Women of Washington Wine: Hillary Sjolund of Sonoris Wines



By Kori ~ February 28th, 2011.

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.

Hillary Sjolund is the owner and winemaker for Sonoris Wines. A native of California, Hillary graduated with a degree in Fermentation Science from UC Davis and got her start in the wine industry as a harvest intern at Pine Ridge Winery in Napa. She spent time working harvest in Chile in 2003 and returned to Pine Ridge as assistant winemaker. Hillary moved to Washington State in 2006 and became winemaker for DiStefano Winery in Woodinville. In January, Hillary left DiStefano to focus full-time on her own Sonoris Wines. She purchased her first Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Blue Mountain Vineyard in Walla Walla in 2008. From those grapes, she made her first Sonoris wine, “Burney’s Blend” named for her grandfather, which will be released this spring.

Recently, Hillary 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 Hillary Sjolund:

How did you first get involved in the wine business?
I was taking an “introduction to winemaking” class at UC Davis, and I caught the fever. Winemaking was all I wanted to think about from that moment on.

What were the steps that led to where you are now?
In 2000, I took a job as a harvest intern with Pine Ridge Winery in Napa, California. I quickly became the intern that never left. In 2003, after a brief winemaking journey to Chile, I returned to Pine Ridge as their Assistant Winemaker. In 2006, Mark Newton of DiStefano Winery recruited me to Washington State, where I have made a home in winemaking. In January of 2011, I decided to branch out on my own with Sonoris Wines.

Has being a woman been an advantage or a disadvantage in your wine journey?
I’ve never seen any disadvantages, only challenges. I think you are either born with the passion to do this, or you aren’t. It’s the passion, the constant drive to make next year better than last, to get the most from your fruit, to learn at every step, and to never stop tasting, testing, and progressing.

What advice do you have for a woman wanting to get involved in the wine business today?
Try your hand at everything to find your fit. Winemaking may sound grand, but perhaps wine marketing is more your thing. Know your strengths and weaknesses, ask for help, be open to suggestions, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

I understand that you have worked harvest in Chile in addition to your work at wineries in Washington and California. What have you learned from those experiences?
Chile taught me how to be connected to the “culture” of wine. They taught me how to read the land, take in its fruit, and make it what it is, not what it isn’t. Be true to your land; be true to your culture.

What are your thoughts about the Washington wine industry, in general?
It’s an exciting time to be making wine in Washington. I think we offer the greatest quality to value ratio anywhere in the country. Our fruit is expressive, and our winemaking talent unique. We are becoming more aware of our soils and what grows best where. The industry here is very open to sharing new ideas and lending a helping hand. It feels like family here.

In recent years the Washington wine industry has grown at a rapid rate. Do you expect that trend to continue?
Not at the same rate, but I do think it will continue to grow. I think you are going to see a lot more “co-ops” for winemaking where several winemakers are under the same roof developing a multitude of wines from vineyards all over the state. I think the “urban” winemaking scene is very interesting and creative. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What is your vision for the future of Sonoris Wines?
Sonoris is new and developing. I started with a Cabernet Sauvignon blend because that is what I love. This year I plan on adding a white wine to the portfolio. Production will remain under 1,000 cases for now. My goal is make up to four wines in the next two years.

Many thanks to Hillary for sharing her story and thoughts with us. I wish her all the best and will continue following her work and Sonoris Wines with great interest, and I hope that you will too.

(Photos from Sonoris Wines)


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

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