By Kori ~ December 15th, 2009.
Today’s post is part of a series featuring the Women of Washington Wine. In an industry once dominated by men, more and more women are joining the ranks as winery owners, vineyard owners, and winemakers. Being a woman myself, I am fascinated by these women and what they have done and continue to do. Through this series, I hope to introduce you to some of the brightest female faces in the Washington wine industry.
Hollywood Hill Vineyards, located a couple of miles from downtown Woodinville on Hollywood Hill, was founded in 2004 by Steve and Becky Snyder. Hollywood Hill Vineyards is the only winery in Woodinville that also has their own vineyards, where they grow both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their primary focus is on producing Rhone-inspired wines from Eastern Washington fruit, but they produce a small amount of estate grown wines as well. On a recent visit to Woodinville, we had the pleasure to meet Becky and taste their wines in their tasting room located down the hill from their winery in the Apple Farm Village. We were very impressed with the quality of wines they are producing, rating all four wines we tasted as 4 stars (out of 5).
Recently, Becky was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule during this holiday season to answer some questions for me and our Wine Peeps readers.
Highlights from Q&A with Becky Snyder:
How did you first get involved in the wine business?
Steve and I both have been very interested in wine and food for a long time. We both grew up in families who love to cook and travel, so we’ve always had that in common. I often look to one point in time—and one book—that got us on the path to where we are today. Adventures on the Wine Route by the Berkeley, California, importer, Kermit Lynch, is that book. Reading it completely changed my understanding of wine and the wine world. Written in vignettes, it takes the reader on a journey throughout France and into the lives of some (then) very small winemakers. After reading it, French wine was no longer a mystery and we started tasting everything we could get our hands on from Kermit in order to develop our palates and learn hands-on about wine.
What were the steps that led to where you are now?
Early on we took several trips to France and California. At that point, we both had such a passion for wine; we kind of knew it would lead us somewhere. In the late ‘90’s, Steve and another guy started a vineyard on Vashon Island, bringing some old vines into production and planting over an acre of Pinot Noir. Steve was totally hooked. Not long after that we had our first son and Steve stayed home with him and started putting together Hollywood Hill Vineyards. We moved to Woodinville from Bellevue in 2004, planted 2000 vines of Pinot Noir on our property, and were bonded later that year. Our first commercial harvest was in 2005, and we released our first wine in late 2007.
Has being a woman been an advantage or a disadvantage in your wine journey? Please explain.
To be honest, I don’t think about the gender factor much, which is different than when I worked in technology. This is such a social industry, with lots of networking, and I think women certainly have the skills to navigate quite well in that respect. Building relationships with colleagues and customers is very important when you own a winery and I think women—and many men—are great at that. I sometimes struggled with the hierarchy of a large corporation which doesn’t exist for us now, and that’s a plus. Winemaking in particular is both art and science, so it has the ability to appeal to different people—men and women—for different reasons, which is great.
What advice do you have for a woman wanting to get involved in the wine business today?
There are so many great jobs in this industry, it’s important to think about your interest and skills. I certainly would spend a lot of time talking to people in the industry to see how they got started. Then I’d think about how to get some experience. Do you want to work in a winery or are you more suited to sales, in which case I’d look to a large winery or to a distributor for options. If you’re thinking about working in a tasting room, it’s really important you enjoy meeting lots of people and selling wine! Setting romance aside for a minute, at the end of the day the wine industry is a classic consumer product industry. If your background is in that area, you can certainly parlay the experience into something in this industry.
What are your thoughts about the Washington wine industry, in general?
It’s an incredibly exciting time for Washington! I sat through an industry meeting a couple weeks ago and it just reminded me so much of the early days in the wireless industry, where I spent 25 years before starting Hollywood Hill Vineyards. There are so many opportunities for growth, both for wineries and for all the adjunct businesses that go along with wine and tourism. Of course I can’t talk about the Washington wine industry without talking about Woodinville and all the growth that’s happening here. I think we won’t even recognize this area in 5 years and it will truly be a national—if not international—destination for world class wines and wine tourism in the future.
