In honor of Women's History Month, we spoke with some of the top women winemakers working in the industry today to learn more about them, their craft, and the wines they produce. Stay tuned throughout the month of March as we update this Women in Wine series with more interviews and be sure to check out our wine list featuring wineries who have women winemakers on staff.
Gina Hennen, Winemaker at Adelsheim from Willamette Valley, Oregon
Now the winemaker at Adelsheim, Gina transitioned from a career in engineering prior to establishing her roots in the wine industry. She thoughtfully works with the grapes, using them to give voice to the places they come from in the Willamette Valley.
Wine.com: Since so many of us are tied to our computers during the day, indulge us with what a typical day is like for you at harvest?
Gina Hennen: Generally speaking, the mornings start out with punchdowns and pumpovers and occasionally some questionable music choices. We will look over all of our fermenters and tend to their needs—warming them if they’re cold or cooling them if they get too hot. Soon after that we will start to see fruit rolling in from the vineyards and that becomes our everything for the next several hours. After handling all the fruit it’s clean up time… which also lasts for several hours. At some point in the evening, we will all stop what we’re doing to sit down together for an incredible meal cooked by our harvest chef. By that time of the day, we’re all exhausted and sweaty and dirty so sitting down to eat hot food feels like the ultimate luxury.
W: David Adelsheim was instrumental in establishing the Chehalem Mountains AVA in 2006, can you tell us what characteristics you find so compelling about this AVA?
GH: In my mind the key feature of the Chehalem Mountains is its incredible diversity of terroirs. We have the three major Willamette Valley soil types represented in this AVA—sedimentary, volcanic, and loess soils. We have the highest elevation in the Willamette Valley at Bald Peak Mountain. We also have a whole lot of small, family-run farms passionate about growing grapes. All of this plays out in tremendous little vineyard niches, all unique and bringing their own character to the table. This patchwork becomes especially interesting/challenging when we’re assembling our Chehalem Mountains blends, the Breaking Ground Pinot Noir, and the Staking Claim Chardonnay. Those wines are meant to represent what this AVA is all about, and the blending process becomes incredibly complicated when we have such a vivid array of vineyard blocks to paint into a cohesive picture. But of course, that’s the real fun of winemaking.
Gina Hennen tasting
W: As the head winemaker at Adelsheim you lead on nearly every aspect from the vineyard to bottling, was there a specific life experience that prepared you for this?
GH: I don’t think anything can prepare you for a life in winemaking, to be honest. What other job requires you to know chemistry, plumbing, agriculture, public speaking, microbiology, accounting…? For me, the key is to know what you’re good at and where you need some support from the rest of the team. I’m fortunate to work with an incredible group of smart AND funny people in the cellar, and it really is a joy to go into work. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.
W: What is one piece of advice you give to women looking to make a career in wine?
GH: There is nothing you can’t do and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. That doesn’t mean it won’t be messy—it just means you shouldn’t give up on what you want. Find your support community, seek out a mentor that is the right fit for you, and when you do make it to the top don’t forget to help someone else get up there.
W: What is your can't-fail food and wine pairing?
TH: It’s hard to go wrong with Willamette Valley Pinot noir and salmon. I love grilling cedar planked salmon and vegetables, particularly on cool spring and summer nights. It must be eaten outside and preferably with a glass of Pinot noir.
W: If we were to take a cellar dive into your personal wine collection, what would we find?
GH: As you might expect, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay feature heavily. It’s a small, tight-knit group here in the Valley and we often trade our wines with each other; my cellar is filled with treasures made by good friends. I fill it out with wines from France (Burgundy and Champagne are particular faves, no surprises there) and around the world. I’m fascinated by high elevation wines from Argentina; Bodega Catena Zapata is at the top of that list for me. I also have an embarrassing number of whiskies from Ireland and Scotland…not exactly wine but it’s close enough for me.
Thank you, Gina!
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Stay tuned throughout the month of March for more interviews with women in wine and opportunities to shop wines from women winemakers. Cheers!