March is Women’s History Month, and we at The Independence thought there was no better way to celebrate than highlighting some of the powerful forces behind Oregon wine, who happen to be women! These women are forging their paths and making an impact on wine in the Willamette Valley.
Airlie, a Women Owned and Operated Winery
Mary Olson, Owner
Elizabeth Clark, Winemaker
Susan Simons, Sales/Marketing
We begin with Airlie Winery, owned and operated entirely by women, namely Mary Olsen (owner), Elizabeth Clark (winemaker), and Susan Simons (sales/marketing). Their goal was to create an environment that was more than “a stop along the way.” Airlie is a home away from home, where you can bring your own food, pick a table or bring a blanket, and spend the day lounging as you sip. There’s never any rush, and your four legged friends are welcome to enjoy the sun, perhaps even taking a dip in the property’s pond.
If the gorgeous views aren’t reason enough to visit, Airlie’s meticulously crafted wines sure are. Airlie is a relatively small winery, which ensures Elizabeth, Mary, and Susan can pay careful attention to all aspects of the winemaking process. Each varietal is approached independently, ranging from fermentation temperatures to yeast choices and picking decisions, so we highly recommend purchasing a flight. You might even surprise yourself with a new favorite.
Enjoy hearing the oral history of Airlie, here, and watch a profile on the winery (below).
Willamette Valley Vineyards
Christine Clair, Winery Director
Gabi Préfontaine, Associate Winemaker
And there’s more! Willamette Valley Vineyards (WVV) has long been known for providing elegant, cool-climate Pinot Noirs with respect and admiration for the land. So today we’re here to tell you about their Winery Director, Christine Clair. Growing up walking distance from WVV, Clair used to sell friendship bracelets in their tasting room as a kid. She grew up studying wine, worked at WVV, and eventually opened up her own winery in Southern Oregon. But when WVV’s owner, Jim Bernau, came in need of a successor, he knew exactly who to call, and now Clair is back in the PNW. Her experience, knowledge of the area, and genuine love for Pinot Noir makes her a fierce talent to behold. She currently leads winemaking and vineyard operations, sales and marketing, and plans to take over the position of Founder/CEO when Bernau retires.
Associate Winemaker Gabi Préfontaine, a Quebec native, graduated with a Masters of Viticulture and Enology from Burgundy University in Dijon. Her winemaking experiences span across the cool climates of the globe from Tasmania to France. Currently, Gabi is helping to create the best wines from what Mother Nature provides in the Valley.
Oregon Estate Vineyards
Christine Clair, Winery Director at Willamette Valley Vineyards and founder of the Oregon Estate Vineyard. Here photographed for Wine Enthusiasts “40 under 40”.
In 2015, Clair (alongside Jim Bernau owner of Willamette Valley Vineyards) co-founded Oregon Estate Vineyards, a new division dedicated to building boutique wineries on up-and-coming vineyard sites. And Clair never forgets to give back to the land she loves, including in 2018 when she helped coordinate the Oregon Solidarity Wines, which help Oregon winegrowers in the south who had their contracts canceled mere days before the harvest because of smoke taint related to fires. This collaboration earned her the Wine Star Award from Wine Enthusiast for “Innovator of the Year.” Beyond that, Clair is a recipient of Wine Enthusiasts “40 Under 40,” Portland Business Journal’s “40 under 40,” and Wine & Spirit’s “Educational Trust Future 50” award.
Check out an interview with Christine, here.
Women in Wine Oregon
Women in Wine event 2019
Want more info on women and wine in Oregon? Check out a few other local spots where women are making great wine: Adelsheim (Gina Hennen), Ponzi (Luisa Ponzi), Chehalem Wine (Katie Santora), and Stoller Family Estate (Melissa Burr and Kate Payne Brown). You can also become an active member in the community by checking out this year’s annual (and virtual)