5 Women Who Are Rocking The Okanagan Wine Industry

As we venture through the Okanagan wine region, we are blessed with the beauty of it all.  The wineries, the wine, the agriculture, it truly is a breathtaking place. But what is more important is WHO is making this wonderful wine region bloom so beautifully.  Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, and I had the privilege of interviewing five fantastic ladies who are absolutely rocking the Okanagan wine industry. Please meet…..

Pénélope Roche – Vigneron, Winemaker at Roche Winery

Penelope was born into a family of winemakers and viticulturist in Bordeaux, France. She didn’t always have the dream of becoming a winemaker.  Originally, she wanted to become a Chef. But after spending time in numerous kitchens and realizing she was meant to work outdoors; she followed her natural feeling about spending time in the cellar and vineyards with her dad and grandfather.  She further soul searched and at 18 years old made the decision to enroll in winemaking/viticulture school in Bordeaux France and became the 6th generation winemaker to take over the family winery in 2005 Chateau Les Carmes Haut- Brion.

What Goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?

I think it’s like cooking, the best dishes are the ones you put your love into. With winemaking it’s the same, the best wines are the ones that share your identity with.

I’m always looking to improve myself and carefully follow the progression of the wine from pruning to bottling every year.  

Is there a woman in the industry or outside of the industry who has inspired you throughout your career?

My Grandmother, she passed away last February at 103 years old, she only drank wine and tea, no water! We were born the same day and we lived together at Chateau Les Carmes Haut-Brion.  She was such a French lady; thanks to her I’ve learnt a lot about the art of hosting people around good wine and food.

What do you find to be the hardest part of your job and why?

The hardest part of this job is to be on time for every task in the vineyard, being dependent on the weather like any farming careers, nature does not wait for us. 

Lindsay Kaisaris – Taster of All Wines, Sommelier at Okanagan Wine Club

Almost 20 years ago she was working at a hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. The winters were very quiet and cold so she immersed herself in reading about wine and became immediately hooked. She completed her Sommelier Diploma years ago while working in both wine retail and restaurants. “It was an intense period of learning both on the job and in the classroom” at the same time she was pursuing a degree in Forestry Management at UBC. She states that the two subjects were not entirely unrelated, but the jobs in wine were way more fun!!

What has surprised you about the wine industry?

Honestly, how many women are now involved in all aspects of the wine industry.  There are so many women now working as wine directors at great restaurants, making great wine and contributing the discourse, it’s amazing!

What’s your favorite part about your job?

I love connecting our far away members with amazing wineries and individuals.  Especially since the pandemic, when no one is travelling, it feels very special to be able to tell the wineries stories and get amazing feedback from our members. 

What goals in the wine industry are you still working to achieve?

Wine should be fun and easy for anyone to get into.  Wine education is a long process and so often it’s seen as stuffy, snobby and really intimidating.  I’d like to keep sharing information, history, experiences and knowledge about wine with whoever wants to learn.  If that’s offering pairing suggestions, decanting advice or just sharing a glass with someone and chatting, we are helping our friends love their wine experience.

Nadine Allander – Winemaker at Terravista Vineyards

Jon Adrian. Architectural, winery and lifestyle photographer. Okanagan Photographer / Terravista Vineyards

Nadine didn’t even drink wine or have any wine knowledge while working a part time job at Liberty Wine Merchants and attending school to become a Medical Office Assistant. “However, I was very interested in learning all about wine and to delve into a new world (as it appeared to me at that time)”. After a brief stint of working as a Medical Office Administrator she decided to follow her heart, move to the Okanagan and enroll in the Winery Assistance Program at Okanagan College. After the completion of that program, she further pursued her education to New Zealand and received a Bachelor’s Degree on Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University. For a number of vintages, she made wine under her own label, Wapiti Cellars, made at Foxtrot Cellars then working at other respected wineries such as Poplar Grove, Time, Evolve, and the McWatters brands.   In 2019 she was hired as the Winemaker for Terravista Vineyards.  “One of the best parts of working for a small winery like Terravista Vineyards, is I get to be involved in all aspects of winemaking”.  When visiting the winery, you may just see Nadine attending to the vineyards or pouring wine and serving customers in the tasting room.

