Adrienne Ballou, 12.14.18
Adrienne Ballou is a rockstar in the Texas wine industry. She produced her first solo wine this year, a 100% Texas Mourvedre bottled under the label Lightsome Wine. A graduate of UC Davis, Adrienne has worked in cellars in France, Washington, and Australia, and is now assistant winemaker for Calais winery.
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I have been in and out of winemaking since my first harvest in 2009 in Walla Walla, WA. Between then and now I took a couple years off production to finish my undergrad at UC Davis in Viticulture and Enology, worked a few harvests in Burgundy, Australia, and Texas, and between 2013-2016 was a brewer and the barrel room manager for Jester King Brewery. I am currently the Assistant Winemaker at Calais Winery.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
I honestly don’t remember a distinct “aha” moment. There were a lot of little things that together pushed me in that direction. I serendipitously met the chair of the V&E department at Davis when I was 17 and that’s when I first learned about the program. I think that really planted the seed.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It is very rewarding to sit down at a table with a bottle of wine that you helped make and seeing that wine be this simple yet seamless thing that helps facilitate conversation and bring about laughter and discussion.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
Unfortunately, I have been in situations where I have been pushed towards the lab, or in one extreme, was not allowed to do most production work because I was a woman. It is great seeing more and more women entering production these days and proving that we work just as hard if not harder than the guys.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
The gender imbalance in our industry can facilitate scenarios where women feel isolated in situations of prejudice and may not have a direct work environment that allows them to confront those issues. The best thing we can do is be supportive of each other and always be allies to women and those that are being marginalized in some form or fashion. At times that can be an ear to listen and other times someone who helps you call out BS.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
Simply, I think by supporting women we will see so many more palates showing through in production, retail, restaurant, etc. We will see more diversity in wine lists and see different winemaking and viticultural practices.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
I hope to see more women in production, especially in the Texas wine industry. It is certainly male dominated and I know women will bring so much to the table, with both winemaking and viticulture.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
There will be times when you encounter discrimination, but you push through, work hard, do the heavy lifting, and show the world you are a badass. In truth it is a wonderful industry with a great community that does support one another, especially here in Austin.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
Equality to me looks like seeing women leading positions in retail, restaurant, production, and vineyard and getting the recognition they deserve as well as the salaries they deserve.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Regardless of being a woman, it is important to me to go in to work every day and work hard to help make great wines in Texas. In doing so, I believe I am also helping show the world that women have a huge place in this industry, especially in production.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
A wonder woman of wine is fearless, courageous, sincere, and wild.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
Ah, so many. But to list just a few, I had the absolute privilege of going to school with two amazing winemakers, Martha Stoumen of Martha Stoumen Wines and Laura Cypress of Benmarl Winery. It has been really inspiring following both of their careers in winemaking over the years. Both are fearless and creative women.
Additionally, Courtney Schwamb, who is currently doing an amazing stint in cheesemaking at Bee Tree Farm, has been a huge inspiration. Courtney was the Beverage Director at Jester King Brewery for a some time and took their wine list in an incredible and new direction. Most folks don’t realize this but Jester King has a badass list (which is now run by the ever so amazing Traci Walker).