Virtual Happy Hour: The Newest Way to Stay Connected

Salty Dog Cocktail

In these crazy times of social distancing and isolation, it’s as important as ever to stay connected any way you can. Thus, the advent of the virtual happy hour. This is the newest trend that has caught on not just between family and friends, but workmates as well. Now, happy hour used to be a firm 5 PM, but with co-workers and family often times being all around the country, that rule has had to loosen up a bit. If we choose to join in from the West Coast with our East Coast compatriots, we might find ourselves having a drink around 3 pm.

So we decided to create a light cocktail using our Underwood Pinot Gris for when you need to start the party a little earlier than expected. We also wanted to try and use ingredients that most people have around the house since as we all know, running out to the supermarket just isn’t as easy as it used to be. This is a perfect time to remind everyone that the Union Wine Co. shipping team is working tirelessly to get wine sent out to homes across the country. A four-pack of cans equals 2 full bottles in volume and is easily shipped without the hassle of all the extra packaging to protect the glass. You can order cans for yourself or surprise a friend or family member with an unexpected gift right HERE.

OK, back to the cocktail. We created a sort of amalgamation of two classic cocktails, the Moscow Mule and the Salty Dog, and replaced the liquor with our Pinot Gris. We call this one The Salty Underwood Mule. We figure most people are keeping their vitamin C levels up, so you might have grapefruits at your house, and many people have fresh mint growing in the yard already. So, all you need is fresh ginger and you are most of the way to the cocktail.

The Salty Underwood Mule

2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1.5 oz Underwood Pinot Gris
.5 oz Ginger Mint Syrup (recipe to follow)
Club Soda
1 lime
Salt for the rim of the glass

Mint

The first thing you will need to do is make the ginger mint syrup. At best you have some mint growing in your yard (or maybe a neighbor does who wouldn’t mind sharing.)

STEP ONE:

In a sauté pan, put 3/4 C of water, 1 C of sugar and 2 good sized pieced of fresh ginger (its not necessary to peel the ginger) and bring to a boil. Allow this to cool completely.

Ginger

STEP TWO:

Remove the ginger, pour the liquid into a glass jar and add 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh mint. Allow this to sit overnight. By adding the mint after the liquid has cooled prevents it from turning black and also adds a great subtle fresh mint flavor to the syrup which strengthens over time.

Mint Simple Syrup

Once this is done, you are just about ready to make your cocktail. But first you have to salt the rim. This can be a bit more challenging than you would think. One trick I learned from my bartender friends is to run a lime wedge around the edge of the glass as opposed to dipping it in water (which is what I used to do). I’m not sure why, but using citrus ensures a much more even coating of salt to remain on the rim.

Salt Mule Cocktail

Next, pour some salt into a shallow bowl and press the glass firmly into the salt for an even coating.

Salty Mule Cocktail

And voilá…

Salty Mule Cocktail

Add a few ice cubes, the grapefruit juice, Pinot Gris and Ginger Mint syrup. Give a gentle stir, top off with a splash of club soda and garnish with a lime wedge.

Salty Mule Cocktail

And there you have a deliciously light afternoon cocktail to virtually toast with friends and family.

We hope you will enjoy this new cocktail creation while staying safe out there! Keep washing your hands and don’t forget to keep those #pinkiesdown.

Salty Mule Cocktail

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

Embracing Social Distancing: Finding Peace and Tranquility on the Sandy River

“Truth is stranger than fishin’.” -Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America

Union Wine Co Fishing

There is no question that right now the world is a scary and confusing place. As we each do our part to stay safe and healthy—so everyone will stay safe and healthy—those once simple actions require much more discipline than ever before. A day off every so often to hide from the world and veg out on Netflix was once a welcome escape, but as it becomes more and more the norm, the novelty begins to fade. But, just because we need to practice social distancing doesn’t mean we have to stay locked away in our homes. We just have to think a little outside the box and a little outside the normal boundaries of our lives.

