Women Winemakers in Sonoma County
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 four Sonoma County winemakers who continue to lead the way for other women in the field.
Kathleen Inman, Inman Family Wines
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.
Marcia Torres Forno, Matanzas Creek Winery
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.)
Katy Wilson, LaRue Wines
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.
Penny Gadd-Coster, Breathless Sparkling Wines
A highly acclaimed winemaker who has worked with Rebecca Faust at Rack & Riddle since 2007, Penny Gadd-Coster brings nearly 35 years of sought-after experience to Breathless Wines. Most recently, Penny earned 96 Points in the 2020 North Coast Wine Challenge for the NV Brut; Sweepstakes Winner for Best Sparkling Wine for the Blanc de Noirs in the 2020 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition; 91 Points and Gold Medal for the Blanc de Blancs and Double Gold Medal for the Brut in the 2020 Sunset International Wine Competition; 96 Points for the Brut along with Best of Show, Best of Class, Double Gold Medal and Best of Sonoma in the 2019 Harvest Challenge; Gold Medal for the Blanc de Noirs in the 2019 Sonoma County Harvest Festival as well as 2013 and 2018 Sweepstakes Winner; among many others. Penny was also named winner of the prestigious 2013 “Winemaker of the Year” award for the entire Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and greater Bay Area by the North Bay Business Journal.
Additional Sonoma County women winemakers
Shelly Rafanelli, A. Rafanelli Winery
Ashley Herzberg, Bacigalupi Vineyards
Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines
Margo Van Staaveren, Chateau St. Jean
Alison Green-Doran, Equality Vines
Sarah Quider and Rebecka Deike, Ferrari-Carano
Theresa Heredia, Gary Farrell
Cynthia Cosco, Passaggio Wines
Megan Glaab, Ryme Cellars
Lisa Evich, Simi Winery
Cara Morrison and Zidanelia Arcidiacono, Sonoma-Cutrer
Katie Madigan, St. Francis Winery
Resources: Women Winemakers of California
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.