Four women reshaping the world of wine

How women are pioneering how to make, study and share the globe’s best grapes

As our global wine scene continues to grow, women are increasingly at the forefront of all things oenology, putting their spin on everything from style and selection philosophies to sourcing and sustainability practices. From a master sommelier to a Midwest native-turned-Napa Valley vintner, meet the women who are shaping the wine world now.

 

Tia Barrett: Beverage Director, Esmé (Chicago, Illinois)

 

Photo: Dan Piotrowski

Photo: Dan Piotrowski

After holding prestigious roles at Chicago’s Boka Restaurant Group and The Alinea Group and working as Director of Service with Michelin-starred Entente, Tia Barrett helped in the opening of Esmé, a restaurant reimagining the fine dining model through community, art and philanthropy. There, she hopes to make her mark by shining a light on underrepresented people, places and practices throughout the beverage program, from wine and water to coffee and cocktails. “I hope to highlight those who do not have a platform on a fine dining level—vineyards and wineries that are owned or operated by women or people of color and those that are implementing sustainable and organic practices,” notes Barrett.

She does so in an effort to inspire change, bringing with it more opportunities for those who have before been overlooked in the industry. “Restaurants are historically a male’s world—females were not beverage directors or running their own restaurants and people of color are not usually seen in a fine dining setting. Proving my quality and worth was just as relevant and I feel the same to be true when it comes to lesser known grapes, producers and areas.”

What she’s drinking now: “It will forever and always be a Chardonnay-forward Champagne or a Crémant. I have no problem with sparkling wine carrying me through a meal—a perfectly cooked steak or spicy fried foods with Champagne is my favorite pairing.”

 

Maggie Kruse: Head Winemaker, Jordan Vineyard & Winery (Healdsburg, California)

 

Photo: Jordan Vineyard & Winery

Photo: Jordan Vineyard & Winery

Observing her father’s work with Miller Brewing Company, Milwaukee native Maggie Kruse was fascinated by fermentation science at an early age—an interest that only grew with family vacations to wine country—including one trip, in particular: “I remember visiting in the middle of harvest and seeing people pick the grapes in the vineyards. The smell of fermentation was in the air and there was an incredible energy and buzz to the valley.”

Immediately after high school, Kruse moved to Napa Valley for a series of wine internships between college semesters. In 2006, she joined Jordan Winery as enologist, working closely with longtime winemaker Rob Davis on wine quality improvement programs before being promoted to assistant winemaker in 2009 and head winemaker in 2019. Kruse now oversees all aspects of day-to-day operations in the cellars, including tank organizing, fermentation monitoring and blending (plus plenty of education along the way, including trips to Portugal to learn about cork-making and to the forests of France to study barrel-crafting).

As the second winemaker in Jordan history, Kruse understands the importance the winery places on consistency, while also honoring her own style through subtle variations. It’s an especially commendable balance to strike this year, when the winery will celebrate its 50th anniversary, along with the 10th anniversary of the John Jordan Foundation, a nonprofit providing educational and professional resources to disadvantaged youth and young adults.

What she’s drinking now: “We are close to releasing our 2022 vintage of 2018 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon—the perfection that was the 2018 vintage in Alexander Valley will make the Cabernet an instant, cellar-worthy classic.”

 

Alpana Singh: Master Sommelier and Owner of Alpana Restaurant (Chicago, Illinois)

 

Photo: Alpana Singh

Photo: Alpana Singh

When Alpana Singh became a Master Sommelier at the age of 26, she was the youngest woman and the only South Asian in the world to do so. She became interested in wine during her college years, when she first learned of the Master Sommelier program—one that has given diplomas to 172 professionals in the Americas since its 1977 inception, with just 28 of those awards going to women.1  “Wine combined all of my interests: travel, food, history, science and art. Growing up in a working-class immigrant family, wine was never on our dinner table, but I fell in love with the possibilities of the wine business,” she recalls.

That pursuit launched Singh into an array of experiences, with roles as sommelier at Chicago’s Everest restaurant, then as Director of Wine & Spirits for its parent company Lettuce Entertain You. Singh opened her first restaurant in 2012—which led to three more restaurant openings, including her eponymous venue set to open this spring. At Alpana, Singh plans to highlight wines addressing effects of climate change, be it through carbon-neutral winemaking, high-altitude grape growing or working with different grape varieties.

Another aspect that dictates Singh’s wine curiosities? People. “It takes a very special person to plant a vineyard knowing that it will one day serve future generations. I love their passion and commitment to creating a legacy.”

It’s an approach she herself demonstrates through mentorship—at Alpana, there will be an immersive wine education program for staff. “I believe that anyone can become a wine expert by embracing what you love. We outsource much of what we think we should drink to the so-called experts, when in reality, we know what we like. I try to encourage people to recognize that as a starting point—it’s a lifelong journey.”

What she’s drinking now: “Champagne—it goes with everything.”

 

Kristy Melton: Winemaker, Freemark Abbey (St. Helena, California)

 

Photo: Freemark Abbey

Photo: Freemark Abbey

With a history dating back to 1886, Freemark Abbey is one of Napa Valley’s original Cabernet houses. Helmed by Josephine Tychson at the time, it saw one of the region’s first female vintners. That legacy continues today at the hands of winemaker Kristy Melton, who has spent 15 years in the wine world at venerated sites like Seresin Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand, as well as Iron Horse Vineyards, Kendall-Jackson, Saintsbury and Clos Du Val in Sonoma and Napa counties. In 2020 she joined Freemark Abbey as head winemaker, where she oversees all aspects of vineyard management and winemaking.

Just one vital aspect of Melton’s everyday work is how to understand and embrace the unique qualities of their sites, recognizing the most auspicious spots to grow grapes, while also leveraging existing ones (including their iconic Sycamore and Bosché single vineyards). Through it all, Melton shares, sustainability is key. “We believe a sustainable approach to winegrowing will have a positive impact on wine quality and soil health, while reducing fossil fuel exposure to the vines,” she says, noting, too, the winery’s dedication to organic farming and solar panels. And last year, for the first time, they used sheep to graze the vineyards, instead of mowing with tractors. It’s one more way Melton makes it clear that as she honors the past, she pledges herself to the possibilities of the future.

What she’s drinking now: “Lily Bollinger said it best, ‘I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.’ You’ll always find a cold bottle of bubbles in my fridge for whatever the occasion – or for none at all!”

This story appears in Adventure Awaits, Berkley One’s digital magazine celebrating creators, experiences and stories. Read the issue here.


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Header Image: Freemark Abbey