Posts Categorized: News

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.

A Night in One of Oregon’s Fire Lookouts

Union Wine Co Pickett Butte Lookout

On a quiet Thursday afternoon at the beginning of February, we found ourselves slowly winding our way up a dirt logging road in the dark and damp Umpqua National Forest. Following some loose directions printed offline, I pushed in the code that released the lock and we passed through the large metal gate, navigating the last half mile up the muddy drive into a clearing. The fire tower, and our home for the night, came into view as we crested the hill in Krista’s Honda Element.

Underwood Wine fire lookout

We were fortunate enough to arrive just a few short days after the most recent snow cover had melted, making the road passable all the way to the base of the tower. In the winter, they don’t plow the road, occasionally forcing some guests to snowshoe to the hut. Just as we arrived, the sun started to peek through the clouds to welcome us. The temperature was toasty compared to Portland, and after hauling our supplies several times up the steep 40 ft of stairs, we were hot enough to hang around in our t-shirts. We busted open our snacks, cracked our cans of Underwood Pinot Noir and settled in for some relaxation; ie. guest book reading and dog snuggles.

Underwood Wine Pickett Butte

Underwood Pickett Butte

Pickett Butte, rebuilt in 1958, is one of many reservable fire lookouts in the PNW. Along with thousands of other lookouts, it was built in the early 1900’s after a fire swept through Washington, Idaho, and Montana, burning over 3 million acres. The government’s solution was to hire folks to inhabit these lookout towers during the driest seasons of the year, monitoring weather patterns and forest activity. Although many have since then burned down or decommissioned, some are still used for fire surveillance to this day. During the off-season, many structures become rentable to the general public. But reservations are often hard to come by. So, if you’re lucky enough to land one, make sure you take advantage of a unique opportunity to stay above the clouds with 360 views.

When the light started to fade on us, the temperature dropped and the sky turned pretty shades of pink and orange. We pulled on our puffy coats and stepped out onto the deck to silently watch the show, wine in hand. The peaceful sounds of the wind and the forest were all we could hear.

The rest of the night was spent cooking Indian food—the smells of warm spices filling the tiny 14×14’ room—playing games, drinking Underwood Wine and catching up as the propane heater warmed us and the clouds hung low over the horizon.

Underwood Wine Pickett Butte

Underwood Wine Pickett Butte

When we woke up at first light the next morning, we were magically perched inside a cloud. What an unreal feeling to be engulfed in this damp, white fog, the trees of the forest looking ghost-like just feet away. Slow to rise and make coffee, not wanting to eject ourselves from our sleeping bags, we took full advantage of a chance to be extra lazy in our cozy cabin in the sky.

Union Wine Co Pickett Butte

Pickett Butte Oregon

Eventually, thoughts of the long trek home drove us out of our beds and into action. Using the basket and pulley system rigged on the catwalk, we lowered our belongings back to solid ground, packed up the car and waved goodbye to our little home on stilts, grateful for the opportunity to step away from civilization and experience this small sliver of history.

Words and Photography by Brooke Weeber.

Thai One On: A Refined Bar Set for a Refined Cocktail

Underwood Pinot Noir Cocktail

Here at Union, we do our best to stay humble. We don’t believe in putting on airs or pretending to be anything but the best we can be. And we hope this attitude shows through in all of our products. We don’t go out in constant search of the next best coolest thing, but that being said, we are always on the lookout for objects of beauty, style, and design. We recently came across this Shaker and Bar Set and it was love at first sight. Designed by Leather goods legend Frye, in a collaboration with Crate and Barrel, the acacia wood and antiqued gold-finished stainless steel was just too amazing to pass by.

Underwood Pinot Noir Cocktail

But to put such a stylish and refined set of tools to an appropriate task called for creating an equally stylish and refined cocktail. Enter the Som Cordial…

Underwood Pinot Noir Cocktail

If you are familiar at all with the Portland dining scene, then it’s safe to say you’ve been a fan of Andy Ricker and his Pok Pok empire for many years. One of the first chefs to bring real street-style Northern Thai food to Portland, Andy led a revolution in the local culinary scene. Starting by cooking out of a literal shack between two houses on SE Division Street, Andy has grown his empire steadily.

Several years ago he started to bottle and sell his flavored drinking vinegars called SOM. These have very concentrated flavors and are meant to be mixed with club soda—a refreshing staple in Thailand that helps ease the spicy heat of the cuisine. From that start, Andy refined the mixer from straight flavored vinegar to cordials, a non-alcoholic mixer that serves the same purpose but is a bit more debonair. You can read a short explanation HERE from the New York Times.

