The Women of Union’s Winemaking Team

At Union Wine Company we value diversity, equality, and inclusivity. We are proud of our incredible team of winemakers which includes 3 women—Joanna, our Enologist, Meredith, our Production Winemaker, and Kaitlin, our Assistant Winemaker. These women help to create a strong team. They each bring their own varied backgrounds and unique achievements to their roles while sharing a love of the science of winemaking. In the spirit of celebrating women around the world this month, we would like to introduce you to these three and let them tell you a little bit about themselves.

Joanna Engel, enologist

Union Wine Co Winemakers

First of all, what does an Enologist do?

The responsibilities of an enologist are dependent on the winery they’re working for.  Here at Union, I science the shit out of our wine. I run a variety of analyses on our products to make sure they meet our, and our consumers, expectations. I monitor fermentation during harvest to ensure the yeast is happy, and through secondary fermentation (when it occurs). I prepare and analyze fining and blending trials. With those results, I write work orders for the cellar team to make the tank adjustments and then perform analysis to ensure the resulting product meets our specifications so the consumer can be sure to get a delicious bottle (or can) of wine.

What drew you to winemaking/the wine industry as a career? Why wine?

I was working at a tasting bar while finishing my PhD in laying hen behavior and welfare. I was burned out on my research but I loved wine and science and decided to combine them. I applied to so many harvest lab tech jobs that first harvest and 1 person decided to take a chance on me! I’ve never regretted it.

Joanna Union Wine Co

Where did you grow up?

Ohio (O-H!)

Any ridiculous harvest stories?

Too many! Harvest is a great time to meet new people from all over the world! I’ve overheard and participated in some pretty ridiculous conversations.

Joanna Engel Joanna Engel

Most enjoyable way to spend your free time?

Hiking, running, travel, and baking!

Favorite wine-growing region besides Oregon and why.

This is tough because I’ve had a lot of great wines from all over the world. I spent a lot of time in Australia before joining the wine industry and really have an appreciation for some of the lesser-known regions there: Rutherglen in VIC (Victoria) and the Great Southern and Pemberton regions in WA (Western Australia.)

What are you most proud of?

Completing my PhD. It’s something I worked really hard for and even though I’m not using it, I earned it!

What is something the average person doesn’t know about winemaking but you think should have more awareness around?

It’s not glamorous. You get dirty and you’re often exhausted, but it feels great to make something you’re proud of.

Is there a woman that inspires you the most, either a woman winemaker or anyone?

My maternal grandma was a woman ahead of her time. She was the first woman in her family to go to college and the first woman to graduate from that college. She became the first female teacher in her town to be married but have children. She was strong and told some of the most amazing stories. My mom was the first woman in her family to go to college and receive a PhD  (in chemistry). She raised me to stand up for myself and speak up when necessary.

What do women winemakers bring to the table?

I think the same as anyone else, a unique perspective and different opinions.

Would you recommend this industry to young women, and why?

Definitely! If you are willing to work hard and own your mistakes (we all make them) you will do well in this industry. Especially in Oregon, there are many groups for women in wine and even a conference held every year for women.

Are there intern/summer job experiences you’d recommend someone do to get a good feel for the industry?

Work a harvest! Harvest roles start being advertised In late February, but last-minute positions often become available in August/September.

List some of the roles you’ve had since you started in the industry.

I have mainly worked in wine labs, monitoring fermentation, performing wine chemistry, and blending and fining trials. Last harvest I worked in the cellar, processing fruit for white wine production and saw it through all aspects until fermentation finished. It was a great opportunity to round out my skills and I’m really proud of the quality of wine my teammate and I produced.

What are some of the challenges you face being a woman in this industry?

There have been times I felt I wasn’t taken as seriously, but I tend to be the squeaky wheel and persist to be heard.

 

Meredith McGough, Production Winemaker

What does a Production Winemaker do?

As Production Winemaker, I spend most of the year running our Packaging Facility. I’m responsible, along with the Packaging Facility staff, for ensuring that quality wine gets into the can and bottle, whether it be through participation in blending tastings and decision-making, ordering packaging materials, or scheduling and logistics. During the growing season I spend time out checking on vineyards and making picking decisions, and during harvest I spend time at the winery helping to make decisions and manage the harvest crew.