In recent years the Washington wine industry has grown at a rapid rate. Do you expect that trend to continue?
I think to answer this question, all we need to do is look at the very recent Top 100 list results from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. For the first time ever, a Washington wine was selected as the number one wine in the world by Wine Spectator. This is an amazing accomplishment for the winery itself, Columbia Crest, and for Washington wines in general. In addition to the number one selection, a total of 9 Washington wines were on the Top 100 list! The best results ever for Washington state. Wine Enthusiast also commended Washington wines in its Top 100 list published in early December, awarding 11 wines with a place on the list. To top it off, Dr. Jay Miller of The Wine Advocate had glowing reviews for Washington wine in a recent issue, and identified several “rising stars” in the state. In terms of growth, the future is very bright for Washington. According to a recent Nielsen study, Washington wines represent only 4% of US wine consumption, compared to California wines at 65% and imported wine at 28%. The recognition Washington is now receiving will have a dramatic and positive impact on Washington wine sales and consumption over many years.
I understand that you were recently elected President of the Woodinville Wine Country Board of Directors. Congratulations! What is involved in that position?
This is something I’m very excited about, so thank you for the recognition. My primary responsibility is to promote and advocate for Woodinville and all the wineries and tasting rooms located here. That’s such an easy job! I think it’s amazing what’s happening in Woodinville, and I believe it’s just the beginning. The energy and spirit to make world-class wines is pervasive and evident everywhere you go. Each winery is unique, giving guests an opportunity to really explore the area and get to know many of the winemakers personally. The area is beautiful with stunning views, a community atmosphere, and a growing number of wonderful restaurants and lodging options. And while my main role is to promote what’s already here, it’s equally important to look to the future. Woodinville is still a small community and one that’s just now embracing tourism. This is a critical area of focus if we are going to realize the goal of becoming a world-class wine destination. This will take all the wineries and tasting rooms working together—with the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Woodinville—to make it happen. I’m looking forward to being part of it!
How do you and your husband, Steve, divide the duties at the winery?
Great question! This has been the most eye-opening aspect of working together. You really do need to divide things up so you can play to your strengths and get everything it takes to run a winery done. That said, and simply put, Steve is “all things wine and the vineyard” and I am “all things marketing”. Although we both work together to make the wines, he runs the show in that area. And, while he and I both work in the tasting room, plan events, manage wholesale accounts, and promote Hollywood Hill Vineyards, I suppose I run that part of it!
As the mother of two boys, how do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
This way of working is so different from the 9-5 I did for 25 years. The beauty of it is the flexibility. I find now that work and life are completely interwoven and there isn’t really an end to one and a beginning to the other. I know I work harder than ever now, but with it comes the ability to say “I’m going to go read in my son’s classroom for the afternoon” without the stress of worrying when I’ll get back to the office. I love that. With this business, Steve and I started on a personal quest of sorts to make a good living at something we love, while spending a lot of time together as a family. I’ll let you know when we get there!
What is your vision for the future of Hollywood Hill Vineyards?
We’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. If you had said to me 3 years ago we would be releasing our 2nd vintage, with critical acclaim for a couple of our wines, all while meeting literally thousands of people, I would have been suspicious, at best! Now we’re sitting here, about to open a new “Tasting House” in a fantastic location, with a list of wonderful customers and many wines sold out, and releasing our 2007’s to a lot of enthusiasm. It’s thrilling when you step back and think about it that way. Our vision has always been to stay small and hands on. Steve and I both love meeting customers and sharing the love of wine and food. I can’t imagine that will ever change. We’ll grow, but Hollywood Hill Vineyards will remain a boutique winery making the best possible Rhone Valley and Southern French style wines we love.
Many thanks to Becky for sharing her story and thoughts with us. I wish her and Steve all the best and will be following their work and Hollywood Hill Vineyards with great interest, and I hope that you will too.
Filed under: American Wine, Interview, Vineyards, Washington State Wine, Women of Washington Wine