Women winemakers are hard at work in the Sonoma County wine industry.

Women Winemakers in Sonoma County

Share this story

Sonoma County wineries have been early leaders in elevating women to lead winemaking roles since the 1970s. Today, you are more likely to see women working in assistant and lead winemaking positions in Sonoma County wineries than in almost any other region in California.

Year of the Woman

However, even in 2018, which has been unofficially termed a 'Year of the Woman' in the media, women are not even close to parity in this still male-dominated profession, despite the fact that by the 1990s, 'nearly 50 percent of UC Davis's viticulture and enology graduates were women,' according to UC Davis Magazine (Summer 2009).

Surprising statistics compiled by Lucia and Jack Gilbert, professors at Santa Clara University, for their Women Winemakers of California project, reveal that of more than 4,000 wineries in California, only 10 percent employ women in a lead winemaking role, with wineries in the Sonoma and Napa County areas having the most women winemakers, at 12 percent.

Here are three Sonoma County winemakers who continue to lead the way for other women in the field.

Katy Wilson, LaRue Wines

Katy Wilson, winemaker of LaRue Wines

In 2009, Katy Wilson named her LaRue brand after her great-grandmother, Veona LaRue, a spirited woman who advised Katy that she didn't have to follow convention or listen too much to what others said — that she could do anything she wanted in life. 'Don't let someone put you in a box,' Veona advised.

Having grown up in a walnut orchard and learned to drive a tractor before she learned to drive a car, Wilson was happy to go into the family business of agriculture, but had an 'aha' moment when she learned she could apply her interests more creatively in wine. She worked in Australia, Napa, and New Zealand, and landed an assistant winemaking position at Sonoma County's Flowers Winery.

Today Wilson makes Pinot Noir from small Sonoma Coast vineyards for LaRue, and teams up with Ross Robb as consulting winemaker at Anaba Wines, Banshee and others.

Marcia Torres Forno, Matanzas Creek Winery

Marcia Torres Forno, winemaker of Matanzas Creek Winery

Jackson Family Wines, which owns Matanzas Creek Winery, is the kind of vast wine company that one might think that wines of individuality, and personal style, get lost in, but it's clear that's not the case when talking with winemaker Marcia Torres Forno, who was named head winemaker at Matanzas Creek in 2010.

Of Spanish and Italian heritage, Torres Forno grew up in Santiago, Chile, where she earned a bachelor of science in agricultural engineering at Catholic University in Santiago. After several winery jobs, she came to California in 1996 through the Communicating for Agriculture and Exchange Program.

Torres Forno is a good fit with Matanzas Creek, which is known for its cool-climate Merlot, as she says she thinks the aroma of Merlot is 'more seductive' than Cabernet Sauvignon. But also, she has artfully applied her affinity for Sauvignon Blanc to expand the program at Matanzas Creek, which was better known for its Chardonnay in the 1980s. (Historical note: Pioneering woman winemaker Merry Edwards developed the popular Matanzas Creek Chardonnay style after the wines displayed a 'buttery' note after being cellared in the former dairy facility there. Marcia Torres Forno, taking the wines in her own direction, has discontinued the use of that particular malolactic bacteria strain.)

Kathleen Inman, Inman Family Wines

Kathleen Inman, winemaker of Inman Family Wines

A wine country native, Kathleen Inman grew up in Napa, and was working as an intern at a winery when she had a brief conversation with an Englishman who was visiting the winery in 1982. Her long detour began when she studied abroad, reconnected with the Englishman and married, and spent 15 years overseas, becoming a member of the Royal Horticultural Society along the way.

Back in wine country in 2000, Inman began planting a 10-acre vineyard on Olivet Lane, west of Santa Rosa in the Russian River Valley. In 2012, she was awarded the Rising Star Winemaker Award by Women for WineSense. Environmentally minded, Inman installed one of the first winery electric vehicle charging stations at her tasting room, where she pours 'Endless Crush' sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and other Russian River Valley varietals.

Additional Sonoma County women winemakers

Phyllis Zouzounis, Deux Amis Wines

Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

Alison Green-Doran, Equality Vines

Margo Van Staaveren, Chateau St. Jean

Megan Glaab, Ryme Cellars

Theresa Heredia, Gary Farrell

Virginia Lambrix, Truett-Hurst

Sarah Quider and Rebecka Deike, Ferrari-Carano

Melissa Stackhouse, Clos du Bois

Cynthia Cosco, Passaggio Wines

Ashley Herzberg, Amista Vineyards

Katie Madigan, St. Francis Winery

Susan Lueker and Lisa Evich, Simi Winery

Simone Sequeira, La Follette

Shelly Rafanelli, A. Rafanelli Winery

Jennifer Reichardt, Raft Wines

Cara Morrison, Sonoma-Cutrer

Resources: Women Winemakers of California

James Knight