By Kori ~ May 30th, 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.
Winemaker Rachael Horn and her husband Todd Mera own AniChe Cellars, a small family winery located in Underwood, Washington. Named for Rachael and Todd’s two children, Anais and Che, AniChe Cellars officially opened for business in early May. Their inaugural releases include four white wines from the 2010 vintage and four red wines from the 2009 vintage. Currently, Rachael is the only female winemaker in the Columbia Gorge AVA.
Recently, Rachael 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 Rachael Horn:
How did you first get involved in the wine business?
I got involved in the industry through restaurant work. My first job was in fine dining, and I stayed in fine dining most of the time I worked in the hospitality industry. A wine steward position sort of fell into my lap when I was really young, and I remained a wine trainer or steward in most places afterward. I started making my own wine at home and researching winemaking after a guest at a table asked me why I wasn’t making my own wine. “You are so passionate about it,” she said. It was a classic epiphany. That was about 5 years ago, and since then I have attended the WSU Enology Cert program and opened my own winery. I have long been an advocate for blends and obscure varietals, and I have developed a well-exposed palate through years of tasting wines in every country and travel destination that I can.
What were the steps that led to where you are now?
Hmm…steps. More like an escalator. I move fast. Actually the years of restaurant work, 18 or so, really were preparing me for becoming a winemaker without me knowing it! I read whatever I could on winemaking, I picked the brains of the (few) winemakers willing to chat, and I made my own wine. A year later, I realized that I needed deep chemistry knowledge and a truly better understanding of the industry so I signed up for the (wait-listed) Enology Cert program at WSU. I got all of the appropriate licenses through trial and error (lots of both) and made wine in conjunction with the classes I was taking at WSU. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit; so setting up myself in business without really apprenticing anywhere else was a natural thing for me. Also, I have a family and kids and taking off to apprentice in a winery somewhere else was out of the question. Instead, I developed my own lab and studied wines I purchased in the laboratory. I also created a network of winemakers and academics willing to answer my frantic emails and phone calls with sound and creative advice. I am now at a place where I feel that I can hold my own in the cellar/lab, but I still ask for advice from fellow winemakers.
Has being a woman been an advantage or a disadvantage in your wine journey?
Good question. I should qualify my answer with something first. I am a renewed feminist as a result of my interest in opening a winery. Years of being isolated in work and a social life that sheltered me from the chauvinism that led to feminist ideology made me question the validity of a loud feminist movement; I thought it was a shrill echo of a time when it was real. However, I have to say that this industry has opened my eyes to how far women have yet to come. Winemakers are rarely women in this country. I am the only female winemaker in my AVA [Columbia Gorge]. I read articles about Chilean women winemakers, Italian and French women taking over family traditions, and see our own industry fall behind in progress for women. Unlike most other industries, winemaking has a vast gender divide. I have a few female winemaker friends and many industry female friends who are constantly befuddled by the obvious “maleness” of the industry, and recount the many and profound times they undergo some kind of sexism. Having said this, being a woman has given me the drive to do well and make good wine. I feel like an ambassador of sorts, and I feel like raising the bar, at least in my AVA is something that a woman must do. Besides, although I do not think that women are “better” winemakers, I do believe we have better developed olfactory capacity due to the cultural and physical allowances for emotional attachment to odors. Smells are processed in our limbic system, the emotional center in our brains. I feel that women are better able to name and identify individual odors very well, and my nose is my best tool in the cellar. I also find that approaching women in this industry with fellowship and cooperation has been an advantage for me.
What advice do you have for a woman wanting to get involved in the wine business today?
Cultivate friendships with everyone who is willing to part with information without ego and competitiveness. Read everything you can on the industry, ask for advice from trusted folks, and listen to everything anyone offers about the industry. Then, cull through the bulls*** and trust your instincts. As a winemaker, drink lots and lots of wine and make what you like. Only do what you feel passionately about. Be generous and free with your time and smiles, as they will come back to you!!!
What are your thoughts about the Washington wine industry, in general?
I am deeply proud to be a part of the Washington wine industry. I feel that the fruit is often excellent, and the wines are good. We have a state eager to improve growing conditions, growers willing to learn, adapt, and change their viticulture, and a growing presence in the global market. Our wines are well priced and represent openness to new ventures and varietals. We are nimble and nubile here, able to reinvent without a heavy mantle of expectation. It is so exciting!
In recent years the Washington wine industry has grown at a rapid rate. Do you expect that trend to continue?
I imagine that climate change and shifts in markets will make Washington State a far more competitive force to California wines in the future. And, our wines kick a**.
How do you and your husband, Todd, divide the duties at the winery?
Todd is my man-slave. Cellar rat. Honey-do boy. (Check writer, too, so I have to be nice!) Most of the time Todd helps out on the weekends. I do all of the winery stuff and winemaking during the week (lab stuff, punchdowns, grape sourcing, etc.), and he helps with large projects (like bottling and barrel cleaning, etc.). We talk over all of the major decisions in the winery, and I almost always consult him on winemaking changes. He takes care of the IT stuff for the winery, too. During crush, he is by me doing it all. The rest of the family helps out, too. I am blessed with a good deal of help.
Your wines have unique names like Goat Boy, Atticus, Moth Love, and Tzippy. What is the story behind these names?
I am a failed writer. Many attempts at writing novels have nurtured a fondness for literature nearing the pseudo-worship of celebrities and rock stars. Thus, my wines are named after favorite literary characters. (Atticus is Atticus Finch, Moth Love is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Prodigal Summer”, Tzippy is a Monster in “Where the Wild Things Are” along with Goat Boy, Come and Go is a reference to T.S. Eliot’s “Lovesong of J Alfred Proofrock”, Orlando is from Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”, and Lizzy is Austen.)
What is your vision for the future of AniChe Cellars?
I would like to be a winery synonymous with excellence. A family affair, around 8,000 cases annually, supporting the family in decent incomes, creating a legacy to pass on to my genetic progeny. I want folks to come visit and walk away feeling welcomed and pleased. Oh! And, I want a cave. (OK…so “vision” isn’t exactly like sitting on Santa’s lap, but this is all true.)
Feel free to share any other thoughts that you believe would be of interest to our readers.
I am a mother of two wonderful children whose futures look dismal at best. I started this winery as part of a plan to create a family business that requires cultivation of vines over time, a sense of tradition and of place. I worry deeply about the legacy we are all leaving our children, such a dreadful mess to clean up. So I am eager to start down the path of sustainable living with the manufacture and selling of wine made with traditional methods that can provide a viable low-impact living for my children in the years to come. AniChe is a hybridization of my children’s names, Ani + Che. Ani is my daughter and is currently enrolled in the WSU Viticulture Certificate program and hopes to begin making wine soon. My son is Che, learning through osmosis. Since we have spent their inheritance on a winery, we figured it was the least we could do to name the winery after them.
Many thanks to Rachael for sharing her story and thoughts with us. I wish her and Todd all the best and look forward to following their work and AniChe Cellars with great interest, and I hope that you will too.
(Photos from AniChe Cellars)
Filed under: American Wine, Interview, Washington State Wine, Women of Washington Wine