By Kori ~ October 29th, 2012.
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.
Wendy Stuckey left her native Australia in 2007 to join Chateau Ste. Michelle as its white wine winemaker. She manages the day-to-day operations as the winery’s white wine cellar in Woodinville, Washington, just northeast of Seattle. Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington State’s founding winery with its roots dating back to the repeal of Prohibition. While all of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s vineyards are located on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, all of their white wines are made in Woodinville.
During the Riesling Rendezvous in 2010, which I attended, Wendy sat on the panel during the International Blind Tasting of Dry Rieslings in which her Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling was poured. When it was revealed and the audience was told that the wine retails for around $8, Wendy received resounding applause from the international audience.
Recently, Wendy 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 Wendy Stuckey:
How did you first get involved in the wine business?
I had no direct connection to the wine industry, but I did have a yearning to learn more about wine. I gave up my career in the medical field and jumped head first into a 3-year degree in Winemaking.
During my studies, I worked weekends for a small winery that was well known in Australia for making great Rieslings. After finishing my degree, I landed an assistant winemaking job for a winery in the Barossa Valley that made sparkling wines, white and red wines, sherry, port, brandy, and vinegar! This was a wonderful introduction to the wine industry.
What were the steps that led to where you are now?
It goes back to my youth. In my late teens and early 20’s (in Australia, the legal age to consume alcohol is 18), I used to drink Seppelt Queen Adelaide Riesling, which is similar in style to the Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling. Ten years later, I ended up making Queen Adelaide Riesling at Seppelt Wines.
My interest in Riesling grew exponentially in my next winemaking job at Wolf Blass in the Barossa Valley. Wolf Blass, the man, was and still is a great advocate of Riesling. It was there that I really focused on the variety and my winemaking path with Riesling began. An opportunity arose for me in late 2007 to join the winemaking team at Chateau Ste. Michelle as their White Winemaker. At Chateau Ste. Michelle, I have access to many different vineyards to make many different Rieslings, including Eroica, botrytis styles, and ice wine. It was an opportunity that came at the right time in my career, so I jumped at it.
Has being a woman been an advantage or a disadvantage in your wine journey?
I’m not where I am today because of any disadvantage, that’s for sure. I have made choices throughout my career that I believe have been good for me and being a woman has certainly not hindered my career in any way.
What advice do you have for a woman wanting to get involved in the wine business today?
Be yourself, enjoy wine, be prepared for the unexpected, and, most importantly, enjoy what you do. You’ll be a better winemaker for it.
What are your thoughts about the Washington wine industry, in general?
Washington produces great wines across many different varieties, and we are so lucky to have this diversity. Vineyards are being planted in new areas and this, in itself, is exciting to be a part of. There is a great future for the industry and the key is to not to lose sight of the quality we are renowned for.
In recent years the Washington wine industry has grown at a rapid rate. Do you expect that trend to continue?
I would like to think that the industry could keep growing, as long as there is a solid plan for the future, and of course, the demand for Washington wine continues in the marketplace. And, why not? We produce great wines at great prices.
What is your vision for the future of the white wine program at Chateau Ste. Michelle?
Our wines are well received in the marketplace and so the future continues to look bright. Every year since I have been with the winery there has been at least one new wine style. It may only be 200 cases, or it may be more. This involves a lot of decision making in deciding on the style, sourcing the grapes from the right region, making the wine, and then finally blending this new wine. Creating a new wine is always a great challenge and inevitably results in learning something new about winemaking, viticulture, and the AVA’s of Washington. We also enjoy experimenting with new white varieties, and these wines may end up being bottled and available through our wine club and wine shop.
Many thanks to Wendy for sharing her story and thoughts with us. I wish her all the best and will continue to follow her work and Chateau Ste. Michelle with great interest, and I hope that you will too.
(Photos from Chateau Ste. Michelle)
Filed under: American Wine, Interview, Washington State Wine, Women of Washington Wine