Wine professionals gather at female-focused conference
By JADE HELM
“Some bridges need to be burned, some renovated and some built,” explained Andréa McBride John. She was referring to “Building Bridges,” the theme of Oregon’s Fourth Annual Women in Wine Conference. What followed was a day of advice and encouragement about preparing to build bridges, the importance of community and ultimately, the responsibility of inspiring others to walk across that bridge.
While McBride John joined by video, sister Robin McBride personally delivered the conference keynote at host winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards. Together they shared their story of McBride Sisters Wine, now the largest Black-owned wine company in the United States.
Definitely worthy of an internet search, if you are not familiar with their background, the women grew up on different continents, neither knowing she even had a sister, much less a shared desire to enter the wine industry. Eventually, they learned of each other, met and followed their joint passion for wine. On the topic of starting McBride Sisters Wine, both spoke about a “healthy dose of unrealistic optimism.”
McBride stated, “We don’t conform and we don’t apologize.” Despite hearing comments such as, “Black women don’t drink this kind of wine,” they proudly labeled one of their collections Black Girl Magic. McBride John advised, “Find your community, your support system, your allies and your mentors.” She quickly followed this advice with the call to action to give back.
Women comprise 80 percent of the staff at McBride Sisters Wine. Their SHE CAN canned wine collection contributes to the related SHE CAN Professional Development Fund, both promote the professional advancement of women in the wine industry with the goal of closing the gender and race wage gap
Pat Campbell reminded attendees to honor those who have met challenges, built their bridges and made it to the other side. One of the “original women of wine,” Campbell co-founded Elk Cove Vineyards with husband Joe, breaking ground in 1973.
In addition to being Joe’s partner in all aspects of the business, Pat Campbell undertook retail sales and organized two major festivals for the winery. In 1996. she served as the general contractor for building additions to the winery and tasting room. Pat Campbell said, “Women have always been at the table,” citing examples including; ¡Salud!, International Pinot Noir Celebration and Oregon Pinot Camp.
Reflecting the McBride sisters’ sentiments on elevating other women, several speakers offered personal examples of working from a position of diversity to create a path for others.
In April 2021, Tiquette Bramlett was hired as president of Compris Vineyard. She was already involved in helping others advance. In 2020, Bramlett founded Our Legacy Harvested, a nonprofit focused on education, advancement and empowerment of the BIPOC community in the wine industry.
In 2020, Ximena Orrego, proprietor and winemaker at Atticus Wine, founded Celebrating Hispanic Roots. Born in Peru, Orrego was looking for a way to unite industry peers who share language and Hispanic backgrounds. The group highlights Hispanic-owned businesses along with supporting groups including Adelante Mujeres Empresas Small Business Development Program.
The McBride sisters’ encouraged attendees to “go where you don’t belong and one day you will.” Although some preparation is involved– one must prepare herself and the path for others to follow.
Marli Williams, founder and director of Camp YES!, suggested three tips to elevate confidence. “Number one: Own your Awesome.” This point was demonstrated by several speakers who believed in the strengths of their talents and heritage. “Number two: Elevate Your Support Squad.” This topic of community and mentorship arose repeatedly during the conference. “Number three: Confidence is a Result of Action.” Williams encouraged the group to “take imperfect and inspired action.” Almost every woman’s success story shared from the conference stage included a confession that she had no conception of the difficulty of starting a wine business.
For individuals brave enough to venture where they don’t feel they belong, there is a responsibility to prepare the way for those who follow. Maryam Ahmed, co-founder of the Diversity in Wine Leadership Forum, led attendees through a session titled “Walking the Talk.” Ahmed encouraged participants to “hold the door open,” but also consider what is on the other side of that door. Among other projects, the forum offers Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, or DEI, training for wine professionals. Ahmed concluded with a lingering thought, “Acknowledge your privilege, whatever it is, and use it to bring people in.”
Two women answered the question that many wonder, “who am I to offer help to someone else?” Jeri Andrews shared her personal story of processing trauma into love and resilience. Among other positions, she is the CEO and co-founder of XOBC Cellars, one of the few LGBTQ+/women-owned wineries in the nation. She encouraged participants to “know your superpowers,” and proclaimed that “we are the ones we are waiting for.”
Laura Laing, proprietor and general manager of Hazelfern Cellars, brought down the house with her answer to, “How do you make it all work– motherhood, entrepreneurship, etc.?” She responded, “I’m not!” Explaining the beauty of that statement, Laing admitted her life isn’t perfect or easy, but she’s doing it. And she shares that with other women while being an example to her daughters.
The Women in Wine Oregon conference is the organization’s signature event and drew 225 in-person and 100 virtual attendees. With 80 members, it also offers year-round mentorship, community events throughout the state, educational seminars and hosts networking happy hours.
Board member, president and marketing committee chair Julie Dalrymple says, “The goal of Women in Wine Oregon is to uplift the voices of women in our state’s wine industry and foster the next generation of leaders. Now, our impact extends much further than that. Our audience has expanded over the years to include women in various careers looking for professional development opportunities and ways to network.”
For more information, visit: www.womeninwineoregon.com.
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