Back with the second installment in our two-part series celebrating female drink makers, we raise — of probably Pinot Noir — to these winemakers of the Willamette Valley. March is Women’s History Month and in honor of International Women’s Day today, we spotlight these nine winemakers whom, regardless of gender, have helped put Oregon on the map. From founding the one of the country’s first B-Corp-certified wineries to helping other women succeed in a male-dominated industry, these producers, and the women around them, continue to propel the wine industry in Willamette and beyond forward.

women's day wine

Gina Hennen

Winemaker | Adelsheim

Before becoming a winemaker, Hennen worked as a semiconductor engineer in Oregon and then across the pond in Dublin, Ireland. She eventually returned to Oregon and graduated from Chemekta Community College’s wine studies program in 2006. In 2007 she landed a job in the cellar at Adelsheim where she worked her way up to become only the fourth winemaker in the vineyard-winery’s history.

Moment of Pride: “I work extremely hard to make the best wine we can. Everything we put in the bottle is the result of hard work and long hours and total love for what we do. Winemaking isn’t known for being a particularly high-paying career and yet we still choose to dedicate so much of our time to this process. All of that struggle is worth being able to open up a bottle you had a hand in making.”

Shero to Clink With: “Probably [20th century physicist] Marie Curie. It must have been particularly challenging to be a woman and a scientist back then, and she quite literally put herself on the line. I would like to drink some vintage Blanc de blanc Champagne to celebrate her being the first woman to win a Nobel prize, and the first person to win it twice. Quite an accomplishment. Hopefully, she’d want to have a drink with me — making a little bit of wine seems a rather minor contribution to society.”

women's day wine

Luisa Ponzi

Winemaker | Ponzi Vineyards

Ponzi was, in a way, destined to go into wine. She was just three-years-old when her family planted some of the first vines in the Willamette Valley for their Ponzi Vineyards. But it wasn’t until after she graduated college that she dove into winemaking when her father put her in the lab and since then she’s been hooked.

Moment of Pride: ”About 15 years ago my family decided we needed to grow our little winery. In order to achieve that we would need to move from the original winery and vineyard property where we had been living, growing and making wines for over 35 years. Up until that point, I felt that I had inherited magic from my father. The vineyards and the winery were the same ones that he had been making incredible wines from and I simply had to continue that legacy. When we planted more vineyards, built a beautiful new winery and increased our volume it was truly up to me to continue making beautiful wines at a quality level that had become expected from our brand. Realizing that I did, in fact, have the knowledge and experience — and hiring people who could teach me and bring knowledge along the way — gave me the confidence to trust my intuition and not second guess myself. I am so proud of the winery that my sister and I run today, the passionate people who come to work and share it with us and… we are making some of the best wines we have made in our history.”

Shero to Clink With: Lalou Bize Leroy. It would be fascinating to hear how she navigated the male-dominated wine culture in Burgundy and became a legend for making incredible wines and transforming the direction of the domain by embracing biodynamic farming before it became widely accepted. Of course, meeting Michelle Obama or any of the new vibrant women in the 2019 Congress would be incredibly inspiring!”

women's day wine

Katie Santora

Winemaker | Chehalem Wine

After high school Santora says she “bounced around from college to college” trying to find something that she wanted to study that could connect with her love of science and math. One fateful summer, a family friend declared that she should study winemaking at UC Davis. Santora didn’t think much of the suggestion until she researched the program and ended up going to school for it, later joining Chehalem as assistant winemaker and moving her way up to the top last year.

Moment of Pride: “It’s hard to explain but probably getting through this last harvest. A variety of circumstances left a very thin production team: just me. Me, alone, running my first harvest completely. Hoping to guide our amazing six interns through a smooth but very ‘go with the flow’ type of harvest. Lots of things were unexpected and couldn’t be planned for. It was long hours and I was not able to be on the floor as much as I wanted to. I had to trust the six of them for so many aspects and I think they needed to trust me and my decisions. At the end everyone seemed happy, they learned a ton, were a great team and the wines turned out great! It was the hardest I have ever worked, mentally, physically and emotionally but got through it, I think with some grace and sanity. I am proud of myself for that.”

Shero to Clink With: “I am pretty obsessed with Michelle Obama right now and am slowly getting through her book — when I have the time to read. I find myself drawn or compelled by women who are able to step out of where their life has taken them and see their opportunity to lead. Trying to change things for the better. A sort of strength and leadership with kindness and compassion. Michelle didn’t expect to be the First Lady but when her life took her there she didn’t back down from the opportunity to help humanity. I believe we all have this opportunity however big or small to make small changes in our world, but it is nice to see people at the top to help us get inspired and continue to be and do better.”

women's day wine

Kate Payne-Brown

Associate Winemaker | Stoller Family Estate

Payne-Brown intended to go to optometry school after college but after an encounter on a multi-state Harley ride with her boyfriend, she changed paths. She met a person who told her about their brother who was a ‘grape consultant’ and how he got a master’s degree from a local university that was looking for people with strong science backgrounds. Intrigued, Payne-Brown ended up getting a masters in enology in Australia and then moved back to Oregon where she’s been ever since, now working under the direction of Stoller’s other female winemaking powerhouse, Melissa Burr.

Moment of Pride: “I have had many proud moments in my career. Finally outracing a certain colleague rolling barrels, good scores in various publications, perfecting the art of sabering a Champagne bottle but I think that one of the proudest achievements that I have had was making it through the 2016 harvest with a newborn. My second son, William, was born a month before we started bringing in our first fruit in 2016. He started coming to the winery with me at six weeks old. It was a challenging time but I had so much support. I felt triumphant that I made it through harvest with a thriving baby and my sanity pretty much intact.”

