For Jessica Mozeico of Oregon’s Et Fille, winemaking is about more than just grapes (although she makes sublime Pinot Noir). As a half-Japanese woman with Jewish roots, the 48-year-old winemaker and the president of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association hopes to change the industry by paving the way for more women and people of color.
In 2003, Mozeico co-founded Et Fille with her father, Howard, who had been making wine as a hobby in his garage since 1984. For father and daughter, Et Fille was a culmination of their years-long passion for wine.
“When I turned 21, my dad was absolutely thrilled to pour me a glass over dinner,” she remembers. “We spent the next 24 years planning our dinners around wine. The experience solidified our passion, and was the reason we started making wine together.”
The duo worked together as co-winemakers until Howard passed away in 2017.
Today, Mozeico organically farms Pinot Noir at a small test vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains, a plot that her father planted in 1986. She also purchases grapes from six sustainably farmed vineyards elsewhere in the Willamette Valley.
We caught up with Mozeico to hear how she’s honoring her father’s legacy through wine, her mission to create a more representative wine industry, and why she believes conscious consumerism has a future in the industry.
Amber Gibson: How has Oregon’s wine industry changed in recent decades to become more accessible to women and people of color?
Jessica Mozeico: The Oregon wine industry looks a lot different than when I started. For starters, our understanding of the target wine consumer has changed considerably. We now know that women consume as much wine as men, and the average customer profile covers a wide range of ages, ethnicities, gender identities, and knowledge levels. Second, our pool of employees is becoming a lot more diverse, and I hope this will continue being the case going forward. Finally, the outcry for social justice in this country has made us pause to consider what role the wine business will play in creating a more equitable industry. Collectively, we can drive more change than any one of us can do alone.
AG: When did you become the President of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association? What are your responsibilities?
JM: I joined the board a few years ago and became president this year. Our board is currently made up of 65% women and 12% of people from multicultural backgrounds. We’re looking to cultivate diversity, not just within our board but within our industry overall. We in the Willamette Valley acknowledge that we are still learning and that our industry as a whole can do better with regard to inclusion and education. Part of my job as board president is to hold our organization accountable so that underrepresented groups in our industry feel a sense of belonging.
AG: You’re spearheading the organization’s Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Inclusion Task Force and have also created a Diversity Toolkit to help wine businesses improve their workplace culture. Can you tell me about the objectives behind these measures?
JM: Our association formed the Task Force in early 2019 with the objective of advocating for the diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion of our wine business members and trade and consumer audiences. We wrote a DEBI Pledge that outlines specific steps businesses can take to diversify their culture, and which wineries can voluntarily opt into. The pledge covers hiring and training practices, supplier choices, and marketing imagery and narratives.
AG: Have you always been an outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion? Where does your commitment stem from?
JM: I am biracial. My Japanese grandparents wouldn’t have been allowed to own land in Oregon due to the Alien Land Laws that prohibited Asians from land ownership until the 1950s, and they narrowly escaped internment because they were in Hawaii at the time. My Jewish grandmother was the only one in her family to survive Auschwitz. My grandparents survived a lot for me to be here, and it’s my responsibility to move forward and continue championing progress.
AG: What does sustainable winemaking mean to you and how are you putting that into practice at Et Fille?
JM: Sustainable winemaking is being aware that we are tied to our land and realizing it’s our responsibility to leave it in a better place for the next generation. We partner with vineyards that employ sustainable practices and are LIVE certified, a sustainability marker used in Oregon, or farmed organically and/or biodynamically. It also means using lighter packaging, constructed out of locally produced and recyclable components. I’ve really tried to do away with packaging that adds unnecessary waste such as capsules on wines.
AG: You’ve mentioned that you want to continue your father’s legacy with your winemaking. How are you doing this?
JM: His vision was always to focus on the family moments that wine makes possible, like all those dinners he and I shared. So that part is easy to continue because I’m committed to honoring his legacy and shaping my daughter’s future. Since the name of our winery means “and daughter,” it’s our responsibility to leave our land and community in a better place for future generations. The palate part is to create wines he would have respected that are authentic, complex, and balanced. He’s with me every time I taste a wine or have to make a critical decision.
AG: Anything else you’d like to share?
JM: There has never been a better time to be a conscious wine drinker! The pandemic has inspired a shift to purchase directly from wineries, partly due to restaurant and retail closures and the fact that we’re all used to ordering everything online. This is an opportunity for us wine drinkers to educate ourselves about the wine we’re drinking and the values of the producers. That’s also what I love about The Vintner Project. When we know the beliefs and actions of our winery owners and winemakers, we can choose wineries that share our values. That’s a lot easier if you are buying directly and reading The Vintner Project. So thank you for what you are doing!