What drew you to winemaking/the wine industry as a career? Why wine?

My mom’s side of my family is Italian, so I’ve been drinking wine since I was probably too young to drink wine. The draw for me was the combination of science and art, tradition and innovation, and of course, the travel. Though what has kept me in it and interested has really been the people and the winemaking community, a true enjoyment of the physically demanding part of the job, and, of course, the travel.

Where did you grow up?

Born in Seattle, lived in Kansas City, Missouri for ten years of my childhood, then back to the PNW and Portland. The northwest is home, and an enjoyment of the gray days and the rain is in my blood.

Any ridiculous harvest stories?

Too many to count, no idea where to begin.

Meredith Union Wine Co

Most enjoyable way to spend your free time?

Outside, at the coast or running. Traveling at every opportunity. Cooking – homemade pasta is my favorite because it’s an activity AND a meal! Drinking wine and reading. Or drinking coffee in the hot tub.

Favorite wine growing region besides Oregon and why.

Piedmont. Or Tasmania. I know Tasmania better since I’ve worked there, and it feels very much like the Pacific Northwest, culturally and climatically, but with a fun accent and meat pies. I’d still love to work in Piedmont. Nebbiolo was the grape that made me fall in love with wine. Working in the industry for a while, the idea of vineyards and wineries and the landscape that surrounds them can start to lose a little luster, but Northern Italy still feels romantic to me.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of supporting other women in the industry. I love working with so many females on the winemaking team and in the cellar and packaging facility. Encouraging other women to do this kind of work is infinitely gratifying to me. I want to remind other women that even when we can’t meet the physical prowess of some men, we can work smarter rather than harder, and that we are often stronger than we think. This industry also requires a lot of tinkering and minor (sometimes major) equipment repair which doesn’t always feel natural to women. This can be a really difficult barrier because it isn’t necessarily spoken, but most of us have grown up with the implicit understanding that women are not naturally mechanically inclined. It takes conscious effort to change that mindset and remember that the fact this is what society tells us does not make it so (it is, in fact, complete bullshit.)

Meredith Union Wine Co

What is something the average person doesn’t know about winemaking but you think should have more awareness around?

The word “varietal” is an adjective. “Variety” is the noun. Most everyone is using it wrong.

Is there a woman that inspires you the most, either a woman winemaker or anyone?

That’s tough to answer. Really all women who came before in this industry, and those who work in the industry now. There are women leading wineries, women working in vineyards and leading vineyard management companies, women winemakers who come to work in the cellar with babies strapped to them. Amy Prosenjak, President and CEO of A to Z Wineworks, was a major influence in my career. She is an amazing mentor, and her advocacy for and encouragement of women in the business, myself included when I worked at A to Z, inspired me to do all that I can in turn to support other females.

What do women winemakers bring to the table?

I think we bring the same things men do, we just often do it with more collaboration and some degree less ego. We work to build consensus, take others’ opinions into consideration, assume we don’t know everything. That said, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work for and with male winemakers throughout my career who are collaborative, humble, and lifelong learners.

A friend recently said that she suspects male winemakers know 10-15% less than they think they do and their female counterparts know 10-15% more than they think they do. While this is clearly a generalization, I think a willingness to admit what we don’t know and work to find the answers can give us an edge and help us grow, but that’s the case for all genders.

Meredith Union Wine Co

Would you recommend this industry to young women, and why?

Absolutely I would. It’s an amazing way to travel, meet cool people, and spend time outdoors.

Are there intern/summer job experiences you’d recommend someone do to get a good feel for the industry?

The best way to get a feel for the industry is to work a harvest. Every winery hires harvest interns. You just have to be willing to work hard and be prepared to do a lot of cleaning. If you’re more interested in the vineyard, often vineyard management companies need help during the winter for pruning or during the growing season gathering data.

List some of the roles you’ve had since you started in the industry.