Since winter is still with us, we are still having fun creating new Underwood Pinot Noir cocktails. Without the overwhelming notes of cinnamon or nutmeg (kind of overused during the winter months in our humble opinion), this cocktail keeps the weight of red wine but adds the sweetness of Clementines and the subtle tartness of the Som Cranberry Cordial. Everything is tempered with just a splash of club soda for an intense yet refreshing cocktail.

The Thai One On

2 oz Underwood Pinot Noir
1 oz Som Cranberry Cordial
Juice of 1 Clementine or Tangerine
Splash of Club Soda
Ice

Simply enough, combine enough ice for 1 glass, add this and the first three ingredients to the shaker and in the infamous words of Andre 3000, ‘…shake it like a polaroid picture!’

Underwood Pinot Noir Cocktail

Underwood Pinot Noir Cocktail

Pour ice and liquid into the glass and top off generously with club soda. Repeat as many times as necessary.

Underwood Pinot Noir Cocktail

There are many flavors of the Som drinking vinegars and Som Cordials and we recommend trying them all.

Bon Appétit.

Photography, Text, and Recipe by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)

Simplifying New Year’s Eve: A Sparkling Batch Cocktail

Underwood Bubbles French 75

Whether you are entertaining at home or just pre-gaming before a big night out on the town, perhaps at the Local & Legendary Tony Starlight’s Soft Seventies Rockin’ Dinner Show (it’s amazing BTW) it’s always fun to get New Year’s Eve started off on the right foot with a delicious cocktail. And since there is bound to be a few bottles of Bubbles around the house, we thought the classic French 75 would be a great suggestion.

A relatively simple drink to make, the French 75 got its start around WW1, when it was said that the drink had the kick of being shelled by a powerful French 75mm Field Gun. Here at Union, we believe in drinking responsibly, even on New Year’s Eve, but just one won’t hurt.

And we figure you won’t be drinking alone, so we decided to set you up with a batch cocktail—one who’s base can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge. That way, when your guests arrive, just stir with ice, strain, and top off with Union’s Underwood Bubbles. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.

You can use your favorite Gin, but we recommend Portland’s own women-owned-and-run craft distillery, Freeland Spirits Gin. We have been loving this locally made brand lately and highly recommend checking them out.

Underwood Bubbles French 75
French 75
(This recipe is designed to make 4 drinks.)

6 oz Freeland Spirits Gin
3 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice*
2 1/2 oz simple syrup
2 C ice cubes
1 bottle Underwood Bubbles

*Since Meyer lemons are in season right now, we recommend them, but regular lemons are fine too.

***********

STEP ONE:

Measure out the first three ingredients into a glass mixer and place in the fridge until your guests arrive. When ready to make up the cocktails add the ice and stir well.

Underwood Bubbles French 75
STEP TWO:

Strain the chilled base into 4 coup or other stemmed glasses. No need to be super fancy or even have all matching glasses—sometimes its fun to mix and match your vintage-ware.

Underwood Bubbles French 75
STEP THREE:

Top off all the glasses with some ice cold bubbles and you are ready set go! It’s that simple.

So, from everyone here at Union, we would like to wish you and yours a safe and happy new year! Whether staying in by a roaring fire, or heading out for a night on the town, have a blast but please stay safe, keep those pinkies down, and for gosh sakes, take a LYFT!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Underwood Bubbles French 75
Photography and Text by David L. Reamer.  (@dlreamer)

New Traditions: Christmas Tree Hunting in Mt. Hood National Forest

Mt. Hood is an icon of Portland and the Willamette Valley. The mountain that sits at 11,250 feet in elevation can be seen from numerous parts of the valley. Whether you are stuck on I-5 traffic, on a leisurely drive in the gorge or hiking up in forest park, Mt. Hood peaks through on clear days.

Union Wine Co Christmas Tree Hunt

The Mt. Hood National Forest, which stretches around 1,067,000 acres around the base of the mountain, is a treasured playground that we Oregonians try to take advantage of all year round. Summer activities include camping, swimming at the many lakes and rivers and going on long warm hikes. In the winter there is snowshoeing and skiing, and for those looking for the perfectly unperfect tree, Christmas tree hunting.  

Union Wine Co Christmas Tree Hunt

For some of us who have grown up in the Pacific Northwest, a holiday tradition has been to go out into the woods to find your tree rather than heading to the local tree farm or tree lot.   

Union Wine Co Christmas Tree Hunt

Union Wine Co Christmas Tree Hunt

Union Wine Co Christmas Tree Hunt

We believe the holidays are about spending time with friends and family. So, this year we are sharing new traditions with friends and their young families.  

If you haven’t gotten a tree already, we suggest switching things up this year and start a new tradition. When the weather is just right, it’s a perfect day to get some fresh air and create new memories for your family that will hopefully be passed down for generations. Don’t forget the sled, a few cans of Underwood Bubbles for mom and dad and your $5 permit for the tree. Cheers!

Union Wine Co Christmas Tree Hunt