Besides being a well known Portland personality, and all-around great guy, my friend Bob Rhoads is a true outdoorsman. So, when I was thinking of things to do to get myself out of the house but still steer clear of people, he was the first person I called. I requested something that would be a close drive from Portland where I could meet him. He suggested we go fishing.

Now, to our north, Washington has temporarily outlawed recreational fishing, effective this week, and this may be the case in many places right now.

For most of Oregon however, fishing is currently still allowed as long as you’re careful of how you do it, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. They recommend you maintain a social distance of at least six feet from other people who don’t live in your household, including during travel to and from a fishing spot. Officials also stress that anglers should minimize traveling and stay as close to home as possible.

Rob and I followed these recommendations and traveled only a few miles to the Sandy River. As I sat on the banks of the river I couldn’t see another person in any direction (save for Bob, of course) and I was filled with peace and tranquility which I had not felt—nor realized I had not felt—in many weeks. For the first time in a while, I was at peace and the fears and uncertainty of life had momentarily faded.

Union Wine Co Fishing

But enough introspection. Let’s talk about Bob and fishing for Steelhead on the Sandy River. Some refer to fishing for Steelhead as ‘chasing the ghost’ because it can be a very elusive fish to catch (spoiler alert…we didn’t catch one that day) but fly fishing can be a very meditative and relaxing activity. I learned quite a bit from Bob that day.

Steelhead are actually trout but look much more like Salmon. That is because they are Anadromous, meaning that unlike the smaller trout that live their whole lives in the local rivers, Steelhead swim upstream in the freshwater to spawn but they reside in saltwater. Rainbow trout, on the other hand, stay in freshwater all their lives. When fishing for Steelhead you are only allowed to keep the ones raised in local hatcheries, which can be identified by a lack of an adipose fin (the small fin just in front of the tail.) All other Steelhead must be caught and released.

Union Wine Co Fishing

Bob practices a style of fly fishing called Spey casting (named after a style of fishing developed on the River Spey in Scotland). In short, this technique allows for longer casts without the overhead backcasting motion and presenting larger flies. As for equipment, Bob has a collection of flies, some he has bought but many he has made himself. His rod is a custom-made CF Burkheimer, (made for the specific technique just mentioned) a local company that Bob was an apprentice rod builder for. Once we found a suitable spot, we cracked a few cans of Underwood Pinot Noir, Bob chose his fly and got suited up.

Union Wine Co Fishing

Union Wine Co Fishing

I was more than content sitting on the bank, documenting the day and imbibing the tranquility (and the Pinot Noir). Plus, I’ve tried to fly fish and it is really freaking hard until you get the hang of it! Anyway, who would complain in such surroundings? As I mentioned, we didn’t catch any fish that day but just getting outside in the sunshine and fresh air made the whole adventure a complete success.

Union Wine Co Fishing

Even though we didn’t catch anything, I now had Steelhead on the brain and needed to cook some up ASAP. Luckily, Flying Fish Company just reopened about a mile from me and they have a wide selection of some of the freshest local fish around. I was in luck and they were stocked (no pun intended) with some gorgeous Steelhead fillets. As you can see, although it is a trout, Steelhead very much resemble Salmon.

Union Wine Co Fishing

I decided to cook the fish “En Papillote” or in paper. The technique, which makes for an incredibly easy and delicious meal simply requires putting all the ingredients into securely wrapped parchment paper and then baked for about 15 minutes—easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

Steelhead and Vegetables En Papillote

1 Steelhead fillet, about 7 oz
Half a large zucchini
1 small pepper
3 slices of lemon
5 sprigs of fresh oregano (reserve 2 for presentation)
1/2 t coarse sea salt
1/4 C Kings Ridge Pinot Gris
Parchment paper

TECHNIQUE:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay a large piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Place the fish on the lower part of a large piece of parchment paper so you will be able to have enough paper to fold over everything and securely crimp.

