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Luisa Ponzi, Ponzi Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Ponzi has been involved in the Oregon wine industry since age 2, when her parents planted their first vines. “I can imagine I was more of a hindrance than a help in those early days, but as I grew older, I became fascinated with winemaking and viticulture,” she says.
Though she considered medicine, a summer stint in a hospital changed her mind. In 1993, at age 26, Ponzi became winemaker of the family brand.
Ponzi gained perspective on Old World methods as she attended school in Beaune, France, and interned with Christophe Roumier, of Domaine Georges Roumier in Burgundy, as well as Luca Currado, winemaker at Vietti in Piedmont. She was exposed to more than just the stringent rules that shape European viticulture.
“I was accustomed to doing all jobs in the cellar,” she says. “[As a woman in France], I was strictly prohibited from some work [like punching down the surface cap during red-wine fermentation] and discouraged from manual labor.”
To Ponzi, circumstances for women have evolved, though slowly.
“Recently, my women-winemaker tasting group listed all the women in Oregon making wine,” she says. “It was pathetic. Only about 10 women [held the title of winemaker]. When we expanded it to women ‘making decisions’ in the cellar or vineyard, the picture looked slightly better.
“With almost 800 wineries in Oregon, it should be better than that.”
Ponzi believes that the strong numbers of women enrolled in wine studies programs, along with local mentoring efforts and an emphasis to empower women in sciences, will change those statistics soon.
Her advice for women who seek to be winemakers: “Stick with it, listen to your instincts, find like-minded women, take the long view and enjoy the ups and downs.”
Gov. Brown Backs Four Vineyards' Oregon Solidarity Effort
Gov. Kate Brown has lent her support to the collaboration of four wineries to create three wines from 2,000 tons of Rogue Valley grapes rejected by a California vintner days before harvest citing smoke taint from wildfires. Testing in October showed thus far wildfire smoke hadn’t had an adverse effect on the grapes, Christine Clair, winery director of Willamette Valley Vineyards, told the AP.
“The Oregon Solidarity wines exemplify the Oregonian spirit, bringing forth our best values by helping others during their time of need,” Brown said in a statement. “The Rogue Valley often bears the brunt of wildfire season and it’s incredible that our wine community is stepping up to support one another and boost our local economy.”
The four wineries are King Estate and Silvan Ridge wineries, near Eugene, Willamette Valley Vineyards, of Turner, and Eyrie Vineyards, of McMinnville.
The first wine to be released, a rosé of pinot noir, will be available March 1. The Oregon Solidarity wines will be distributed in Oregon and Washington by Young’s Market Company. To date, Safeway, Albertson’s, Fred Meyer and New Seasons have committed to stocking the wines.
The other two varieties planned are a chardonnay, to be released May 1, and a pinot noir, to be released Aug. 1.
THE HISTORY OF OREGON PINOT NOIR: THE KEN WRIGHT INTERVIEW
Oregon’s Willamette Valley has become one of America’s leading wine-producing regions.
With more than 20,000 acres of vineyards and over 400 bonded winemakers, this AVA has come a long way since the first Pinot Noir vines were planted back in 1965 by David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards. Pinot Noir, of course, is the predominant wine produced in Willamette Valley, having found a special place in the challenging, cool climate of Oregon. The mid-1980s were kind to Willamette Valley, and its Pinot Noirs began to receive the recognition they deserved. The world took notice of their quality, and Oregon was soon trailing behind Burgundy.
Kentucky-born Ken Wright found his way to Oregon in 1985, leaving behind his job at Talbott Vineyards. Though his incipient years as a Willamette winemaker were rocky, he would prove to be pivotal in the AVA’s growth and evolution. He would introduce sorting lines to ensure quality in the grapes that entered into the fermentors. He began using dry ice to cool grapes before the onset of fermentation, too. After selling his first winery, Panther Creek, Wright established Ken Wright Cellars in 1995, beginning his focus on single vineyard Pinot Noirs.
Wright soon noticed a pattern. Grapes grown in volcanic soils led to more fruit driven wines, whereas grapes from marine sediments led to greater floral and spice notes.
His obsession with vineyards and the signature they imparted on wines did not just end there. It led him to co-establish an impressive six sub-appellations within northern Willamette Valley. These subregions, Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Dundee Hills, McMinnville, and Eola-Amity Hills regularly appear on his wine labels