Deborah Brenner is the author of Women of the Vine and proprietor of Women of the Vine Cellars. While writing the book, Deborah and winemaker, Signe Zoller met and teamed up in 2006 to launch a first-of-its-kind wine company; bottled and produced by Women of the Vine Cellars.
From 2002-2005, Deborah ran her own marketing and public relations firm, SmallFishBigPond, and worked with such companies as Cinecitta Studios of Rome, Quantel, NBC and CNBC. Prior to that, Ms. Brenner spent over 16 years working in the film, television and the post production industries and was involved in four technology startups.
It was your researching for your book, Women of the Vine, that led to your founding of Women of the Vine Cellars. Can you talk more about what led you to first want to write a book on women in the wine industry? And what inspired you to take the next steps to create Women of the Vine Cellars?
The turning point in my life happened just five years ago not long after 9/11, I went through a painful divorce and realized that it isnâ€™t a promotion, a corner office or material things that will make me happy. I felt an inner yearning to be involved in my community and to have more time to be with friends and family. I was a Director of Marketing making six figures, traveling the world for technology companies but I was overworked, overstressed and disconnected. I wanted to unplug and slow down. I wanted to savor more out of life than to keep the hurried pace.
The hard part was that I was now divorced and supporting myself but I knew in my heart that I needed a complete change — not just a different company — to alter my life. I quit my job just three weeks after my husband left for good and started consulting in my field of marketing to keep myself afloat. I always had a passion for wine and food and loved to travel. I started thinking about getting a job in California in wine country and making a huge change.
During a trip to Napa and Sonoma Valley I was sitting at Mustards Grill between the towns of Oakville and Yountville having lunch with Karen Cakebread and a few other friends. It was during that hour, while sipping some wine, that my avocation for wine turned into a new profession. We started talking about being in a woman in a male dominated field and the adversity we have faced. Karen Cakebreak also came from the corporate world of marketing for Hewlett Packard so we shared a lot in common.
I identified with so many of the women because I, too, began my career at the end of the 1980s and spent the past 20+ years in a very male-dominated field. I knew instinctively that there had to be more behind the barrels of wine than just a professional woman who chose this career path because I knew the struggles, fears, disappointments, and triumphs that I endured in my career and my life.
I was curious if these women were like me — desperately trying to find the balance of work and life, finding a purpose, connecting with others, and struggling to make tough decisions. I wanted to meet them and so as a former journalist, I started interviewing them and had the idea for the book.
It only took a few interviews with some winemakers to realize that the message and inspiration had to continue…into the bottle. So, I formed Women of the Vine Cellars, the first of its kind wine company to unite award winning women winemakers under one brand.
For those of us who haven’t read Women of the Vine, what real-life stories still stick out for you and keep you inspired?
The book is an inspirational journey about women in business using wine as a glittering backdrop to tell their stories. Each woman’s story is unique and different but as women, we can identify with them as mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, CEOs and just women.
Marketta Fourmeaux is one of the winemakers for Women of the Vine Cellars and she inspired me to pursue financing and to believe in myself. So many women are afraid to ask for help and capital for their companies and now as part of our goal, we do speaking engagements as entrepreneurs to encourage other women. All the women inspired me in different ways and helped shape me into where I am today.
For women out there who have been dreaming of making their own wine, what are some steps they can take to help make their wine-making dreams a reality? And what about those of us who don’t have acres of land to grow grapes on?
Actually, this is a great question. Signe Zoller who is Chapter 21 and also one of the first winemakers with me at Women of the Vine Cellars started her own custom crush facility in Paso Robles to make wine in small batches with people who dream of doing it themselves. She is an amazing winemaker and entrepreneur and has invested a tremendous amount to build her facility…her dream. The beauty is that a client can help specify what type of wine and wine style and even work hands on with Signe or see her remotely via webcam. Zoller Wine Styling is her company.
Do you have any advice for readers who get overwhelmed as soon as it’s time to look at that long wine list filled with terms and names they’re not familiar with?
The most important thing is to pay attention to the flavors and aromas that pleases you. Just like food, each person has a different preference and just by paying attention, you will learn if you like bold wines with more spice, lighter wines in texture and fruit, etc. Once you start to pay attention to what you prefer, you will see that you can identify the types of grapes you like (varietal) and different regions that produce the style you prefer such as Washington State, California, Australia, etc. So many wine bars and restaurants offer flights of wines and this is a great opportunity to try some without making an investment in the bottle. Also, explore by going to local wine shop tastings that are often free and find a wine shop you like. The owner wants you to be happy no matter what your price range is so they will be happy to help you select.
What are some upcoming projects of the Women of the Vine Cellars?
We are in the process of bottling a few more limited production wines. We would like to introduce wines made by women from around the world by end of 2008/2009. I just have to find the time to write the next book, International Women of the Vine.
If you could pick 3 types of wine to describe the 3 candidates running for Prez–Hillary, Barack and McCain…what would they be and why?
Oh this is tough!
Hillary – Chardonnay because it goes well with so much, most popular, versatile and strong enough to enjoy with a steak.
Barack – Pinot Noir – new to the hot scene, very likable and goes well with all. Smooth and silky.
McCain – Zinfandel – big, bold, aggressive.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Please visit www.womenofthevine.com for more information. The book is available at all major bookstores and Amazon.com. I hope the readers will be able to join us at some of our future events listed on the website.
When you think about celebrating women’s accomplishments, I hope you will celebrate responsibly with Women of the Vine.