Set the fish down, season with salt and place vegetables, lemon slices and oregano on and around the fish. Squeeze a little lemon juice on top and drizzle with white wine.

Tightly crimp the edges of the parchment paper, leaving a little space inside for the fish to steam.

Union Wine Co Fishing

Union Wine Co Fishing

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Carefully cut through and peel back paper and Voila! You have a complete meal ready to eat.

The oregano will be pretty dark and wilted, so I recommend replacing it with a fresh sprig before serving.

Pour yourself a glass of Kings Ridge Pinot Gris and dig in. Bon Appétit.

Union Wine Co Fishing

My sincerest thanks again to Bob Rhoads, not only for his vast fishing knowledge but for taking me out of my funk and filling me with a renewed sense of hope and happiness.

Union Wine Co Fishing

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

You can follow Bob’s adventures on IG at @ptowndutch

Helping our Community: Family Meal PDX

Over the last couple of weeks as every day brings us new news of layoffs and closures due to the threat of Covid 19, we at Union Wine Company have been spending a lot of time talking about how we can support our local community, and what we can do to help those in the service industry and those who directly support the wine industry. With restaurants closing every day and staff being laid off, we understand that the financial implications for so many who live paycheck to paycheck could have a lasting effect.

This week we have committed to start helping by donating $5000 to Family Meal PDX, a non-profit, community-rooted relief organization that provides financial relief to Oregon’s food service and agricultural workers and their families during a medical debt crisis.

Family Meal Logo

 

Josh, at Family Meal, was kind enough to create a short video for us talking a little bit about his organization.

 

We are thrilled to be assisting this awesome organization which, besides offering grants to those in need, also partners with local chefs, winemakers, and industry veterans to offer a dinner series which happen a couple times a year.

Family Meal Menu

Family Meal PDx

Family Meal PDX

Family Meal PDX

Our hope is to continue to work with the Family Meal team of volunteers in the months to come.

We hope that you and your family are doing well and feeling well.

If you are interested in helping out, we have listed several organizations below that can use your help with volunteer hours, supplies or cash donations.

Cheers and take care.

Family Meal PDX

PDX Restaurant Alliance

Feeding America

Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation

Tote PDX

Get’em Covered

Chefs at Home Series: Sunday Dinner with the Ruckers

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

It’s safe to say that Gabriel Rucker is one busy guy. With 2 restaurants, 3 children, a creatively explosive wife with the drive of the Energizer Bunny, and a weekly run club,  there isn’t a whole lot of time in the day to relax. Throw in travel events and cooking demonstrations and life gets even more hectic. Anyone who knows Gabriel, or has eaten at his restaurants, knows that he is a tremendously talented chef who puts his whole soul into every dish. But Gabriel is also a consummate family man and in between all the craziness that fills his days, he always makes sure there is quality time for his family. I’ve personally been watching him do it for 10 years and it’s quite an impressive balancing act.

So, I considered myself and my wife very lucky to be able to spend a Sunday evening with him and his family as he created a delicious home-cooked Sunday evening meal. Of Gabriel’s 3 children, the middle one (and only daughter) Babette, age 6, is the one who will most likely be following in her fathers’ culinary footsteps. At age 3 or 4 she was already shadowing her Dad in the kitchen, helping wherever she could. Now that her knife skills have improved, she is even allowed to cut and chop, which I must say she does with more acumen than a few OCI grads I know. In organizing this project with Gabriel, he decided on three dishes that he often makes for his family on the weekend that make a well rounded, delicious and healthy meal that can all be done in just over an hour. Of course, when you have a pro like Babette as your live-in Sous Chef, everything runs that much smoother.

On the menu for the evening was:

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms, Onions and ‘Dad Rice’

Cast Iron Roasted Leeks with Garlic

Dinosaur Kale Salad with Apples and Warm Kumquat Vinaigrette 

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

Some kitchen tasks Babs can do on her own, others require a little extra supervision…

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

There were a lot of moving parts all going at the same time while dinner was being prepped so I will do my best to keep everything well organized throughout the post.  Also, Gabriel approaches all of his kitchen projects with a confident but laidback vibe which I will do my best to replicate here. There is little to no pomp and circumstance when Gabriel is in the kitchen, and no ingredient is off-limits as you will soon see.