I’ve worked in vineyards doing general labor pruning, suckering, leafing, as a Vit Tech collecting data, as an Assistant Vineyard Manager, and then small Vineyard Manager. I’ve worked in the cellar as a harvest intern, in the lab as an Enologist, as an Assistant Winemaker, Production Manager, Production Winemaker and Packaging Facility Manager. Oh, and I worked in a wine shop for a brief period in college.

Meredith Union Wine Co

What are some of the challenges you face being a woman in this industry?

Many of the challenges I face as a woman in the wine industry are the same challenges any woman in any industry encounters, from being interrupted by male colleagues and having ideas attributed to men in the room to self-doubt and discomfort with the need for self-promotion. 

Some of the more wine industry-specific challenges have included my feeling pigeon-holed into lab roles, or doing administrative rather than physical tasks because I was willing, able, and had the attention to detail to do those things, even if I preferred to drag hoses or punch down a tank. I didn’t learn to drive a forklift well until a solid five years into my career (which should really happen in one’s first harvest, considering the amount of forklifting we do in the winery), not because I didn’t want to, but because I was slightly more cautious on a lift than the dudes I worked with, so I jumped on it less. My own fault to be sure, but none of the guys seemed to have that hesitation about their abilities.

 

Kaitlin O’Brien, Assistant Winemaker

What does an assistant winemaker do?

The title of assistant winemaker can mean many things depending on the winery. At Union, I am involved in all winemaking decisions including blending, trials, and quality checks. I manage the cellar staff and the day-to-day operations including work-order writing and scheduling. All the logistics of the winemaking in the cellar!

Kaitlin Union Wine Co

What drew you to winemaking/the wine industry as a career? Why wine?

I loved the idea that so many people are so passionate about what is essentially a beverage. Wine connects people and brings people together. I liked science in school and I thought the wine industry would be a fun way to incorporate science into my work and would be fun. Plus, traveling around the world tasting wine is a cool adventure.

Where did you grow up?

Benicia, California, in the Bay Area

Any ridiculous harvest stories?

My first harvest I was doing a pump-over on a large tank. I was turning the dial up to increase pump speed and a part of the pump blew off and wine went everywhere! I got soaked through and through. That taught me to always have a spare pair of clothes in my car during harvest.

Most enjoyable way to spend your free time?

My boyfriend and I love to host dinners and drink tasty wine with friends. Or, get outdoors and go camping where we can hike around with our pup.

Favorite wine-growing region besides Oregon, and why?

Jura, in France. I love the style of those wines, especially trousseau and vin jaune savagnin.

What are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the fact that I was able to travel around and work in so many regions and gather a wide range of skills and knowledge working in different aspects of winemaking such as cellar, lab, and vineyard.

Kaitlin Union Wine Co

What is something the average person doesn’t know about winemaking but you think should have more awareness around?

Cellar work is a very physical job that can be pretty tough at times. The wine industry is a lot of fun but not always as glamorous as people think.

Is there a woman that inspires you the most, either a woman winemaker or anyone?

My mom inspires me. She is such a kind person and is always striving to see the good in people. She is a strong person who has held her head up even when the going got rough.

Kaitlin Union Wine Co

What do women winemakers bring to the table?

I think everyone brings something to the table, regardless of gender.

Would you recommend this industry to young women, and why?

Of course! If someone is up for the long hours during harvest. The wine industry is fun and there are so many wonderful people in it.

Are there intern/summer job experiences you’d recommend someone do to get a good feel for the industry?

If you are going to be in production, you have to work a harvest. I’d recommend doing a few harvests in different size wineries and different places to get a feel for what environment you enjoy working in.

Kaitlin Union Wine Co

List some of the roles you’ve had since you started in the industry.

Harvest Cellar-hand, Harvest Vineyard Tech, Harvest Assistant Winemaker, Harvest Lab Tech, Lab Tech, Enologist, Sensory Technician, Tasting Room Host, Assistant Winemaker

What are some of the challenges you face being a woman in this industry?

The wine industry can be a sexist environment. In the 8+ years I’ve been in the industry, it has definitely gotten a lot better. But I remember when I first started someone told me I wouldn’t be hired because I would be a distraction to their full-time cellar guys.

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