Shero to Clink With: “I have always wanted to sit down and drink with [culinary star] Julia Child. I think that besides our mutual adoration of butter, I would love to talk to her about her life — she seemed to have had many careers and didn’t start cooking until her 40’s. Her take on being a women in a male-dominated industry as well as her curated creation of her own legacy. She was certainly a force to be reckoned with and she seems like she would have been fun to drink with as well.”

women's day wine

Anna Matzinger

Partner and Winemaker | Matzinger Davies Wine Co.

Matzinger was no stranger to the Willamette wine scene when she opened up her own wine company with her husband and fellow winemaker Michael Davies. Matzinger worked for 14 years at Archery Summit where she worked her way up to winemaker and co-general manager, putting them on the map for their Pinot Noir. She opened Matzinger and Davies in 2006.

Moment of Pride: “Being in a position to help others succeed. I remember an annual review meeting many years ago with a young woman working in the winery. I’d asked a question about how she intended to work towards her goals in the field of winemaking and she responded, ‘well, if you can do it, then I’m sure I can do it too.’ At first, the response took me off guard, was that a put down? Nope. She was exactly right. And being that person through whom others can be inspired to find their own success feels pretty great.”

Shero to Clink With: “Dr Sylvia Earle – oceanographer, explorer, advocate. Well, first a dive would be nice, then a conversation over a crisp white — slightly saline — about her experiences as one of the first women to use scuba in the 1950s and later deep diving to 1,250 feet and how she manages to use her observations, experience and ability to tell a good story to influence ocean conservation around the world.”

women's day wine

Merrilee Buchanan Benson

Winemaker | Tyee Wine Cellars

Benson was born into a farming family. She would be the fifth generation farmer on her family’s farm near Corvallis, where her parents planted Pinot Noir vines in 1974. Benson learned about organic farming at UC Santa Cruz and then focused on viticulture and winemaking at the Northwest Viticulture Center in Salem, Oregon, further cementing her desire and improving her ability to do what she does now.

Moment of Pride: “I’m proud to have kept the family business going through multiple generations now for over 130 years as a family farm and over 30 years as a winery. I’m proud of my mediation skills and perseverance. Also I am proud of the library of wines that I have grown and produced that emphasize the best of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.”

Shero to Clink With: “I love drinking Oregon Pinot Noir with my mom and all fellow women winemakers. I loved drinking Gewurztraminer with my grandmother until she passed at 103 years of age.”  

women's day wine

Cheryl Francis

Founder and Consulting Winemaker | Rex Hill and A to Z Wineworks

Francis went abroad to study enology in France after earning a degree in biology from Lewis & Clark College. She then went on to New Zealand where she worked three harvests before coming back to Oregon and going to work for Chehalem for eight years. In 2002 she launched A to Z with three fellow wine industry friends who eventually bought Rex Hill in 2006.

Moment of Pride: “Probably, in a greater scope, the thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve co-founded Oregon’s largest winery. We began it 2017 years ago and it’s now perched right there at probably the top on any given day in the Oregon landscape. We employ 67 people, at least 50 percent are women, with over 50 percent women in management. That is something to be proud of. We were the only B-Corp winery at the time when we became a B-Corp. A to Z’s Pinot Noir has been the best Pinot Noir in America for under $20 in Food & Wine twice, Top 100 for Wine Spectator twice. Being a great value wine is something to be proud of, we make close to 400,000 cases of wine a year.”

Shero to Clink With: “Considering it would be a drink, I think a lot of these women chefs out there – who just wanted to be called “chefs” and not “lady chefs” – are doing some amazing things. Namely, Dominique Crenn [of San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn] and Gabrielle Hamilton [of Prune in NY]. I’m in awe of these women getting Michelin stars, it would be great to pour or drink our wines with them.”

women's day wine

Kelley Fox

Founder | Kelley Fox Wines

Fox’s foray into wine started by planting vines with her future husband in 1994. A few years later the two were living at Tualatin Vineyard and working in the vines there as well as running the tasting room. By 2000 she was working full time at Torii Mor until she opened up her own winery in 2007.

Moment of Pride: “There is little or no place for pride in my case. Staying on my particular path — the one true for me — with no compromises or short-cuts and somehow also not losing my business.”

Shero to Clink With: “Patty Green [of Patricia Green Cellars] because this golden-hearted badass produced beautiful Oregon wines of place from the very beginning, that place being very special to a number of women winemakers… Arabella Hall of Trathen-Hall Wines. She has the love and the magic when it comes to her work, and she is the most beautiful floor-worker of anyone I have ever known.”

women's day wine

Athena Pappas

Co-founder | Boedecker Cellars

Pappas worked and studied human behavior as a human factors engineer before she got into winemaking. The challenge of making a Pinot Noir — a good Pinot Noir — attracted her. She eventually founded Boedecker Cellars in 2003 with her husband doing what she says is more than just a passion but an identity

Moment of Pride: “I run every part of my 8,500 case winery. The winemaking: I know the smell of every barrel, the history of each barrel and the taste of each wine. The cellar: I know how to operate and, if not fix, diagnose every piece of equipment. The crew: everything I ask the crew to do, I can and do myself. Marketing: I write the labels, post our social media. Every part of this business has a part of me. I’m very proud of that, it’s so damned hard but so rewarding. And I’m so proud of the wine: I truly believe the Pinot Noir that I make, with my partner and husband Stewart Boedecker, is good — no, great, fantastic!”

Shero to Clink With:  “Gloria Steinem. I’d ask her what everyone does, because I need to know: how does she stay so strong? Barbra Streisand, I’d ask her how she lives with her paralyzing stage fright because, boy, do I have that. What would we drink? I’d want them to know who I am so we’d drink a 2005 Athena Pinot Noir. Because women and wine, we age so beautifully.”