van Loben Sels, of Washington's Arbor Crest Winer Cellars, answers our questions about working as a woman in the wine industry.
Q: How did you become involved in the wine business?
A: My family started the winery when I was 12, so I basically grew up around the business. I would work at the winery in the summers and I really enjoyed it. I took my first wine course at UC Davis and loved it so I went on to receive my degree in fermentation science.
Q: What were some of the hurdles, if any?
A: When I first started in the business it was very male dominated and I think changing the perception that a female can make wine was a huge hurdle. I remember many times people being shocked that I was part of the winemaking process. They many times assumed I was in sales or worked in the tasting room.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: I love the combination of art and science and the dirt and glamour of the business. Everything all rolled into one. Plus, I love creating a product that brings so many people closer together--families and friends. It is a "happy" industry.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to do what you do?
A: My advice to someone who would like to get into winemaking is start from the ground up at a winery. Learn all of the processes and get as much exposure to all areas of the business. As valuable as my education was, there is nothing like old fashioned experience.
Q: How are women changing the wine industry?
A: Just by the sheer fact that we are becoming more and more a part of the industry. We are finding more women employed in the wineries and vineyards and more women are making up more of the consumer base. It just adds another dimension to the industry.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions about women and wine?
A: A big misconception is that women are better tasters than men or have heightened senses. I believe that we have a different approach to evaluating/tasting wine and nothing more. Another misconception is that women only buy wine based on the label. However, I think everyone falls prey to that one way or another.
Q: Which of your own wines is your favorite and which wines do you generally prefer?
A: My favorite wine is probably the DIONYSUS, Meritage--a blend of the Bordeaux varietals. I love creating this wine because it is all about blending. This is where the "art" comes into the picture, plus I love to drink it. One of my favorite varietals is Pinot Noir. Although Arbor Crest does not produce pinot noir, you'll find me drinking French Burgundys and Oregon Pinots!
Arbor Crest Winer Cellars, 4705 N. Fruit Hill Road, Spokane, Wash. 99217, 509/927-9463, arborcrest.com.