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VALLEY GIRLS: THE WOMEN OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY

March 1st, 2019

Since our last winemaker Q&A was so popular, we thought it might be time to do another one. For this issue, we caught up with a dynamic group of Temecula Valley rockstars – the women of wine country – to ask them about their inspirations, their aspirations, how they feel about being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and what their day-to-day looks like working in one of the most idyllic places on earth – Southern California.

They are at once businesswomen, multi-taskers, leaders, mothers, daughters, entrepreneurs, creatives, winemakers, farmers, and everything in between, and it’s clear they are ambitious as hell, and very passionate about Temecula Valley.

Here’s what they had to say.

Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association (TVWA): What or who inspires you on a day to day basis in your job?

Cindy Palumbo, Palumbo Vineyards & Winery

Cindy Palumbo, Owner, Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery: I am inspired daily by my husband [Winemaker, Nick Palumbo]. I rely on his focus to produce the top quality wine that we have. He makes me think about small details, and it has definitely helped our business.

Patricia O’Brien, VP of Sales & Operations, Danza del Sol Winery and Masia de la Vinya Winery: My staff inspires me on a daily basis. Being surrounded by creative people who share your goals and passion for wine is amazing.

Olivia Bue, Winemaker,Robert Renzoni Vineyards: The energy from other Temecula Valley winemakers gives me inspiration and motivation to keep making the best wine possible. We all have a synergy that allows us to be supporters of each others’ successes rather than competitors.

Krista Chaich, Executive Director, TVWA: Since the day I arrived in Temecula Valley Wine Country almost 15 years ago, I’ve been inspired by the people whose passion led to where our wine country is today. But these days, I’m inspired by a wine country pioneer, Phil Baily who continues to produce beautifully crafted wines (with a bit of help from his winery cats); Joe Hart, whose passion for winemaking has extended to his sons, Jim and Mike; and a multitude of “newcomers” who’ve been drawn to our region because of the foundation that has been laid by the generations before them.

Cori DeHore, TVWA

Cori DeHore, Operations Manager, TVWA: Our guests and their enthusiasm in planning their visit with us for the first time.


TVWA: Have you had any mentors in your career?

Cindy: I always looked up to Joe Hart when I was at Hart Winery. I admired his style of winemaking and he made me feel like part of the family. When I was at Callaway I looked up to John Moramarco. He was so patient with me and taught me a lot about farming and the vineyards. John and Joe played an instrumental role in helping to preserve the region’s agricultural roots. They helped me realize that we really want to help maintain integrity in the Valley by farming and producing high quality wines.

Valerie Andrews, Owner & Vice President, Oak Mountain Winery: My Dad was my mentor in the wine business. Growing up he was so enthusiastic about fine wines and always talked about them at the dinner table. During one visit to our house (which is now the Temecula Hills Winery and production facility), he jokingly said, “You have 10 acres. Why don’t you terrace the hills and plant grapes?” Well that year we did. Once the grapes grew, we had wine barrels everywhere – even our bathroom – and decided to start our wine career. We opened Temecula Hills Winery in 2001. I am very proud we were able to make a great Syrah blend which we named after dad – “Ed’s Red” – which got a silver medal. The best part was that dad was still alive to enjoy the notoriety and did a bottle signing for our customers. Of course I still have mine.

Cori: During my teens, my mentor was my high school Home Economics teacher. I was her teacher’s aide and it was the first time I felt someone genuinely have confidence in me. She made me feel like I could do anything for a career.

Oliva Bue, Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery

Olivia: I have worked alongside some incredible winemakers in different regions throughout my young career, but my first mentor in Temecula, Gus Vizgirda, stands out as my foremost influencer.


TVWA: What is the hardest part of your job?

Cindy: The hardest part has been trying to raise our 4 children while building a business. In the early years, the kids were small and didn’t understand that we had to work every weekend. I also had our 4th child after the winery opened. He spent his first few years in a playpen behind the bar.

Patricia O’Brien, Danza del Sol Winery & Masia de la Vinya Winery


Patricia: I’m not going to lie! The hardest part of my job is learning how to take criticism and learn from it. Getting it right is important when you are the one in charge, but listening and learning from your mistakes is just as important.

Krista: My job is to promote the whole region as opposed to wineries individually. It isn’t lost on me that many of them have put everything that they have into their businesses. But representing so many people, with differing business models….that’s pretty tough.

Olivia: The hardest part of being a winemaker is continuing to improve each wine, vintage after vintage. After releasing a wine that our wine club members and customers love, it’s my priority to make that next vintage even better. This can sometimes be challenging when weather causes stress on the vines and fruit quality is impacted, but the challenge of constantly improving is what makes this industry most gratifying.


TVWA: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Cindy: Tasting the final product, and when I hear people in the tasting room enjoying the wines. I also find great satisfaction in raising our own food. Being a totally sustainable vineyard, winery and household, gives me great pride. I love providing food for my family.

Jana Prais, Sales Director, Maurice Car’rie Winery: The satisfaction of introducing Temecula wine to people who had never heard of it, and having them learn that it’s an exceptional product. Most people are unaware of the high quality wines coming out of this part of California. It feels good to witness their surprise.

