Three Rising Women Winemakers on Harvest, Health & Humanity

Kyla Cox

We are living in unprecedented times. The country has seen severe environmental repercussions from climate change including rising temperatures, severe flooding, droughts, and of course the wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington. The coronavirus health crisis has a stranglehold on the economy and has altered our way of life, perhaps forever in many ways. Patriotic Americans are still marching in the streets to fight for racial equality and police reform. That’s quite the trifecta! These pandemics have wreaked havoc on small businesses across the country, and the wine industry is no exception. Harvest 2020 is unlike any other crush season. From navigating these catastrophies to producing some amazing juice, three rising women winemakers share their unique perspectives on these social and global issues, how they are reacting, and what they are doing in response. Their interviews have been edited for this focus and for clarity. 

Cheramie Law – Owner & Co-Founder, Cheramie Wine (Dallas, TX)

“Texas Grown, Texas Made” perfectly sums up Cheramie and her new, namesake wine brand. She’s lived in Texas her entire life with the exception of the time she was stationed in California serving as a Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. She spent the last six years meeting and working with local winemakers, grapegrowers, and industry leaders in order to understand and sell Texas wine through her brokerage Salt & Pepper Wine. Her vision of bringing her own Texas vino to the world was realized this year with the September 21st launch of the off-dry Cheramie Wine Riesling. The second wine, a Montepulciano Rosé will be bottled in November. For a true taste of Texas terroir, visit www.cheramiewine.com.

In Her Own Words:

One of the biggest misconceptions about Texas wine is that it is not of quality. Texas wine has won competitions around the world and done amazing in blind tests. Texas wine country is second to Napa in foot traffic and the industry as a whole represents a $15.1 billion economic impact. We already had our first wine in the bottle before the coronavirus hit. We had planned to sell at farmers’ markets and wine festivals to really build our base. We were freaking out! We brought everything online and now have the ability to ship our wine direct to consumers in 34 states! This is our first vintage so we don’t have anything to compare it to, but the biggest challenge facing Texas vineyards are weather, water and chemical drift. Shout-out to my amazing growers! [Regarding the racial climate] I’m tired and anxious, but hopeful for change. I helped organize “Share the Mic Now TX”, a social media event to amplify the voices of women of color. Actions speak louder than words and when regular life returns, we’ll see if the wine industry has truly changed its tune on diversity.

Amber Patton – Owner/Viticulturist/Winemaker, Amber Vista Vineyard (Rancho Santa Fe, CA)

Life doesn’t always turn out as planned—sometimes it’s better! Amber held a destination wedding in Napa Valley thirteen years ago with dreams of retiring on a vineyard someday with her husband. Far from retirement, the divorced mother of two is now growing grapes and making wine from her own estate vineyard. She spent summers on her family’s chicken farm in Texas and helped tend the crops. She was even in the 4-H club as a girl. Amber’s love and respect for the land she farms (which was once Mexico/Native-America) is profound. She is seeking organic soil certification to keep her fruit free of synthetic chemicals and present the most natural experience possible in the bottle. Her wine is a manifestation of dreams and a testament to the great agricultural heritage of her African-American ancestors. Now her boys, ages 11 and 13, pitch in “on the ranch” as they call it and life has come full-circle for Amber. For more information visit www.ambervistawines.com.  

In Her Own Words:

I never would have had the confidence to buy my own vineyard without growing up around farmers. I learned about wine through books and from master winemakers who are friends and mentors. My first harvest [2016] was very sad, but 2017 was a huge rebound and my dry rosé took gold medal at the county fair winemaking contest. I am most excited about this year, 2020 has had double the yield of the previous three years. Twice the wine will be made from 2020 grapes! Global climate change is a huge emergency. My wine production is very small and droughts make the price of water go up. If my expenses get too much higher, it won’t make sense for me to make wine. I have vintner friends who are having hard times financially and have seen their vineyards burn this year. I’m grateful for a bountiful harvest. I am considering buying some of their wine and blending it with my own. [On race] I grew up in San Diego and it used to be a lot more racially diverse than it is now. My neighborhood of Rancho Sante Fe is extremely affluent and there are hardly any people of color here. Folks need to realize, in order to be equal we have to have land of our own. We have to start buying land, we have to start farming again! If we can’t afford it by ourselves we have to partner with others. I don’t get much involved in politics and I believe people are entitled to their personal opinions, but in the local village there are stands selling certain t-shirts and hats. I deal with a lot of anxiety as a single mother of young brown-skinned boys. My heart breaks over the turmoil and police brutality I see on the news. I keep to myself because I live in a rural area and I actively do what I can do for the disadvantaged.  We give thanks all the time for our life here on the ranch, we are acutely aware of our privilege, especially as African-Americans. I believe in God. I have hope for better days. I’m going to focus on making an unforgettable rosé this year.

Justin Trabue – Assistant Winemaker, Lumen Wines (Los Alamos, CA); Hospitality Supervisor, Ancient Peaks Winery (Paso Robles, CA)

Justin, named after the iconic wine Justin Isosceles, grew up in DC with parents who enjoyed fine dining and travelling the world. One of her fondest childhood memories is visiting wine shops with her parents and nibbling on cheese while learning about wine vicariously at tastings. It’s no wonder these oenophiles are the biggest supporters of her wine career! Justin studied wine and viticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Studying abroad in Adelaide, Australia, spending a sabbatical in Hawkes Bay, NZ at Pask Winery, and a mentorship from Lane Tanner (Lumen Wines) solidified her love of agriculture and a passion for low-intervention winemaking. Justin’s enthusiasm is contagious as she touts the importance of vineyard locations, soil types, and clone choice. When she’s not getting her hands dirty in the vineyard, or toiling away in the tasting room, you can find her advocating for racial justice and equality. Enjoy the fruit of her labor at www.lumenwines.com and www.ancientpeaks.com

See Also

In Her Own Words: 

In my second year at Cal Poly I worked on a ranch and implemented a new irrigation system for our pumpkin patch and apple orchard. I didn’t see a lot of Black people in the college of agriculture at my school. That was hard. It’s hard not being in community. San Luis Obispo still has a lot of work to do. Our local wine industry was silent after the killings of George Floyd; [my friend] Simone Mitchelson and I were disappointed and knew we had to speak up. That resulted in raising almost $15,000.00 for R.A.C.E. Matters SLO, an organization founded in response to the killing of unarmed Black men by law enforcement. If you’re truly invested in anti-racism and collective Black liberation, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is! The wine industry needs to understand how the erasure of wine as an agricultural product and presenting it as a luxury good results in inequality and allows for gatekeeping to continue. [Regarding harvest] The fruit looks beautiful and tastes even better. Our biggest challenge has been dry ice surprisingly, there is a huge shortage! A lot of interns have had to readjust their harvest hopping opportunities [due to the coronavirus] and some international workers can’t enter the country. I pray for everyone who has lost their homes and crops due to the fires. I have been working full-time during Covid. I’m busy, but I’m grateful.