Ashley Trout, 8.2.19
How many years have you been in the business? Tell me briefly about your background and your current position today.
I’ve been in wine since 1999. I started at Reininger Winery, doing the nighttime punchdowns my freshman year of college and then started working the Argentine harvest in Mendoza in 2004. I started Flying Trout in 2006, sold it in 2010 and started Brook & Bull Cellars and my non-profit label, Vital Wines about 3 years ago.
Did you have a particular “aha!” moment that propelled you into wine?
Oddly, I was already working in wine when I had my “aha” moment. My first job was when I was 18, and it just sounded like a goofy job- mixing up big bins of wine by hand, late at night, music blasting, a winery all to myself- that didn’t sound like a real job. To me, that sounded like a blast, and it was.
I had two “aha” moments. One was a Reininger 1999 Cabernet Franc that I had helped work on and we popped it open at the winery, as a whole crew (all three of us), the sun was setting and it was stunning. That was years in and I thought, oh this IS magical, not just fun.
My main “aha” moment, was when I realized that my paid hobby had slowly but surely become my identity. It was the moment that I realized that I didn’t want to get into wine, but rather that I never wanted to do anything else. I had had a bad rock climbing accident and had broken a bunch of bones. I was out of commission that harvest. I remember looking around at the weather during harvest weather and knowing that I wasn’t doing harvest with it. It felt… inappropriate. It felt extremely inappropriate. That’s when I knew that this was me, it is me. I’ve always known that I couldn’t clock in and clock out of something, I just never knew I’d be locked into something so exhilarating, creative and fun.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Whenever I get really stressed, I start creating things. I’ll cook, I’ll do an art project with the kids, I’m a potter, I sewed my daughter’s clothes when she was little. For some reason, I really love creating. I love that in wine, that creation has a timeline and a life of its own. You can’t create it on your own time. The weather dictates a lot for you and you’re not able to request anything of it. Being creative when there are no confines is boring. The rush is when you’re up against something and you still have to find and meld something beautiful. What I love most about my job is, very specifically, that challenge.
Can you describe any prejudices you’ve experienced in this industry as a woman?
I firmly believe that the industry has been kind to many women, myself very much included. Most of the prejudices have had more to do with statistics and biases and less to do with men being terrible human beings. I was at a vineyard last year and there was a forklift but no person in sight and I had no time. So I jumped on the forklift and started loading my trailer with fruit. Halfway through, some nice old vineyard guy, comes rambling up and says “ah, are you practicing driving a forklift? Let me do that.” I’ve been driving forklifts for more of my life than not- I wasn’t “practicing,” but I’ve only seen three women ever drive a forklift in person, so it’s fair that that would be his assumption. He didn’t bother to notice at the swiftness of my movements and come up with a more logical analysis, but I don’t think that makes him a bad guy, just prejudiced, and I don’t let those things get to me. Not noticing those things comes pretty naturally, because dwelling on the slights is a waste of time- just load the trailer and that’s one adept female forklift driver for that guy to have in his log book so that by the time the 30th rolls around, he’ll stop assuming we’re all new at this.
How can we as women become aware of our prejudice and change our behavior?
Show up. Don’t assume anything about men or anyone else for that matter. Just worry about yourself and if your prejudices lead you to hesitate more, second guess more, get over that and show up. If you want to do XYZ, then go do it.
When it comes to wine, what benefits do you think we’ll see as a community by better supporting women?
On the production side, crews are a lot healthier and more productive if they have a mix of sexes, ages and abilities.
On the purchasing and imbibing side, supporting anyone who needs the support and you appreciate what they’re trying to do, create or be, seems like a valid use of time and money.
What change do you hope to see in regards to women in the wine industry in the next five years?
More women showing up. It’s a fun place to be. I’ve heard other stories from other people, including at the Austin WWOW Conference last year (thank you for putting that on- no small feat), but I can only speak to my history and journey and it has been wonderful.
What message do you have for women entering the wine profession?
Show up. I know this is controversial, but it is how I feel. Lastly, don’t dwell on the negativity, it’s a waste of time and we only have so much time here.
What does equality in the wine industry look like to you?
As a woman in the wine industry, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. I’ve been given fruit contracts early in my career when I didn’t deserve them by either old boy farmers who had daughters, or some of the few women that edged their way into lead vineyard roles. I’ve had endless help- physically, financially, great press has had a nudge from being female. But it is harder for me to pallet jack a full 6 barrels into that last tight corner where a forklift won’t fit, or two full pallets of glass if the floor is slightly angled for floor drains. I have had to convince tasters that I am deserving of making wine, running a winery, owning it- when my male counterparts wouldn’t have to. But for as many people fit that profile, there are just as many if not more, beating down the door specifically to support a female winemaker, business owner, winery owner.
What ways would you say you are contributing to equality in wine?
Ratios. If you are the first or the tenth or the 30th woman to show up to drive a forklift, own a winery, make wines, then slowly but surely, those numbers creep up to a point where we tumble over that tipping point and it is all normalized.
What are some defining characteristics of a wonder woman of wine to you?
That’s not a title I created, so I don’t feel I can speak to that.
What other women of wine do you admire and why?
I had a great time meeting Cathy Corison last year. She’s the real deal. On a different note, it’s easy to huff and puff about a winery selling out, but I’m glad that Merry Edwards sold. I don’t think that everyone who starts a winery should do so to sell the brand, but I think we have a lack of women selling brands for big money and it’s nice to have that Merry Edwards notch in that belt. On a personal note, her wines are stunning and I really hope that brand manages to continue that flavor profile somehow, which might be hard to do… I was always appreciative of Patricia Green’s sense of humor and am sorry she passed away recently. Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra is pretty damn impressive. Fiona Mak has a neat, recently launched, rose only program that I’m excited about.