The first thing you want to do is get the chicken and rice going because that will take about 45 minutes in the oven. Gabriel cooks the rice, mushrooms, onions, and chicken all together in a large ceramic dutch oven. Here, the ‘Dad Rice’ refers literally to the addition of a powdered Ranch Dressing seasoning that Gabriel adds because his kids love it (and it’s pretty freakin’ delicious!)

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms, Onions and ‘Dad Rice

1 whole chicken, separated into 1/2 breasts, thighs and legs
2 1/2 C rice (Gabriel uses sushi rice but feel free to substitute brown or white)
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 large package of mixed mushrooms (about 1/2 lb)
1 C Underwood Pinot Gris
4 C chicken stock or broth
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 C Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
 

Heat oil in a deep dutch oven and carefully sear off all pieces of chicken. Remove chicken from the pan, add the onion, mushrooms, and rice. Sauté for 5 minutes, add the Ranch Seasoning and salt and pepper to taste, then deglaze with the Pinot Gris. Reduce slightly, add the chicken stock and all the chicken pieces, nestling the chicken pieces partway down into the rice and vegetables. Cover and put in the oven for 45 minutes or until rice is tender and chicken is fully cooked.

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker
Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker
Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

This is what the finished product will look like:

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

Once the chicken is in the oven, it’s time to deal with the leeks. Gabriel prefers to use his locally made Finex Cast Iron Pan, but any thick bottomed pan will do the trick.

Cast Iron Roasted Leeks with Garlic

10-12 full sized leeks
8 cloves of garlic, skins removed
1 T celery seed
1/2 T dried tarragon
1/4 C sherry vinegar
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

Cut the dark green tops off of the leeks and remove the butt ends. Cut each leek longways down the center, trying to keep them together. Rinse gently under cool water to remove any dirt and gently dry. Chop your garlic cloves in half. Place the leek halves and garlic in the cast iron pan, sprinkle liberally with remaining ingredients, cover with tin foil and place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until leeks are tender.  *You do not have to heat the pan or do any searing ahead of time for this one.

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

Once the leeks are tender, remove from heat and keep covered until ready to serve.

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

While everything is cooking, its time to prep your salad and make the vinaigrette. Dad demonstrates the proper Kumquat prepping technique and then feels comfortable leaving Babette to her own devices.

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker
Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

Dinosaur Kale Salad with Apples and Warm Kumquat Vinaigrette

For Vinaigrette:
15 kumquats
1/4 C Underwood Pinot Gris
1/4 honey
1/3 C apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Halve the kumquats longways, remove the seeds and pith and slice thinly. Put all ingredients into a small sauté pan, bring to a boil and then immediately shut off the heat. Keep warm until ready to use.

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker
For salad:
2 large bunches of dinosaur kale
2 honey crisp apples
1/4 of the hot liquid with kumquat slices
2T balsamic vinegar
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

1/3 C grated parmesan cheese

 

Slice kale and apples. Put in a large bowl. Just before you are ready to serve, dress with the warm vinaigrette, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan cheese. By keeping the vinaigrette warm, it will soften the kale without wilting it too much.

Union Wine Co Gabriel Rucker

And just like that… dinner is served!  Bon Appétit.

Gabriel asked that we give a special shout out to his newest endeavor, the Bird Dog Run Club. Completely free and open to all, the club meets every Thursday at 930 AM in front of Canard.

Bird Dog Run Club
You can follow the run club on IG @birddogrunclub.  Also check out Gabriel’s two restaurants: Le Pigeon and Canard.
Photography and Text by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)
Recipes by Gabriel Rucker (@ruckergabriel)
Expert Prepping and Tie-Dyed Good Vibes by Babette Rucker

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.