids as a single mom, paid off her house, and travelled around the globe. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for her tenacity and rule breaking behaviour.”
Andréa: “When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
Diana: “I wanted to design and build robots and cars. I went to school for engineering. So I did design and build robots, but in the end it wasn’t for me.”
Andréa: “What inspired you to get into winemaking and how does this career measure up to your expectations?”
Diana: “I’m a nerd and had a lot of questions about wine and the winemaking process that I didn’t find answers to in the books I was reading at the time. So, I decided to take the plunge and really get into it. I absolutely love it! I love the physical aspect, the creativity involved, the seriously geeky parts, how it brings people together and everything in between.”
Andréa: “What is your favorite part of the process when it comes to making wine?”
“Blending, which occurs once the wines have been made. I love tasting through all the different vineyard blocks (lots) and detecting the nuance and differences between each one. Then, you blend them together to make something far more profound. Winemaking is equal parts art and science, and blending is definitely the artsy part. I also love selecting yeast for fermentation and tasting a wine as it goes from grape to glass.”
Andréa: “How would you describe the region you're working in and what makes it so special?”
Diana: “There is no place on earth like Aotearoa New Zealand. That’s not hyperbole, it’s quite literal. There are animals here that are found nowhere else. There are breathtakingly gorgeous landscapes, and the earth’s crust is so thin that there are unique geologic features (think Yellowstone) and tons of sleeping volcanoes (think Hawaii). The temperatures here never get too hot or too cold because of the Pacific Ocean and Antarctic currents. The soil types are also quite varied, and the winemaking culture so young that there’s still so much to explore. So, I find the region really exciting because of that – there are infinite possibilities.”
Andréa: “If you could describe your job in one word, what would it be?”
Diana: “Making it happen!”
That’s our foursome, that’s our winemaking team. Bold, discerning women. Different ages, nationalities, cultures and backgrounds, all united by a common mission: to transform the industry, lead by example and cultivate community, one delicious glass of wine at a time. Cheers to the #WOMENCRUSHINGIT!