Krista: Can I say the wine?! I mean, it’s not only the wine, but it’s also that I’ve met so many wonderful people in this business over the years. The wine business is big, yet so small at the same time.

Valerie: The best part of the job is the great people I meet on a daily basis. When customers enjoy the hard work Steve has put into making the wine, the training I have put into our staff and the dream of building the first and only mined wine cave in Southern California, it puts a smile on my face. I see people walking on the grounds, hand in hand for their vacation… They chose to come to us.

Carrie Peltzer, Peltzer Family Cellars

Carrie Peltzer, Owner, Peltzer Family Cellars: I love watching people’s faces when they visit us. Their faces tell the story of how much they love the space and enjoy the wine!

Olivia: By far the most rewarding part of my job is the journey from vine to bottle to table. To be able to capture years of hard work in one single bottle is undeniably the most fulfilling part of my job.


TVWA: Do you feel being a woman has made it harder to be successful in any way? Has it made it easier in any way?

Cindy: It has not made it easier. I wear many hats, being a woman. I am required to run a business, run a household, raise children, raise animals, volunteer in my community, volunteer at the school. I am a chauffeur, a personal shopper and confidant, a tutor and a wife.

Patricia: To be honest, I feel that being a woman in a management position at a winery has made it easier because I’m able to tap into my natural abilities as a mother of three busy children (between the ages of 23 and 7), so I know how to multi-task, while meeting deadlines, collaborate and have fun doing it.

Jana Prais, Maurice Carr’ie Winery

Jana: I’ve observed that women are often great at multi-tasking and can be adaptable to different personalities and situations. I feel these qualities in myself have enabled me to be successful in the job.

Krista: I’ve never measured my successes or failures by my gender. Even though I work in a male dominated field, I’ve never felt challenged by that.

Valerie: When I was 36, after a 19-year marriage my husband died unexpectedly in his sleep. I was left with 2 teenagers, a mortgage, and no real job. I had helped my husband in his painting and home repair business, so I decided to go for a paint contractor’s license and got started on my own business within 6 months. Back then, there were no woman painting contractors. I got involved in a National Women in Construction group, who helped me whenever I got in over my head. For 20 years, I painted schools, restaurants, homes and even a prison. I occasionally butted heads with the good old boys, and had my share of tears on my drive home, but it made me the confident woman I am today.


TVWA: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What about Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country?

Cindy: I see myself continuing my work for the State of California Agricultural Association. I would like to finish my children’s book series. I would like to continue to teach our children how farm and run a profitable winery.

Patricia: I see myself running a third winery in Temecula Valley, while working to open my own winery consulting firm. In five years, Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country will be the “it” wine region to travel to.

Krista Chaich, TVWA

Krista: The future is so bright for Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country. I’ve seen it change so much in 15 years. We’ve come from a small, gem of a wine region, to a burgeoning wine destination in a short amount of time. We’ve dealt with many challenges, but I believe that if we are all unified in our vision of becoming a well-known and widely respected wine region, that’s exactly what will happen. And where do I see myself in five years?? Hopefully, leading the charge.

Carrie: In 5 years I hope to be knee deep in our next phase of Peltzer, continuing to tell our story. I have been filing away in my mind all the things that I want to design and share with our Peltzer family customer base. My role at Peltzer will be to communicate the importance of a well-thought-out space, where our customers can come to experience wine country to its fullest, while enjoying the story, the space, the wine, meeting new friends and relaxing with old ones.


TVWA: Tell us one small anecdote that has had an impact on your career – whether important, meaningful, challenging, funny, memorable… something that stands out:

Cindy: The most challenging thing I did in my career was probably while raising 3 small children. I worked the tasting room all day, and then we had a winemaker dinner that night that I was the server for…while 9 months pregnant. Raising children while running a business has always been challenging, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Running a business with my husband out of our home has had challenges. Our kids have learned that the combination of hard work and respect for each other pays off and is the greatest reward.

Krista: I could probably write a book about my experiences in wine country (although I’d have to change some names to protect the “innocent!”), but one experience stands out. I was attending my first Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in Sacramento, CA, and we were pouring wine at the regional tasting. I felt so proud and excited to be there, and the next thing I knew, Jerry Lohr, (the J. Lohr) came up to me and said, “Hmmm, Temecula Valley, huh?” I poured him a taste of wine, he sipped it, asked for another pour, and then got a huge smile on his face. He said, “You know…. that’s really good. That’s when I knew that I was part of something very special. It was only my second week on the job at the Association.

Valerie Andrews, Oak Mountain Winery

Valerie: In the early years, we bought a giant fermenting bag for our Merlot grapes. You pump your must into the bag and, as it ferments and heats, up you run cold water in the outer shell of the bag to keep it from getting too hot. Well, the cold water wasn’t working, so the must keep exploding out of the vent pipe so we added 15 more feet to the pipe. When it was finally ready to pump the wine out of the bag, it wouldn’t come out as it was supposed to. So, Steve cut the top of the bag, and in I went up to my waist in must, and handed him bucket after bucket until it was empty. That wine got a gold medal.

Special thanks to these dynamic women who shared their personal insights with us for this article. Next time you feel you can’t do it all, we hope their stories inspire you.

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