A Woman’s Place

Women of Wine

As Mother’s Day approaches, I got to thinking about how my mother has always encouraged me to follow my dreams no matter what the obstacles. I like to think I have.

I have pursued a diverse career path ending up doing two things I enjoy the most: writing and learning about wine.

Women in the wine industry tend to take a back seat, mostly because the wine industry is a family business. Everyone from the children to the dog are involved in the growing of grapes and then turning the grapes into wine, often on the property where their home is situated.

In Santa Clara and San Benito counties, there is a long history of women being an integral part of the industry. So next time you are out tasting wine, look for some of the following women and ask them to share their stories with you.

Phyllis Pedrizzetti and her husband, Ed, started the Pedrizzetti Winery in Morgan Hill in 1947. She had been a judge for the prestigious Orange County Wine Competition for more than 20 years, and she had been instrumental in helping to put her fellow local Santa Clara wineries on the map.

Valerie Vanni, of Solis Winery in Gilroy, came from a corporate business background. She and her husband, Dave, compliment each other with different skills needed to run a successful agriculture business. Their families are first generation Italians and food and wine were part of their everyday life. She also has held important positions on committees within Wine Institute.

The wine industry is also fertile ground for women looking for a second career. Brenda Murphy, co-owner of Clos La Chance Winery in San Martin, was formerly a school teacher. She and her husband started growing grapes in their backyard, and within a few years, they decided to start a world class winery with the help of their two daughters.

I became interested in wine with the help of two mentors: Rene Aversenge, a French wine merchant who has years of food and wine pairing training, and Stacie Hunt, a dynamic public relations consultant with a masters in enology. More and more women are going to universities to become enologists (wine making) or viticulturists (grape growing).

Diana Vita, of Calera Winery near Hollister, received her degree in enology from Cornell University. She has been a winery manager at Calera for 17 years and is also part of the wine making team. She has seen opportunities for women in the industry evolve significantly. In a recent hunt for an assistant wine maker, she said more than 50 percent of the applications came from women.

A friend of mine, Laura Lee Fitzgerald, has always been involved in helping to promote her partner’s winery, and that volunteer work found her a job she loves – selling imported Italian wine bottles to wineries from Oregon to California.

Sue Marsh, the  former Marketing Director at Leal Vineyards, has been tireless in helping her colleagues promote the San Benito Wine Growers Association, and her passion and enthusiasm for the industry and the area’s wine growing potential is contagious.

So if you are a woman interested in growing some vines among the petunias, go for it! There are many opportunities and many different career paths that can lead you into the business of wine.

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