What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?

We are working hard to make the vineyard, its soil and biomass as healthy as possible by not utilizing any herbicides, and using only organic sprays and compost.  This year we will be experimenting with running livestock through out vineyards (chickens, and sheep) to naturally mow/graze, fertilize and in the case of chickens, to suppress insects and bugs such as cutworms.

What has surprised you about the wine industry?

I really appreciate how supportive and collaborative the wine industry is here in BC.

What is your favorite part about your job?

I love that it is so dynamic.  Every year is a fresh start, a new challenge, and a new opportunity to make the best wine that vintage can offer.  We are the mercy of Mother Nature.  For me, the wine is made in the vineyard.  I try to let the best characteristics of that year’s fruit shine through with little intervention or manipulation as possible (while still using modern winemaking techniques).

Emily Walker – Sommelier at Naramata Inn

Growing up in the Okanagan Valley, one of Emily’s first jobs was at Mission Hill Winery terrace restaurant.  The training program consisted of a pretty solid introduction to viticulture and winemaking, which was completely new to her, yet sparked an interest that led into other restaurant and wine related positions. 

Emily started her wine education in 2007 with the International Sommelier Guild.  After the completion of her diploma and French Wine Scholar program it has been a continuous journey of self-study through travel, tasting and the privilege of working alongside some extraordinarily talented Chefs and Sommeliers.  She held a position as the Wine Director at the Four Seasons Vancouver for six years and stated that they were her most formative years of my career in terms of learning, opportunity and growth. 

What is your favorite part about your job?

I love the stage, when you step out onto the floor of a restaurant it’s like stepping onto a stage.  It’s no coincidence that myself and many of my wine industry colleagues are musicians.  There’s so much artistry and creativity behind exceptional food and wine and you’re there to help curate the experience.  As well, curating a wine list, building the list from the ground up is an incredibly overwhelming yet creative and rewarding task.

Is there a woman in the industry or outside of it that who has inspired you throughout your career?

I was taught by some extremely inspiring female educators, Lesley Brown, DJ Kearney and Barbara Philip MW. As well my 93-year-old Grandma who is one of my favorite people to drink wine with.

What goals in the wine industry are you still working to achieve?

Growth as a wine educator.  I’m always looking at ways to better educate and train the teams that I work with. 

More travel, once we’re able to again. I’d love to get back to some of my favorite spots in Italy and France but also high on my list right now is South Africa.

Christine Colletta – Owner, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery

Christine became involved in the wine industry by holding a position as a wine buyer in the restaurant industry and volunteering to sit on one of the committees that organized educational seminars at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Years later she was part of the team that designed and implemented the Serving it Right program for the B.C. government which lead to a position as the Executive Director of the BC wine Institute.  After nine years in that position, she went on to consult for 10 years before opening of the Okanagan Crush Pad in 2011.

What goals in the wine industry are you still working to achieve?
Pushing our organic viticulture program and encouraging other wineries to take similar measures that lead to organic certification in both vineyards and wineries. 

What do you find to be the hardest part of your job and why?

Winemakers Dinners. Really, any formal dinner that involves a lot of wine and rich food and runs past my 8pm bedtime.  I did however do an amazing dinner at PIVA recently which was perfect in all respects.

Is there a woman in the industry or outside of it that who has inspired you throughout your career?

So many. All the women I have worked closely with over the years who have pushed hard to make the industry better. To name a few, Trudy Heiss, Sandra Oldfield, Christa Lee McWatters, Leeann Froese and Dana Lee Harris.  But there are many more, who have worked with me and for me that I am extremely proud of.

What is your favorite part about your job?

Creating marketing materials. The ability to be creative. My second favorite piece is being on the land. Walking in the vineyards and fields by myself with my dogs.

Thank you!

One thing in common that all these women have is the goal to grow, educate, and share their passion for the BC Wine Industry, they all contribute something equally unique and inspiring.  This is just a sliver of the hard work that is dedicated to this industry.   Let’s raise a glass to ALL women who are rocking the BC wine industry.  Cheers!!

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