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Women in Wine

More so than in beer or spirits, women are rising in the wine industry
Sweet Cheeks manager Kacy Minnis has been with the winery since 2006. Photo by Todd Cooper.

The Oregon wine industry is a driving economic force, particularly in Lane County. Statewide, the wine business employed approximately 14,000 people in 2010: everyone from winery managers to vintners, from servers in tasting rooms to those tending the vineyards. And as the Oregon wine industry expands, it’s following a nationwide trend — employing more and more women in an industry once dominated by men.

 “Nearly every winery in this area has a woman in a leading role,” says Kacy Minnis, manager at Sweet Cheeks Winery, explaining that 90 percent of the resumes she receives are from women. Minnis came to the business through a love of gardening, a background in food service and simply a preference for the beverage. “As I learned more about it, the attraction also became about the lifestyle,” Minnis says.  

“For places like Sweet Cheeks Winery, you have the vineyard right outside the cellar door,” Minnis continues, “so there is an agricultural aspect of the industry. There is the tasting room aspect of meeting so many different kinds of people. There is the winemaking side that is a science and an art all in one. The last part is the combination of food and wine — whether that is attending a wine dinner, being invited to another winery to see their wines or just taking home the flavor of the day to enjoy with dinner, friends and loved ones.”

Minnis thinks there are a variety of reasons why women are finding success in the world of wineries. “I think one of the smartest things a winery could do is have women involved,” she says, continuing that since more women buy wine, wine is frequently marketed to them and a woman’s insight into the product is invaluable. “Also, it is a romantic industry that still involves sales. I feel like women really have a knack for balancing romance and beauty with getting the job done.”

Amanda Cihlar is a graduate of UC Davis’ prestigious master’s degree program in viticulture. Like Minnis, Cihlar loves gardening. “I knew I loved being outside but also really enjoyed science and horticulture. Viticulture fit the bill,” Cihlar says. “Also, our family loves to cook and enjoy wine with meals, so I saw the power of bringing people together that wine can lend itself to.”

In July, Cihlar will be moving to Eugene from California’s Napa Valley to become Sweet Cheeks’ Vineyard Manager. Cihlar stresses what’s most important about the rise of women in the wine industry is that they are finding ways to be successful in the world of science.

“For any science field, it is important for more women to join and be competitive,” Cihlar says. “I think parents should bring their daughters outside and ask them to help with gardening or mowing the lawn and encourage them to play in the dirt. Exposure at a young age to math and science and nature will promote the likelihood of a young lady choosing science and math over another subject matter.”

“I think that the opportunity for more education in the viticulture and enology side of things can lend itself to women feeling more confident to enter roles such as winemaker or vineyard manager, which seem to be primarily male roles,” Minnis says.