Women of Washington Wine: Katy Perry of Tildio Winery

By Kori ~ April 19th, 2010.

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.

Katy Perry and her husband Milum founded Tildio Winery in 2005. Located in Manson, Washington, on the north shore of Lake Chelan, Tildio (Spanish for killdeer) got its name from the hundreds of killdeer birds who make their home on the property. Katy and Milum purchased their vineyard property in 2000 and began planting vines in 2001. In 2004, Milum and two helpers began building the winery and finished the tasting room just in time for Tildio’s grand opening in the spring of 2005. Katy has an extensive winemaking resume and is one of the many in the Washington wine industry who cut their teeth at Chateau Ste. Michelle. Today, Katy and Milum are living their dream of owning and running their own vineyard and winery. Tildio Winery produces about 2,000 cases annually.

Recently, Katy was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for me and our Wine Peeps readers.

Highlights from Q&A with Katy Perry:

How did you first get involved in the wine business?
No one would give me a job in Napa so I had to go to UC Davis first. It was a fantastic 4 years (in the late 1980’s) where I made lifetime friends, most of who are in the wine biz around the world. My UC Davis Enology/Viticulture degree opened up opportunities for me I otherwise would never had.

What were the steps that led to where you are now?
I always followed my heart and thought to broaden my experiences. So as opportunities presented themselves to me I would make a move if it was in a direction that fit that profile. When I visited my family in Lake Chelan on a vacation in the late 90’s from Napa, we made a quick trip to Penticton, B.C. I was floored at their wine industry; I just didn’t know! Within two years of that visit I had moved back to the Northwest, accepted a job with Chateau Ste. Michelle as a winemaker and purchased my bare vineyard and winery property in Lake Chelan (I had already picked it out the year before). In my case, it has pretty much been a matter of what I put my energy and heart toward.

Has being a woman been an advantage or a disadvantage in your wine journey?
I would have to ask you, in what corporate environment has being a woman been an advantage?!

Women have definitely had to push WAY harder to get equal consideration as an equal male counterpart in this industry. I don’t want to sound bitter or anything but the good old boy network is definitely healthy. A lot of my women friends in the business had to first put in years in lab positions while our male compatriots went straight into cellar/winemaking tracks and were never even considered for lab positions. Not that lab jobs are bad, they aren’t. But many wanted to make wine and couldn’t bust out of the lab. Ultimately, I believe it served them well to understand lab results inside and out before becoming winemakers and needing to rely, or not, on lab numbers. Those girlfriends of mine have turned out to be really awesome winemakers!

Having said that, my experience was a little different because I started in research viticulture and enology jobs for Robert Mondavi and then the same for The Benziger Winery. It was solitary at times, and very nerdy, but I was able to play around with all the newest little bugs and cutting edge things going on at the time in viticulture and enology. After that even more really interesting things opened up for me, it was just a different track than the typical “go get a job in a lab” sort of approach.

What advice do you have for a woman wanting to get involved in the wine business today?
Marry into it; it’s way easier!

Or, there’s the way I did it, go to school and learn the science of your craft. After that try to get a job working for at least a few people you consider icons and learn their techniques and philosophy. And of course travel a lot to other wine regions and other countries, work a crush or two in the southern hemisphere, it will amaze you. Stay active in tasting groups; it keeps your palate honest.

What are your thoughts about the Washington wine industry, in general?
Washington state fruit has a natural acidity and balance that I love. Having worked in California for years I became used to adding lots of acid because the wines were flabby and out of balance if you didn’t. Here, the naturally acidic wines have an elegance and vibrancy I’m hooked on!

In recent years the Washington wine industry has grown at a rapid rate. Do you expect that trend to continue?
I just don’t know, who can predict what’s going to happen right now. I really hope everything turns around and we continue to grow as an industry, it’s a great community of people to associate with.

I understand that you serve as President of the Lake Chelan Wine Growers Association. What is involved in that position?
The Lake Chelan Wine Growers Association is a small marketing group of 14 wineries. Given our small size we focus on promoting a few events during the year in Chelan, such as Spring Barrel tasting weekend and Crush in Chelan, and try to do them well. As we become more experienced at this we hope to expand our marketing efforts. Our most recent advancement was hiring Bob Silver in Seattle as our PR guy to help us reach out to the Wine Bloggers Convention in Washington this June.

How do you and your husband, Milum, divide the duties at the winery?
I kind of think of it this way, I draw up the master plan and he figures out how to make it work. I love to conceptualize and create, get lost in blending trials and ideas. Milum is really into the machinery and mechanisms of making things happen and the flow of work. Sometimes we go back and forth on how to get a job done in a way that best accomplishes the goal while taking into account our small size and equipment. One thing we always agree on is that whatever we do it must FIRST be in the interest of making the best wine we possibly can.

What is your vision for the future of Tildio Winery?
We love what we’re doing and don’t want to change too much. I think the future might include hiring interns to mentor, that would be fun for me. I’m still following my passion and want to keep new ideas and perspectives flowing. One way to help that process is by bringing in new faces and their ideas to the frame.

Feel free to share any other thoughts that you believe would be of interest to our readers.
I really appreciate your focus on women in wine. We are still a minority but we exist, it’s important to tell young women that it’s possible if they want to be a winemaker.

Many thanks to Katy for sharing her story and thoughts with us. I wish her all the best and will be following her work and Tildio Winery with great interest, and I hope that you will too.

Filed under: American Wine, Interview, Washington State Wine, Women of Washington Wine

Reader's Comments

  1. Joanne | April 19th, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Katy and Milum are a great pair, making excellent wines. We have followed Katy from the time she first arrived in our area, and have never been disappointed in the wines. The newly redecorated winery is fun to visit, and the wines are SO good! We wish we lived closer.

  2. Kori | April 20th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    Glad to hear you are a fan of what Katy and Milum are doing at Tildio. Don’t we all wish we lived closer to our favorite wineries? 🙂 Cheers!

  3. Washington State Wines: Tildio Winery | another wine blog | April 25th, 2010 at 4:40 am

    […] Our friends over at Wine Peeps profiled Tildio Winery’s Katy Perry in their Women of Washington Wine Series. You can read Kori’s post about her here. […]