Girls Gone Willamette

Alison Sokol Blosser (far left) stands next to her mother, Susan Sokol Blosser, an early member of WWS and a pioneer of the Oregon wine industry. Both were keynote speakers at the 2013 WWS Grand Event hosted by The Alison in Newberg. Rebecca Moore (middle right), current WWS president, and Jonjie Lockman, the Grand Event chair (far right) organized the highly successful event. Photo provided.
Women for WineSense members tour a Willamette Valley vineyard during Girls Gone Willamette, the organization’s 2013 Grand Event. Photo provided.

By Hilary Berg

The tongue-in-cheek title for the 2013 Women for WineSense Grand Event, Girls Gone Willamette, might suggest a riotous, “wild” time, but this could not be further from the truth. The annual gathering was — as always — a well-organized, educational, fun-filled four days of fine wine, incredible food, networking and memorable moments. 

Hosted by The Alison Inn & Spa, Aug. 1–4, the Grand Event started with a Thursday evening meet-and-greet inside the Newberg hotel. Participating WWS members — totaling 42 women; 16 joined just to attend the event — nibbled hors d’oeuvres and sampled wines provided by Domaine Serene, Adelsheim, The Four Graces, Monks Gate, King Estate, Lange and Sokol Blosser. 

As guests tasted, munched and mingled, Grand Event Chair Jonjie Lockman greeted everyone to and introduced the current WWS president, Rebecca Moore of Monks Gate Vineyard — owned by her parents, Ron and Linda Moore — outside Carlton.

Moore welcomed the group for what she promised to be an unforgettable weekend. She described Oregon wine’s collaborative nature and then introduced keynote speakers Susan and Alison Sokol Blosser. 

Susan gracefully summarized the organization’s founding and purpose. Established in Napa Valley in 1990, WWS was originally organized in opposition to Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s campaign to classify wine in the same category as hard liquor and illegal drugs. 

“It was also a time when the wine industry was truly a male-dominated world,” said Susan, who, along with Karen Hinsdale, started a Portland WWS chapter in 1991. “And the guys weren’t doing anything about the anti-alcohol forces that were gaining momentum. It took the women in the wine industry in California to step forward and do something.”

In attendance at the 2013 Grand Event was one of WWS founders, Michaela Rodeno of Villa Ragazzi/Rodeno Vineyards in Napa. She, Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores Winery, Margaret Duckhorn of Duckhorn Vineyards and the much-respected Margrit Mondavi worked tirelessly to change the public’s perception of wine.

“[WWS] was founded to create a positive view on wine,” Susan said. “[The organization] put a family face on the wine industry, focused on personal stories of grapegrowing as agriculture and educated the public that wine was a product with a lot of history that was meant to be enjoyed with a meal.” 

Before speaking about Oregon wine industry’s beginnings as well as her own experience, Susan reiterated WWS’s key contributions.

“I see Women for WineSense as having done two critical things over the past 23 years: building an all-women’s network in a mostly male industry and creating a positive, food-friendly image of wine.” 

The next day, WWS members awoke to a breakfast served with flutes of Soter Brut Rosé. The day then picked up pace with a full itinerary of educational seminars — each accompanied by wines from the panelists, who guided the attendees through the tastings and responded to questions.

The first seminar, hosted by Erica Landon of Walter Scott Wines, featured a discussion of the Willamette Valley’s geological history. Members tasted De Ponte, Ponzi, Evening Land and Penner-Ash wines.

Next was a panel discussion on Willamette Valley sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) moderated by this writer, Hilary Berg, and included four winemakers: Wynne Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem, Thibaud Mandet of WillaKenzie Estate, Jesse Lange of Lange Estate and Rebecca Pittock Shouldis of Ghost Hill Cellars. 

After a delectable lunch of soup, salad and pasta provided by the Alison’s Jory Restaurant and paired with wines from REX HILL and A to Z Wineworks, the women gathered for two more seminars. 

Moderated by Amelia Moran Ceja, president, owner and executive chef of Ceja Vineyards in Napa/Sonoma, “Women Winemakers of the Willamette Valley” included an impressive panel of experienced as well as new winemakers. Tina Hammond of Privé Vineyard, Anna Matzinger of Matzinger Davies, Kate Payne Brown of Archery Summit and Meredith Taggart of REX HILL and A to Z Wineworks each elaborated on challenges they have faced on professional and personal levels.  

“The consensus was that women need to be twice as good as the men with respect to their skill level and devotion to the craft to gain the same amount of respect, and the same held true with regard to the physical labor aspect of the job,” Moore said.  

The next seminar, “Do Soil and Farming Practices Matter?,” moderated by Karla Barber, a Texas-based sommelier, instructor and business owner, dug deep into the minds of viticulturalists Mimi Casteel of Bethel Heights, Ernie Pink of Amalie Robert, Robert Schultz of Stoller Family Estate and John Wrigley of J. Wrigley Vineyards. Each shared their individual farming styles as they related to crop health as well as development of wine in the cellar.  

“The panel agreed that being aggressive in your farming practices assures the healthiest possible crop resulting in minimal interference in the cellar,” Moore noted.

After a Friday buffet-style surf-and-turf dinner — paired with wines from Anam Cara Cellars —members prepared to venture into the valley on Saturday, visiting three wineries, starting with Sokol Blosser’s brand new tasting room in Dayton. Lunch was served at Ken Wright Cellars at The Depot in Carlton; and dinner was hosted by Soléna Estate and Grand Cru Estates in Yamhill and provided by Red Hills Market. The event concluded with free time the following day.

“This was our first foray into the travel realm, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Moore said. “Jonjie Lockman and her volunteers gave selflessly of their time and energy to make sure all was in order, and the execution went off without a hitch.  

“Attendees left filled with knowledge and a new appreciation for Oregon wines, including the farmers and winemakers. And all have vowed to return with friends for more extended explorations.”

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